Trust vs convenience? There’s no contest

Those brands that can show their humanity to customers will succeed because consumers want to feel something.

customer experienceI hate haggling so much that when I recently went to buy a car and actually encountered a lovely salesperson, I experienced something akin to the ‘service recovery paradox’ – when effectively resolving dissatisfaction leaves a customer more likely to recommend a brand than if there had never been a problem.

Amid all the wonderful convenience of digital, what I will remember from the experience is a salesperson with a heart, who didn’t treat me like a mug. As compelling as convenience can be, it often pales in comparison to trust. That’s why there are those people who travel back to their hometown to go the hairdressers. Trust is why I went to a dealership and why I was happy to buy from Daryl when I got there.

Trust is a hot topic at the moment. Partly because it seems to be evaporating. Edelman’s 2020 Trust Barometer found that a “majority of respondents in every developed market do not believe they will be better off in five years’ time, and more than half of respondents globally believe that capitalism in its current form is now doing more harm than good in the world”.

A majority believe that “it is the duty of business to pay decent wages (83%) and provide retraining for workers whose jobs are threatened by automation (79%)”. But less than a third of people trust that business will do these things. The report states, however, that “trusted companies have stronger consumer buyers and advocates”.

There are lots of issues intertangled here, but Econsultancy and Guild founder Ashley Friedlein declares that “for marketers, and brands, [trust] is critical and the battle of the next decade will be about (re)gaining trust with customers. Coming up with a new ‘purpose’, touting your ‘values’, claiming ‘authenticity’ and ‘transparency’ alone won’t cut it.”

Friedlein goes on to suggest that to build trust, brands need to demonstrate consistency (best exemplified by those brands with persistent and dominant brand codes, such as the purple of Cadbury), and to deliver on customer experience.

I agree completely and it’s obvious, for example, how Uber’s consistent experience builds trust. On the other hand, Edelman’s 2020 report showed that 64% of respondents are belief-driven buyers who will “choose, switch, avoid, boycott a brand based on its stand on societal issues”.

There’s no doubt some consumers’ views on the gig economy prevent them trusting Uber.

These are tricky waters for brands to sail. I was recently reading a review in the New Statesman of a book called Sabotage. Felix Martin, the reviewer, writes: “Anastasia Nesvetailova and Ronen Palan argue that all capitalist businesses face the dilemma that in a perfectly competitive market, profits are driven down to zero.

Brands that show their humanity to customers will succeed. A great human interaction is seen in glorious relief to all the convenient automation marketers are implementing. Consumers want to feel something.

“The only way to escape this fate is for businesses to try at every turn to make the market less competitive; through ‘innovation, obstruction, undercutting, impairing, damaging, vandalising and cheating – generally within the letter but not the spirit of the law, and sometimes beyond the limits of the law altogether’.”

Though the book is about finance, this part of the review stood out to me as it made me think of all the ways in which businesses often seek to misdirect their own customers, whether it’s via a website ‘dark pattern’ or a car salesman leaving you sweating at his desk as he goes to ‘speak to the manager’.

Monzo founder Tom Blomfield recently admitted to Wired journalist Natasha Bernal that he found it difficult to deal with the tension between a healthy corporate culture (including a close relationship with the customer base) and turning a profit.

Monzo and MoneySavingExpert top ranking of most recommended brands

Bernal writes: “Blomfield says that him ‘banging on’ about banks only caring about profits created a perception internally that making a profit is evil. ‘That’s not what I meant,’ he says. ‘Genuinely, people thought that whenever we were charging for anything, that must be fundamentally wrong. But that was part of the culture we really fought to transform.’”

Blomfield adds: “The best businesses find something that’s really positive for society and the environment and individual customers, and generates a really healthy, sustainable profit.”

Going back to the car dealership, and the strange intangibles of the service recovery paradox, it’s clear to me that those brands that can show their humanity to customers will succeed. A great human interaction is seen in glorious relief to all the convenient automation marketers are implementing. We the consumers want to feel something.

In tech circles, the obvious point to draw out is that any developments with AI, such as automating responses to the most repetitive questions in the contact centre, should free up the touchy-feely humans to put the metaphorical cherry on top of the customer interaction (or deal with the most fervent complainers).

The same debate is happening in all industry. There are some things that machines just can’t do – from shucking oysters to putting me at an ease during a test drive.

Oh, and just a little footnote – that automated ‘rate your experience’ email I was supposed to receive, on which Daryl’s performance would partly be judged…it never arrived.

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