Trust – it’s all important on the Internet

How much do you trust the web sites you visit? You trust the BBC perhaps? Or you could trust Google to deliver the goods. Or maybe you trust Amazon? But whichever sites you trust, you probably have a “gut instinct” for some sites you visit that makes you doubt their voracity.

So where do we get that “gut instinct” from? Well, a large slice of it is built from what we hear, see and feel about particular businesses. For example, the other day I got a phone call from Talk Talk – a UK broadband supplier. They told me not to worry, they were not trying to sell me anything, then immediately tried to sell me broadband. When I complained and said “Hang on a mo, you’ve just said you’re not selling, then you try to sell me broadband”, the caller said it wasn’t a sale because I would be saving money and sales only happen when you spend it.

Now apart from this leap in logic that astounded me, I didn’t want to continue the call. Why? Because I no longer trusted the company. The caller had clearly lied to me; but also I knew in the back of my mind that Talk Talk was not the best of breed in its marketplace. In other words, my prior experience informed my feelings for the company.

So, think how surprised I was today to discover that PlusNet has been awarded the “best customer service” award for UK broadband suppliers. I used to be with PlusNet and the main reason I departed them was their dreadful customer service. In fact I now pay more per month for my supplier, Zen Internet, but I cannot fault them on speed or service, so I get value for money.

So how come PlusNet has been awarded this prize I thought. Well, the prize comes from Broadband Choices – a price comparison site. The site looks good, has some professional features, so makes you feel reasonably comfortable. But my prior experience of PlusNet makes me doubt them; the trust I could have in them is being nibbled away at. It’s made worse if you search for “PlusNet customer service” on Google, because you will discover page after page that include words like “dreadful”, “terrible” and “inconsistent”. So, not only does my personal experience not match the Broadband Choices suggestion, it seems I am not alone.

If you delve into the Broadband Choices web site you discover that they earn their income from the suppliers who advertise on their site. They claim that the awards are based on their site user views and have nothing to do with the fact that people advertise on the site. But my supplier, Zen, with its great customer service, does not advertise on Broadband Choices, so they have no ability to win. As a result, the whole business model of Broadband Choices means that its results will inevitably be biased and skewed. So do I trust Broadband Choices? Well, what do you think?

In fact, price comparison sites generally cannot be trusted. Only those who review their entire marketplace and make their money in other ways – true independent sites – can be trusted. And there are precious few of them.

So, here we are in a situation where I have little trust in a site. That lack of trust comes from a combination of personal experience, a bit of Googling and reading a web page or two. For your business it means that your web site’s success depends upon similar factors. So, what experience do people have of your business. If you fail to answer the phone promptly, or if you provide poor customer service, or have telesales agents who are stroppy, then all these things will influence whether or not your web site succeeds.

Too many businesses believe that web site success is down to Google ranking. That’s the least of your worries. Your online success is much more to do with people’s overall experience of your business. Get that right and your web site will do well. Get that wrong and you’ll be like PlusNet with dozens of web pages and links saying you are rubbish – which outweighs any awards they might receive.

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