wet pup standing on a  pier
PHOTO: Roberto Nickson

“Trust is the basis of any customer-provider relationship. Without trust, you have no relationship.” — Robert Lucas

Trust is defined as “a firm belief in the character, strength or truth of someone or something.” Loyalty, “a strong feeling of support or allegiance.” It seems like economist Robert Lucas was stating the obvious when he posited that trust and loyalty (customer relationships) go together. Right? Well, maybe — but truths, however obvious, are not always so easy to achieve.

Entrepreneur Dhar Mann once said “trust takes years to build, seconds to break and forever to repair” and this has never been more evident than today. The Futurum Research study, Experience 2030, found that trust is a fleeting commodity in the eyes of consumers, with 76% concerned with the amount of data brands gather, 73% concerned with how brands are using their data and 61% feeling they have no control over their data. Making it worse, despite giving lip service to the importance of data privacy, only 48% of companies strongly agree on the value of a proactive approach to transparency involving data privacy and 77% agree that they sometimes implement a program they know not to be secure to gain a time-to-market or competitive advantage. Futurum found that this problem is so pervasive that they called it a crisis of trust in North America and Europe. This is highlighted by the combined total of 49 major GDPR (Global Data Privacy Regulation) fines in 2019 and 2020 to date, with those fines totaling a whopping $357,079,465.

The situation for loyalty isn’t much brighter.

A recent McKinsey study calls loyalty “up for grabs” with 75% of US consumers indicating  that they have tried new stores, brands or websites since the start of the COVID-19 crisis and a full 60% expecting to integrate the new brands and stores into their lifestyles post-pandemic. The Futurum study found a substantial gap between consumer and company perceptions about loyalty, with 42% of consumers saying three or fewer brands provide a high level of satisfaction (which clearly equates to loyalty), while 90% of brands believing that they do provide the highest level of satisfaction.   

Course Corrections: Lengthening the Pier

Reversing these downward trust and loyalty perceptions must be done immediately because the pandemic is accelerating the tie between loyalty and trust, driven in large measure by the rapid adoption of all things digital. The McKinsey study called it the quickening, citing real feelings of whiplash by companies due to the pace of change as digital and ecommerce growth has accelerated 10 years in 90 days.    

Futurum took an interim look at how the pandemic-induced behaviors impacted its original roadmap to the CX future. What it found was that not only are loyalty and trust coming together, they are becoming an integral component of personalization. As customers change the way they want to engage, the factors driving both loyalty and trust also change. Futurum found that in a “socially distant” market, hybrid digital/physical experiences have become increasingly common as both brands and consumers look to technologies that provide convenience and safety — from the increased use of telemedicine to contactless payments and online ordering combined with curbside pick-up. Brands that want to deliver truly personalized experiences must pivot to include these forms of engagement in the customer experiences they provide.

Trust expands in this world to include not only data privacy and security but also physical safety and security. Loyalty drivers, mirroring the changing trust requirements, have also morphed significantly from Futurum’s original study. Rather than price, quality and ease of purchase, consumers now want safe, fast and human experiences. The top loyalty drivers in the pulse report were as follows:

  • Personal Safety — ensuring social/physical distancing in a facility, 65%
  • Scheduling Needs — delivery within a few days, 57%
  • Relevant Suggestions — special recommendations that meet a consumer’s current needs, 56%
  • Human Touch — having a live person rather than a bot available to talk, 54%

The good news is the report also found that brands are on-board with these changes, with 83% rethinking what it means to deliver superior customer experiences moving forward.

Related Article: Closing the Consumer Trust Gap

How to Correct Your Course to Greater Trust and Loyalty

So how do companies meet these course corrections?

Consider this: personalization, loyalty and trust must include elements of both consumer control and consumer protection. While personalization requires vast amounts of data, that data must be protected to gain the personal trust of the consumer. As brands incorporate the new demand for physical safety, they must also ensure that they preserve the human element in their interactions.  

Questions that brands should ask themselves as they rethink their approach to customer experience include:

  • Are we transparent about what we are doing to protect our customers — both physically and digitally?
  • Is our strategy one of empathy, that places the physical and digital well-being of every consumer (and employee) at the center of all decisions?
  • Do we engage consumers from a level of mutual respect that goes both ways, and spans the physical and digital elements?
  • Are we prepared for this new way of engaging to become part of our permanent operating model? What changes do we need to make to our processes and personnel to make that happen?  
  • Is our technology ecosystem able to react to changing customer needs with agility and speed? If not, what changes should we be making?

Related Article: Customers Are Stressed: Here's How to Win Their Trust