The future of digital trust

20 June 2018  |  by Mark Leenards

Trust is not only the foundation of every good relationship but also the lynchpin of a person or business entity’s reputation. However, it is still subordinate to other concept such as customer friendliness and efficiency. How many organizations reward their employees with trust? Or their clients? It is about time organizations realize that trust is not just a feeling, it is also an act.

It all starts with measuring trust. According to a recent report from the Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), it turns out much can be gained for large Dutch companies. According to the report, less than 40% of the Dutch population trusts big companies. This is significantly lower than the proportion that trusts institutions such as the European Union, the Dutch Parliament, and banks.

While trust in companies has not decreased – indeed the trend has been positive for years in almost every category – it is revealing that banks have been able to recover from the reputational damage brought on by factors such as the aftermath of 2008 financial crisis much sooner than big companies.

The CBS does not highlight a cause for the disparity in trust between large companies and these other entities and this, coupled with the fact that there are precious few other scientific analyses available that specifically examine the issue of trust in companies means that this fundamentally important marketing question remains unanswered, especially for organizations that do business online. The report did however state another important fact, namely that trust in companies is highest among young people and lowest among the elderly, illustrating a clear generational divide. Apparently, the ‘Facebook-generation’ seem to give large companies the benefit of the doubt. We can reasonably conjecture that this is due to greater technological engagement of younger people who are more likely to trust companies that are validated through newer online means such as likes, ratings and reviews.

These online validation tools are vital in various sectors. Artists value those thumbs up so much that some of them create some themselves (like the Dutch singer Dotan). Restaurants now appreciate a good review more than a tip. The business models of companies like Uber and Airbnb are underpinned by star reviews.

However, rating employees is usually a step too far for most companies. Individual consultants and medical specialists have to do with either positive or negative word-of-mouth. Only their employer’s judgement is shown online sometimes, and there are seldom commercial ties with specific clients.

Even a company telling a client that it has trust in him/her or vice versa, for example for a good transaction, is not a habit yet within e-commerce. This is a missed opportunity: mutual trust bonds being developed and conveyed through innovative new means are essential for raising the less than 40% figure up to a majority. Initiatives such as Afterpay and peer-to-peer platforms in general contribute to a friendlier idea of companies, who often otherwise suffer from public image problems due to perceptions of immoral corporate behavior, for example as tax avoidance.

According to the World Economic Forum, trust will have gone digital by 2030. It is up to companies to embrace this trend. This starts with making trust measurable and quantifiable, both in relation to companies themselves, as well as their employees and trustworthy ambassadors. Artificial intelligence, big data and a platform like Trustier are therefore essential tools to help companies achieve their goal of being trusted by the public they serve. The most important part is to realize trust is not just an emotion or a concept of transparency. It is already measurable, and companies are already rated by it.