3: Building Trust Through the User Experience

During the introductory phase of the Internet, the notion of trust was on the level of the channel - the assumption of vendors is that the customer trusted the company, but was uncertain of the medium. On one hand, it meant that companies had to work hard to build trust for the channel, but on the other hand, they could blame (or assume the customer would lay the blame) for any problems on the medium itself.

As the Internet has evolved, customers developed trust for the channel, and are (rightly) returning to the notion of trust in individual vendors: they are not reluctant to make purchases online, but may be reluctant to make them on your web site. There is still some spill-over to the medium, or for specific industries - but it is less common.

Trust Is the Linchpin in Online Relationships

While some degree of trust will carry over across channels, this can be reinforced or undermined by the experience of the customer in the digital channel (and companies that are completely digital have no other means of establishing trust) - and in the digital media, the nature of trust is different. There is no warm, reassuring, interactive human interaction - just the colder and more mechanical interaction with a computer information system.

As such, trust-building components must span the user experience: the visual appearance of the site, the smoothness of the engagement experience, the fulfillment of promises, and ultimately the delivery of value to the customer in each transaction (or visit) will impact customer trust.

It's easier to identify "worst practices" than to provide prescriptive advice in this regard: requiring a credit card number before showing an order total, failing to verify and confirm a transaction, failing to send e-mail confirmation and other awkward or unusual practices give customers pause.

The User Experience Impacts Trust

The ways in which UX impacts trust involves both taking actions the develop trust as well as refraining from actions that undermine it. Moreover, trust-building is often inconsequential to meeting the core functional requirements (it is technically possible to lead the customer through an ordering process without considering the impact to trust).

It's also noted that trust is built on two levels: the first is in the long-term relationship between the customer and the company, the second is in the immediate interaction with the customer. The latter has a more dramatic short-term effect, but the former is more critical in creating long-term value.

One of the key factors that leads to trust is the handling of customer information. Customers are highly aware of and sensitive to privacy concerns, and few things can be more damaging to the customer relationship than misusing or failing to secure customer information.

The author suggests that failure in trust is plainly evident in a customer who stops in the middle of a transaction or ceases doing business with the firm online. (EN: True, but hyper-sensitivity to this can be damaging as well. There are other reasons a customer may break off in a flow or go dormant, and if you rush to see what the problem is, you may be giving the customer the impression that a problem exists.)

Case Study: Emode.com

The author provides a brief description of emode.com, a site where users create an account and disclose their personal interests and take various personality quizzes. The benefit to the user was the ability to store and share this information with friends, on the condition that the site could send them e-mails containing promotions for products and services.

To again customer trust, essential to containing this level of personal detail, the site posted an extensive privacy policy and FAQ regarding their use of personal data, and obtained endorsements of a leading privacy organizations at that time (Trust-E)

(EN: this site is no longer in operation, though some of its content has been either sold or stolen to other "personality quiz" type sites. My sense is that while it may be an example of a site that users trusted with their personal information, it lacked a viable business model. In the end, I expect the emergence of similar sites, and the integration of similar functionality into more popular social media sites, made emode.com obsolete.)

Case Study: Pioneer Investments

Another example of trust building is Pioneer Investments, a financial services firm that specialized in advising high-net-worth individuals. The site began as a research site, aggregating investment information from multiple Web sites to help its clients identify opportunities. In time, client expectations drove the firm to extend its operations communicate with clients who preferred the online channel.

The site leveraged its intelligent search agents to provide a virtual expert that could handle basic questions that were typically handled by its staff. In addition to reducing workload, customers preferred this medium - especially when asking basic questions that they might be embarrassed to pose to a live person.

(EN: This is another company that's no longer in business, but nonetheless a good example that comes with a few strings attached - the company had developed trust in other channels, their Internet operations were a basic enhancement, and I see no indication that there was any personal or confidential information involved.)

Building Trust Online Is Like Building Trust in the Real World

While the internet is lauded for speed and efficiency, the notion of trust-building remains slow and laborious: it is built slowly, though multiple encounters of increasingly intimate contact. The only thing that can be done quickly is to lose it.

The author refers to an MIT study, which found that trust online is largely based on history of experience, just as it is in the real world, but there are some factors specific to the medium that can have an impact: the quality of visual presentation; technical reliability (fast loading and error free); accuracy and timeliness of information; and ease of use.

(EN: these factors are presented loosely, but they come down to a few basic principles: the company gives the impression of being competent, careful, and focused on the interests of the customer.)

Successful Interaction Increases Trust

Much attention is paid to peripheral details - but the core of building trust is a series of interactions that are successful in helping users achieve certain goals. When a user orders a product on the Web, the litmus test of success is whether they receive the product - the exact product they intended to order, delivered as promised, billed correctly. If this happens once, the user will have a level of trust that the vendor will do it the next time they place an order. If this happens a second time, the level of trust will increase. And so on.

