In psychology, trust is believing that someone or something will do what we expect them to do. It’s the strongest driver in most of our daily decision making – especially in the way we purchase products – which is why 9 out of 10 marketers say they’re making trust a priority in 2019.

To win trust in the expectation economy, brands must offer convenient, frictionless experiences across all these touchpoints and interactions. And these touchpoints are growing in both number and specificity every day.

We hear a lot about building trust through advertising, customer service, responsible data handling and the like. But if we’re talking about trust in today’s multi-screen, multi-touchpoint reality, we must look at the individual moments, interactions and experiences – the “trustpoints” – where it’s won or lost. And we must address these moments at immense, mind-boggling scale.

Consumers expect convenient, frictionless experiences

Brands today need to compete in more moments, across more channels and devices, than ever before. We as consumers don’t just crave convenience and instant gratification – we expect it.

As consumers, the trust we feel towards brands is a combination of our perceptions of their credibility, relevance and reliability. We need to be able to believe what they tell us, we need them to serve a particular desire or purpose, and we need to know we can count on them.

If we’re satisfied with the experiences we’re delivered, we spend more. According to Dentsu Aegis Network’s Brand DNA Database, experience-driven businesses report 1.6x greater YoY growth in customer lifetime value, 1.7x in customer retention, and 1.6x in customer satisfaction than other companies.

Trustpoints aren’t just limited to pre-purchase interactions either. Even for categories as highly commoditised and transactional as FMCG and retail banking, there are still countless ways that brands can improve trust by focusing on customer experience, both online and offline.

Where the experience itself is the product or service (e.g. a restaurant or holiday) then it’s even more imperative to invest in designing and delivering experiences that engender trust and affinity for your brand.

The brand/convenience paradox

Some argue that convenience and brand are mutually exclusive, opposite sides of the same coin. An overemphasis on convenience can erode brand perception (the “big-box vs. boutique” problem); if you want to become more of a “convenience” brand, you must surrender some of your “specialty” brand status.

It’s clear that ecommerce has swung the pendulum strongly in the direction of convenience. By giving consumers the means to obtain what they want, when they want, brands (and social and ecommerce platforms) have helped create a world where convenience and brand must be one and the same, but without sacrificing one for the other.

But when operating at such scale, how is a brand supposed to own (let alone optimise) the conversation and experience across all trustpoints?

The best answer so far has been labour-intensive monitoring, management and control over resale channels. Some specialist brands have created artificial scarcity and limited distribution of their highest-importance items to their own official channels[1]: if you want a Birkin bag, you won’t find one from a no-name seller on AliExpress.

This anti-convenience tactic doesn’t seem to make people trust these brands less, which just goes to show that brand equity and trust can often mean the same thing. Truly fanatical customers will go to extreme lengths to obtain their favourite brand’s products, wearing the difficulty of the experience like a badge of honour. Just look at the queue outside your local Apple store when the next new iPhone is released.

However, for brands that don’t already have a high level of trust in the market, how can they optimise for trust across every possible interaction? Could some smart advertising be the answer, or is there another way to approach the problem?

Interactions, interfaces and habits

Trust is mostly earned and lost during the research and decision-making phase of a consumer’s path to purchase. We do a lot more research today than we ever used to, which means brands and their products need to be visible, available, attractive, and of course consistently represented across all possible trustpoints.

If we look specifically at online experiences, this means we have to examine every single interaction a consumer makes. And for the most part, this means clicks or thumb gestures within an interface of some sort.

How did we get from brand, convenience and trust to interfaces? Because if every trustpoint is an experience to be optimised, then the most granular unit of measurement for us is these individual interactions.

There are 3 key elements to keep in mind when optimising for convenience and trust:

Semiotics

Semiotics is the study of signs and the meaning we take from them. The semiotic standardisation of online interfaces and apps (e.g. hamburger menus) has become second nature to most of the global population, even though every website and app has a slightly different take on it. Brands need to adhere to these norms, or risk creating a jarring or confusing experience.

Habituation

For an experience to feel smooth and frictionless, it needs to be easily learnable and predictable. Habituation is why you instinctively know to tap or swipe to select or scroll on your smartphone, or to right-click your mouse to reveal options. Brands should put themselves in their users’ shoes: if we’re visiting hundreds of different websites while researching a product, we want to be able to find the information we need without having to click around too much. Pointless clicks lead to frustration and lost revenue.

