The trust between a brand and its customers has always been a critical part of the retail relationship, but this has reached a peak in 2020. According to new data from Salesforce, shoppers value trust more than ever but also feel that it is harder to earn. In order to be successful with this new consumer, retailers will need to embrace transparency and cultivate more authentic connections.
The Salesforce “State of the Connected Consumer” report surveyed 12,000 consumers and 3,600 business buyers and found that over half of the respondents generally don’t trust companies. This number should be cause for concern, considering that the importance of trust has grown in 2020 for 82% of consumers – up from 73% in 2019. Additionally, earning that trust has become more difficult this year, according to 61% of respondents.
“Trust [is] becoming more complex to earn,” said Simon Mulcahy, chief innovation officer at Salesforce. “In the past, all companies had to do to earn trust was to make a good product, provide jobs, and pay taxes. That is no longer the case.”
The high stakes of shopping during a pandemic has challenged retailers to create a safe environment in order to win sales – and not everyone has risen to the challenge. Salesforce found that 31% of shoppers trust a brand less as a result of their pandemic response. But more broadly, questions of trust were already arising about the use of personal data and the way that companies handle the information shared with them.
Data gathering has become critical for many retail strategies, with consumer information used to inform personalization and targeted marketing. Fortunately, consumers have previously reported being open to sharing more data, if it’s to be used for a more personalized experience. Yet Salesforce found that consumers increasingly feel that they have lost control of their data, growing from 46% in 2019 to 61% in 2020.
“Companies collect and use a lot more customer data than in the past to provide the personalized engagement customers demand, so they need to demonstrate the value customers get in exchange and make it clear that they will be stewards of it,” said Mulcahy. “If you make it clear how that information is being used and, more importantly, why that use will benefit them, customers will feel more assured.”
Transparency is paramount but while this is mandated in some regions, like the European Union and California, elsewhere it is on companies to implement these policies. By stating to the consumer what the information is for, at the point of data collection, brands can establish trust and honesty from the first interaction.
This needs to extend beyond data collection, however, to other areas of business that consumers are concerned about. This year has made shoppers more aware of the environmental impact of retail, with many consumers looking for companies to communicate their sustainable initiatives. Additionally, empathy has become an increasingly important issue, particularly in regards to the treatment of both employees and customers during the pandemic.
“The notion of stakeholder capitalism, in which customers, employees, society, and the planet are on the same level as shareholders, is gaining a lot of traction,” said Mulcahy. “You need to make sure you’re doing everything to ensure the safety and security of your employees, and let those actions be known.”
Lastly, brands need to be focusing on eliminating problem areas, as well as actively cultivating trust. Positive brand-consumer relationships are built over time, with each interaction contributing to the shopper’s overall impression of the brand. Each engagement should be seen as an opportunity to prioritize the customer experience, particularly in terms of customer support services.
“At a high level, brands that don’t show a commitment to customer success will lose trust, or fail to build it in the first place,” said Mulcahy. “It’s clear to a customer when a sales rep is just trying to push a product without taking into regard their unique needs, or when a customer service rep is incentivized to churn through as many cases as possible, rather than making sure they address the root of an issue.”