Do your customers trust you? Do they trust what you are doing with your personal data? Do they trust you to fulfill promises in sales pitches, advertisements and general brand messaging? Do they trust you to effectively and ethically implement artificial intelligence into their customer data collection efforts? And, do they trust you in times of great change, like a global pandemic? 

A Salesforce study confirms trust matters greatly. About 88% of consumers feel that trust becomes more essential in times of change, and 68% have bought items in a new manner in the last two years. And, customer experience is perhaps more important than ever: another 88% of customers say the experience a company provides is as important as its products or services.

“Over the last two years digital transformation became a necessity, especially for customers making purchases," Brian Solis, VP global evangelist at Salesforce, told CMSWire about the global study of 13,020 consumers and 3,916 corporate buyers. "And during that time across the board we saw consumers looking to brands for transparency on their core values, holding them more accountable to their word than ever before. If you think about it, trust is a key pillar in any meaningful relationship. It took a pandemic to accelerate the need for this transformation."

At Times of Transition, Trust Is Increasingly Crucial

Solis said he was pleasantly surprised by the surge in the percentage of consumers who say they have confidence in brands. Today's clients are more educated, knowledgeable and receptive to new ideas, he added.

"In turbulent times you would expect a general sense of skepticism to be reflected in this type of survey but over half (52%) of customers say they generally trust companies, up from 48% in 2020," Solis said. "This is a promising sign to guide companies toward investing in customer relationships beyond digital transformation."

Related Article: How AI Is Being Used to Protect Customer Privacy

Living in a Trust-Based Economy

Survey findings removed any doubt that we are working within a trust-based economy, according to Solis. Brands are interacting with customers that place high value on excellent service from brands they trust, which leads to a personalized, valued and connected experience. he added.

According to Solis, three important survey findings include:

  • 61% of consumers are comfortable with companies using relevant personal information transparently and beneficially — up from 52% in 2020
  • 78% of customers say environmental practices influence their decision to buy from a company
  • 96% of customers say excellent customer service builds trust

"Digital transformation is central to a lot of the findings of the study," Solis said. "But what we’re learning is that customers do not want companies to simply digitize legacy processes. To provide the customer service that people have come to expect and require from the brands they shop with, brands need the right mindset, intent and tools to deliver meaningful, sought-after customer experiences."

Learning Opportunities

Related Article: Consumer Wants: Privacy Transparency, Online Security, Better Customer Experience

Openness to AI, Data Collection

One small but interesting aspect of digital customer service is personalization, Solis said. This report shows that 69% of customers are open to the use of AI to improve their experiences — up from 60% in 2020.

"This doesn’t mean using information to push more marketing at customers," he added. "It means delivering personalized engagement that shows customers they’re valued, that their data is being used productively to improve communications and service, and that their experiences are unique to them."

And brands have to earn that trust with good practices around AI and customer data: What actions brand could take that would make customers have more faith in the use of AI around their customer data?

  • More customer control over use: 60%
  • Third-party ethics review: 44%
  • Active solicitation of customer feedback: 41%
  • Training on diverse data sets: 41%
  • Making underlying research public: 38%
  • Additional government oversight: 37%
  • Input from human rights experts: 37%

The report is Salesforce's fifth edition of the State of the Connected Customer report. Salesforce surveyed 13,020 consumers and 3,916 business buyers worldwide to discover and wanted to learn about:

  • The evolution of trust and loyalty in customer brand relationships
  • How customers balance their expectations for personalization vs. privacy
  • What digital-first customer experience looks like across the customer lifecycle

Data is from a double-blind survey conducted Dec. 8, 2021 through Feb. 1, 2022. Respondents represent 29 countries and six continents.