Personalisation

Websites and apps are all trying to be something for everybody. Surely in this day and age, where we can customise our PC’s desktop and phone’s home screen, why shouldn’t we be able to experience an online interaction in our own preferred way? Personalisation doesn’t necessarily mean displaying a user’s specific account information either – it could mean showing them the most common information they access without them having to ask, thereby saving them a click or two.

Do we need to rethink interfaces and experiences?

Trust is lost when you can’t habituate. Familiarity breeds trust, so if your experience isn’t intuitive and requires heavy loads on the user’s working memory, you’ve lost the battle before it has even started. It’s a transgression of the social contract of trust between the two of you.

Additionally, as consumers and users, when we’re forced to reset our brains and look at another alternative, whoever we go to as our second choice will need to fulfil an even longer list of requirements to qualify for our trust, like some kind of negative pay-it-forward cascade. This is the same whether we’re after a new weather app or a new hairdresser.

And yet despite both Google (with its Material Design outline) and Apple (with its Design guides) doing their best to standardise our experience across their entire ecosystem, and despite becoming ubiquitous among populations around the world with different languages, literacy and cultural iconography, we’re still limited by what they classify as the key actions we may want to perform.

Online platforms allow you to filter, but they don’t allow you to truly personalise. Even social media apps, which are allegedly designed to play on our neurological addiction triggers, are hugely limited in their customisability.

We can pick and choose who we follow and what appears in our feed, but we can’t change the way the feed works. We’re being told what to use, not being invited to create our own experiences.

Wouldn’t it be great if a brand allowed us to actually create our own experiences? If it learned from people’s usage habits and not only changed a couple of “Recommended For You” tiles, but actually modified its navigation structure to give you the most pleasant, frictionless experience possible?

How might this even be possible?

“Human-centred machine learning”

Enter the star of the show: Human-centred machine learning, or HCML for short.

As Google’s People AI + Research team puts it, machine learning is “the science of helping computers discover patterns and relationships in data”.

Two of the most common ways products use machine learning (ML) today are predictive recommendations and personalization. If you’ve checked out a recommended video on YouTube, then you’ve already experienced these features for yourself.

At their best, ML-driven recommendations and personalized features save time and effort by proactively delivering the content users want without forcing them to navigate an interface or search. However, with the wrong execution, providing even the most accurate suggestion or the most relevant list of recommended items could actually require more time and effort from the user.

Adding the “human-centred” bit to this is where it gets exciting. The whole point of HCML is to take a human, user-focused approach to designing experiences, but by using machine learning as one additional tool to help manage problems like scale or mass data. It’s not driven by machine learning – it’s empowered by it.

For brands looking to earn trust by creating the most convenient, frictionless experiences possible, HCML-powered experience design could be the solution to the problem I mentioned earlier in this article: optimising all trustpoints at scale.

This isn’t just a pipe dream either. There are tools already in existence (that cost nothing, I might add) that clearly demonstrate how ML is not only a real thing but is actually well within reach. For example, Tensorflow is a machine learning framework that allows web developers to train and deploy ML models in web browsers like Google Chrome.

In the above example, the engine was trained to recognise, from over 40 restaurants, where a bowl of ramen came from, with 95% accuracy.

These models are designed and trained by humans and can only work under basic, reductive parameters (e.g. confirming or disconfirming one thing at a time), but when put together, their power is incredible to behold.

Imagine the convenience and experiences your brand could create across all its touchpoints. If data is the oxygen that digital businesses need in order to survive, then obtaining this data should be a major priority.

And the best way of getting one’s hands on this data is by thinking of the trustpoints, and by making all experiences – digital and real-world – as frictionless and pleasant as possible.

If you’re interested in finding out more about UX and machine learning, I encourage you to explore the Google People + AI Research (PAIR) team’s content and speak to your iProspect team about incorporating some of these concepts into your own brand’s search for trust.


[1] https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/marketing-and-sales/our-insights/the-opportunity-in-online-luxury-fashion

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Craig Gibson

Craig Gibson is Client Strategy Director at iProspect Brisbane. He leads strategy for a number of our key enterprise clients, specialising in solving both client and consumer problems across all touchpoints, from data and insights to strategy and creative.