The initial transaction with a new customer is tenuous: there is no history of success. Trust is built by setting and meeting smaller expectations: when you click an item, you expect to see a description; when you click a 'buy' button, you expect it to be added to the shopping cart; when you click the 'check out' button, you expect to be taken to a secure check-out screen etc.

(EN: such trust can also be built incrementally. An individual may visit a site to research products without buying several times, or they may e-mail a question prior to placing an order. If the site "works" and they receive a prompt reply, they gain trust and may eventually place an order. My sense is that a significant number of users do this sort of "testing" before they commit to a purchase - and some of the research I've seen supports this notion. This is one reason I am distressed at the tendency of site operators to classify such behavior as a failure or attempt to cajole a person to complete a sale before they are ready. This is short-term thinking that can damage a relationship for the sake of a quick sale.)

Consider the interaction with a customer to be a form of dialogue, as you indicate that "this is what is going to happen next" and, once it's been done, "this is what just happened." It need not be explicit or overt - a "progress meter" guides the user through a sequence of steps in a task, or the title of a page matches the text of the link the user clicked to load it.

Measuring Trust Online

Quote: "to accurately reflect the perception of trust in the user experience requires the use of a holistic set of measurements, using a hybrid approach that blends financial and relationship metrics." (EN: as you might guess, anything that follows such an introduction is complete and utter bollocks.)

Miscellaneous Factors

This section presents a number of qualities related to the design of a site that can help to bolster trust. (EN: I think some of this information has more to do with "confidence" than "trust," but my sense is the distinction between the two is not entirely distinct.)

It's noted that every single page, and every single interaction, has an impact on trust. If the customer encounters a problem using the search engine to find products, it's unlikely to matter that the "essential" features (shopping cart, checkout flow) are in good order - the seed of doubt has been planted.

Trust Drives Loyalty

Customers do not tend to purchase regularly from vendors in whom they have no trust. As such, a minor misstep that negatively impacts the user's experience in a given site visit damages trust, and the impact goes beyond the immediate interaction. Every single click impacts the customer's relationship with your firm.

It's also noted that, in order to build loyalty, you must build upon previous experiences with the customer. Just as a patron at a local shop expects that the clerk will, over time, learn his name and remember his preferences, so does the same person expect to be "remembered" when they repeatedly visit the same Web site, and for their previous actions to be considered in the presentation.

Amazon's "personalization" concept is used as an example. The site "remembers" the products that a person has bought, or even looked at, and preloads the home page with items that they expect that the customer would like based on their previous behavior and prioritizes the display of merchandise categories (departments) accordingly.. Not only does this demonstrate that Amazon is paying attention (which makes a positive impression), it also makes shopping more convenient for the customer by making it easier to get to the items they routinely purchase.

Trusted Delivers the Business Value

There's a fairly extensive passage that basically comes down to this: if users don't trust the company or its systems, users will not utilize the solution and it will not achieve its objectives for the business. No matter how well the system is designed in terms of its functionality or business experience, trust is a prerequisite that cannot be taken for granted, and which must be carefully considered throughout the design and development process.

Trust in Other Channels

As personal computing moves from the desktop to handheld mobile devices and an array of network-enabled electronics devices, establishing and maintaining trust will remain a challenge. Especially given the limited display capabilities of such devices, designers will not have at their disposal the various cures that they use to build trust in the online medium and must establish trust through more abstract methods.

(EN: A good point at the time this book was written, but given that most phones have enhanced display capabilities, designers have more real estate at their disposal. Presently, it's just a smidgeon more, and the bandwidth is tight, so "trust emblems" are often limited to a single, tiny logo. Given the adoption rate of the mobile channel and the tasks users are performing - specifically, online banking and other tasks where sensitivity to information is high- my sense is that this problem is less pronounced than the author foresaw.)

An interesting side note: a survey of repair shops indicated that the incidence of user-inflicted damage to computer equipment was decreasing. This is assumed to be the effect of user frustration: the fact that fewer people are becoming upset with the device to the point where they physically assault their computers (aka, "computer rage") is taken as evidence the user experience is getting better. (EN: This seemed odd, so I checked - Kent Norman at the University of Maryland looked into this phenomenon.)

One theory maintains that designing devices and experiences to have "humanistic aspects" can increase user trust by making the experience seem less mechanistic. It has long been observed that users who are pleased with their computers tend to anthropomorphize them, and research suggests that, to some degree, this also works in reverse (the more anthropomorphic, the more users are pleased). A drawback to this is that it also increases user expectations - the more a machine seems like a person, the more the user expects it to be capable of independent thought. As such, the design of human-like machines can backfire when the mimesis of the design is good but the logic of the interaction remains poor.