Photo of Mind the Gap warning at a subway stop
PHOTO: Greg Plominski

The gap between businesses' perceptions and customers' reality is alive and well. It was most recently confirmed in a survey by digital experience platform provider Acquia, which found 75% of marketers believed their customers' trust in their organization’s handling of personal data had improved from 2019 to 2020. However, just over half (52%) of surveyed consumers said they were comfortable giving a brand personal data in exchange for a better experience.

What can businesses do to close the gap between perception and reality?

Offer Clear, Consistent Processes

"The most effective way for companies to develop customer trust is by creating clear and consistent processes for customer experience that start at the top of an organization,” said Ali Cudby, adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at Purdue University and managing director of Alignmint Growth Strategies. "Customer experience is not a department. It’s a philosophy for engagement across all departments. It’s the role of company leadership to articulate and prioritize a company-wide initiative for CX. This approach must put customers at the center of the initiative. Anything less asks customers to care about your company’s structure, conflicts and culture."

Customers don’t care that your heads of marketing and sales don’t get along, Cudby added. They don’t care about your position on compensating customer success/customer service. They don’t care that your IT department “doesn’t see itself” as customer-facing. And frankly, customers shouldn’t have to care.

“Winning trust doesn’t have to be fancy or spendy,” Cudby said. Trust doesn’t require expensive technology. Instead, Cudby believes companies can build trust through three straightforward tactics:

  • A clear direction for CX from leadership that spans all departments.
  • A plan that’s embedded into the company’s culture.
  • Repetition to ensure that every employee knows what they need to do to successfully engage customers.

Related Article: Business Has a Trust Crisis. What's the Solution?

Be Transparent About Data Use

"Be as utterly transparent as possible when it comes to how you're going to use the data you collect,” said Mark Varnas, founder of Red9, a database consulting firm. “The suspicion that people have is because we keep finding out that companies were using our data in ways that we didn't anticipate, even if the end result was something we'd consider good.”

For example, Red9 informs visitors when it uses cookies as part of its user experience, a policy which Varnas suggests is a best practice.

“Let them know what data you collect and how you intend to use it,” Varnas said. “Most importantly, let them know how it will affect them. Most people are put off by customized ads, for example, but if you tell them that you're going to cater the content they see based on what they've liked in the past (much like the suggestions from their favorite streaming service) they may feel differently.”

If you come up with a new way to use the data you've collected, let people know, Varnas added. Being proactive and notifying people that there's a new initiative that will make their lives easier using the data you've collected will go a long way to building trust between the consumer and your company.

For CMOs, trust is more naturally focused on the brand messages — especially transparency. Accurate and honest communications, as well as transparency of customer data usage are critical to building trust with customers, agreed Ashley Reichheld, Deloitte Digital principal and practice leader for the customer automotive, transportation, hospitality and service sectors. While the meaning of trust varies by audience, one thing is universally constant: When delivery doesn’t meet expectations, trust suffers.

“To make trust a reality, brands should first focus on designing humane and transparent messaging that resonates with stakeholders, and reliably and capably delivering on those promises — which requires CMOs to collaborate across the C-Suite,” Reichheld said. “By better connecting messaging with products, services, and experiences they can competently deliver, brands can proactively identify where they are operating with trust and which areas of their brand promise need improvement.”

Brands should also ensure the entire C-Suite breathes the mission of trust throughout the organization. Reichheld added. Some organizations have gone as far as creating new roles, such as a chief strategy and trust officer. Overall, a shift in mindset is needed — based on the acknowledgment that trust is an organization-wide issue and requires executive-level coordination.

Related Article: Consumer Trust: Are We Experiencing an Existential Crisis?

Lead With Consistency and Clarity

Match messages between pay per click ads and landing pages, recommended Bryan Philips, head of marketing for In Motion Marketing. Consistency across all channels goes far in developing trust with customers. 

Philips also recommends using reviews and other forms of social proof as a means to improve trust, “When a potential client sees their story manifested in the journeys of others, it is a powerful display of the trustworthiness of the business."

Finally, he recommends keeping any information requests short and clear on how and where the information will be used, including explaining the benefit the customer will receive in exchange.