Three steps to increase trust in your online business

Three men are asking you to trust them. Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg are going to be appealing to you over the coming weeks to put your trust in them. Which one do you trust the most with your future? Which one do you trust with your safety? Which one do you trust with your children’s education? Do you trust any of these men to the same degree you might trust your doctor?

Which one of these men do you trust the most?

Which one of these men do you trust the most? Following their lead is not good for your online business or website.

Trust is a key issue in politics, your health and in your business. Customers buy from you because they trust you. Most products and services we buy can easily be bought from our competitors. One of the reasons why your customers buy from you is because they trust you more. However, with increased competition there is the need for building greater trust. Do you do that like politicians? Do you simply appeal to people saying “we are great…honest”? Or do  you take a more subtle approach, like a family doctor?

New research suggests your family doctor has it right and that politicians – surprise, surprise – get it wrong. Researchers at a Business School in Taiwan have investigated the degree to which we trust websites and have come up with some principles which the best websites follow and which doctors also do.

One of the reasons we trust doctors is that they learn a lot. They go to medical school for five or six years, the continue to update their knowledge constantly. Or at least that’s what we think. It seems that this constant updating is part of trust. And the same is true online. Websites that are not invested in, which are not updated regularly are amongst those which do not receive the highest trust ratings. It appears that we trust sites more if they invest in themselves – much like doctors do. How much do politicians invest in their profession?

The next finding in the research about online trust is related to brand. Google, Facebook, Twitter and other successful websites invest considerable time and money in branding. In particular they have rather large commitments to offline branding. The Taiwanese research shows that we trust websites more when the brand is recognisable and has shown us its values. The brand of the medical profession has been promoted and established constantly over hundreds of years by the Royal Colleges and other medical organisations, such as the “Trade Union” of doctors, the British Medical Association. The pedestal on which we place doctors is there in no small part thanks to the branding of the profession. What’s the branding of politicians like?

Finally, doctors work under a code of strict privacy. We don’t want all and sundry knowing what’s wrong with us and we expect every medic to keep our secrets to themselves. The new research on website trust has found that we want similar values online. Privacy policies are fundamental in building trust between an online business and its customers and potential clients. Ever wondered why there is so much tittle-tattle in the newspapers about politics? Politicians just can’t keep secrets very well.

Doctors have a great brand, they keep things private and they are constantly updating their knowledge and expertise. Politicians on the other hand have a dreadful brand, are always telling secrets about each other and appear to have not updated their political knowledge as they are seemingly always out of touch with their people. The best online businesses are like doctors – they have a solid brand, their websites are constantly being developed and they have reliable privacy policies.

The Taiwanese researchers also found an over-riding issue about website trust. The more positive experiences we have with a website, the more we trust it. In other words, getting people to come back to your website again and again is an important element in building trust. We trust our family doctors because they are people we have regular contact with. What’s your experience of politicians been?

So, there are three clear steps to gaining more trust for your online business:

  1. Build a brand – and that means doing a lot of work offline as well
  2. Constantly update your site – that shows investment in your site and gives reasons for people to revisit
  3. Publish a clear privacy policy – forget the legal jargon, make it easy to see what you will do with the information you collect

These three steps will prevent your website from appearing like a politician – full of charm and pleasantries but underneath only interested in yourself. Take these three steps and you will be trusted, much like doctors gain immense amounts of trust from society generally. They are still the most trusted profession, in spite of the fact that every day of the week their mistakes are consigned to the mortuary.

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