One of the most common interview questions I get is, “How do you build trust online?” If you don’t have a well known brand, how do you overcome the different barriers the web provides?
The web is anonymous; you can say you’re one type of person or entity and, in fact, be another. We have to deal with all the other people who are online, polluting the space with interruptive, bogus messages and less-than-credible offers. So, what can you do to build trust online?
Many factors influence online trust. Some of them include, a “professional” design, “good” copy, “quality” images, an “engaging” online experience, “credible”-sounding reviews, an “openness” to be contacted, external reputation and, sometimes, trustmarks (e.g., Better Business Bureau, Verisign, BizRate or HackerSafe). Notice that every factor except trustmarks is based on perception, — not reality, necessarily.
Trustmarks: Either you have ‘em or you don’t. But not all trustmarks are equal, and they’re still subject to the public’s perception of that trustmark extending its halo effect to you.
In the near future, I’ll post about each one of these trust building factors separately. But today, let me illustrate why trustmarks sometimes fail.
It all has to do with the neighbors you keep. At one point, having a BizRate logo meant something. The general feeling among those in the know was that they sold out from being a trustmark to become a product search engine. (When they don’t really stand for one thing — e.g., “buy with confidence” — trustmarks cease to be effective.) When consumers see a trustmark on another website, and that website betrays their trust or provides a sub-par experience, trust erodes and the halo effect from the trustmark can no longer transfer to your website.
BizRate.com conducts post-purchase surveys to evaluate whether customers will shop at the same store again. Did they deliver on time? Did they have good customer support? Did the product they ordered meet expectations? BizRate gets answers to these questions, and even tells you how many shoppers shopped at their store.
Take a look at the thumbnail picture for a screenshot from electronic retailer B&H Photo. Notice how they have a 98-99% positive rating. They have this green smiley face with all these lines around it. This seems to be a trust worthy store, no doubt.
Now let’s compare a few more store profiles that have green smiley faces (see below) to indicate positive stores. Would you trust someone who says a store is “green smiley” positive when 20% of it’s customers have a negative experience? 10%? 5%? What do you think your customers think about when they see you associated with companies that provide negative experiences 1 out of every 5 times? Do you think BizRate can be trusted? Can they actually extend that halo of trust?
If they want to maintain that halo of trust in the mind of the consumer, every trustmark provider needs to step up and start being accountable for their vendors. What standards should they accept?
Trustmarks work when they stand for something.
As I continue to explore trust in the next few weeks, I will dissect eCOST.com. On the surface, they look credible — but if you dig enough, you can figure out why 20% of their customers have negative experiences (a percentage that would hardly inspire confidence on eBay).