You can find a good amount of misconceptions hanging around, boosted by icons like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, that you should be in your 20’s, and include a rigorous way of thinking and a huge ego. But, as outlined by a comprehensive study carried out by a startup incubator, these people are merely outliers.
Smart companies used to go to great trouble to build their reputations – literally. They’d build plush and cozy branch offices that practically radiated that invaluable commodity, trust. Then came other tools – deploying armies of smooth-talking salespeople to play golf with the clientele (and to smooth over any problems), or broadcasting hours of reassuring television commercials. If none of those tactics reached the customer, the customer could literally reach for the product itself. Trust was easily built and tested at every step.
But now your company exists in the form of glowing pixels on the screen. Your schmoozing sales folk and beautiful storefronts are seen as an impersonal user interface. Your physical products are morphed into online content.
And so you can forget about decades-old reputations and the power of a brand name. The power of the Web comes from narrowcasting – not broadcasting – a mass of specialized services, the vast majority of which do business with relative anonymity. You’re no Amazon, and likely won’t ever be.
So why should users believe the information on your site? Why should they give you money? If they do, and they receive a purchase but something goes wrong, will you be able to resolve the issue, or will all complaints go into a black hole?
Answering those questions on the Web means fighting an uphill battle because for every striving, well-intentioned e-business there must be 25 more that continually treat consumers badly, spam ruthlessly, violate privacy cavalierly, or don’t deliver on time. The truth is, the current climate on the Web – on the whole – is one of casual disregard for customers who are traded like sheep. Most companies buy one another not to create better products or services but to advertise more users and create more “stickiness.”
So you don’t have six million customers. So they don’t trust you with their credit cards. Don’t despair. Cheskin Research and Studio Archetype/Sapient recently completed a user study of Web trust. Their key finding: Trust is a long-term proposition that builds slowly as people use a site, get good results, and repeatedly do not feel let down or cheated. True trust comes from a company being on good behavior with an experienced customer, transaction after transaction.
Trust is both hard to build and easy to lose: A single violation of trust can destroy years of slowly accumulated credibility, and buying yourself a Super Bowl commercial won’t bring it back.
According to another recent study, by Jupiter Communications, when customers encounter technical difficulties at a previously preferred site, about half of the users will abandon the site for that session. Many of these users do return later, but often with split loyalty after having tasted an alternative site with the same or similar services.
The Web is truly a user-driven environment where instant response times and perfect inventory management matter – and building trust begins with giving never-ending attention to what you do with all those pixels.
Here then are a few unappreciated but invaluable trust-inducing pointers for Website design:
1. Maintain design quality – Professional design communicates trust; clear navigation conveys respect for customers and an implied promise of good service. In contrast, typos or difficult navigation signals disregard for the users.
2. Full disclosure – Embrace constant and upfront disclosure of all aspects of the customer relationship. Reveal shipping charges immediately rather than waiting until after the user has placed an order. You may cheat a few people into ordering by hiding the shipping costs, but many more will abandon the site at an early stage of the process for that reason alone. And those users who do get cheated will be suckers only once.
Anytime you have a need for capturing a user’s email address, it is necessary to provide full disclosure of what the address will be used for. It is also necessary to give users the ability to control how many emails they will be getting. For example, it should be possible for a user to place an order and be assured that the only email he or she will receive would be clarifications or confirmations of the order.
3. Consistently good content – If a site has product photos, it should have good shots of all the products. Haphazard, random content signals a brittle service.
4. Reach out – Connect your site to the rest of the Web with links in and out. Not being afraid to link to other sites is a sign of confidence, and promotional information via third-party sites are much more credible than anything you can say yourself. Isolated sites feel like they have something to hide.
Some matters of online trust are deceptively simple: to users, fast servers are trustworthy servers. Negligible download times mean you know what you’re doing, while slow servers fuel a user’s suspicion – however ungrounded – that your site could break down at any time.
Trust is essential for building long-term customer relationships, and deep trust comes from behaving honestly through many subsequent encounters with the customer. But you are never going to get the chance to satisfy the customer even once unless your site oozes credibility and trustworthiness from the very first click.
The outcome? As you are able to see in this infographic, the greatest entrepreneurs are usually those who have prior work experience in their discipline, developing important real-world know-how and expertise for a decade or longer.
Other characteristics appear slightly more evident: you must be open-minded, flexible and ready to react in a split second. You have to be friendly, you do not require IQ in the way it is generally assessed, but what you must have is the capability to identify patterns.
Did you know that VentureLab International is also present on Symbid, a Dutch crowdfunding company? Check our Symbid group here.