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Every time you ask your users for information, they’re going to ask why they should trust you with it. Somehow you need to convince them that you’re trustworthy, but what does that really mean and how do you do that? Over the next six months I’m going to be exploring this concept in great detail, but for now I wanted to start with a basic question: Why do people trust?
It’s a simple question that’s hard to answer. Through my research I’ve found that there are three ways people develop trust. They do so through first-hand experience, recommendations, and intellectual understanding. As product managers, we can leverage these three factors to create more trust in our products and therefore increase users and engagement.
First Hand Experience
This is the simplest way to trust someone. As Cynthia, a salesperson at an interior decorating company, told me, “my brother has always been there for me and I would trust him with anything.” When you’ve used something before, worked with that person, or taken that action you know you can trust them again. But if this were the only way to generate trust, it would also lead to a world where people wouldn’t eat food made by anyone they hadn’t already tried or use a babysitter who had never taken care of their kids. Commerce as we know it today would essentially grind to a halt.
The good news is research has shown that people tend to trust strangers by default. Most people feel some form of social obligation to believe the best in others, which translates into trusting relationships. This is how we can function in a world where we don’t know everyone in our neighbourhood. Whether this level of trust extends to apps and physical objects is less scientifically studied, but my initial research indicates that the default is to distrust things that aren’t people. That means from the very beginning we’re fighting an uphill battle to get users to engage with our products.
Luckily, we’ve got two other trust-creating methods to leverage when convincing people that we are worthy of their attention and their data.
Recommendations from Trustworthy Sources
I recently needed to choose who to partner with on a project and was torn between two people. They were both well-qualified, but one of them was referred to me by a friend and the other person was referred to me via an advertisement. I went with the person who was referred by the friend. People ask their network for recommendations about other people all the time for both personal and professional activities, and those recommendations carry weight for good reason. We can’t interact with everyone or everything in the world, and so we need to rely on the help of others to find the right person for the job.
But this same form of trust exists even when the recommendation doesn’t come from a fellow human. This is what brands are for. Perhaps you have a good association with one product in a brand and are now willing to try another offering under the same umbrella; or you’ve read about a product in a magazine you trust and so now trust the product itself. A brand is a recommendation about a product or service, and we use them constantly to better navigate the world around us. If your product is already part of a well-known brand, use it. If you’re launching something totally new, think about the ways you can find partners to add value not only in terms of features, but in terms of branding as well.
An Intellectual Understanding
When you have never seen nor heard of a product before, you can develop trust by understanding how it works. Elizabeth explained to me that despite being an early adopter of Uber, she wasn’t nervous about using it. “The app is tracking who I am, who the driver is, and where we are, so I had protections in case something goes wrong.” Uber had no brand association and she was the first of her network to give it a try so had no personal recommendations, but she knew how the basic idea worked, and that gave her the confidence to try it out.
Conversely, even when the something comes recommended by others, some people have a tendency not to trust something they don’t understand and will refuse to engage with it at all. I spoke to Bill, a man in his 50s, about his technology habits and he said that he always trusts people over technology. “I don’t put my credit card information up on the internet because I never know where it’s going or what will happen to it.” The opaque way his data is handled on the internet makes him loathe to trust a website not only with credit card information, but with any personal information at all.
Don’t assume that just because your product is easy to use you don’t need to provide demos and directions. Even the best-designed product could still benefit from creating paths for users to better understand how it works on an intellectual level. That can breed comfort with your product and through it increase engagement.
Establishing trust at the beginning is much easier than regenerating trust after a breach. If you lose that relationship with your customers, the only way to regain it is with a full-court press on all three levers. Provide ways for people to experience your product first-hand, turn them into advocates for you in whatever way possible, and make sure you’re clear and transparent about how things work so that people begin to understand your product. If you do all those things right, you’ll hopefully regain their trust over time.
I’ll be continuing this research into trust and privacy over the next few months. If you’re interested in learning more about the work I’m doing and would like to view the results at the end, please vote for my session in the SXSW panel picker. I’ll be sharing user attitudes towards privacy, of which this article is just one of the first steps.