5 Ways to Build Trust Online
By Michael Ambros, YPO Member
When Ray Hickok founded YPO seven decades ago, he did so to help new CEOs learn how to manage responsibly, ethically and compassionately in a time when the internet was a glimmer in no one’s eye. The values of YPO are relevant today, and it so happens that they translate with ease into creating and maintaining a digital presence. After all, businesses live or die based on digital performance. And as your parents or teachers taught you, a good reputation is easy to lose and hard to regain.
The five pillars of YPO double as five ways to build (or repair) trust online: authenticity, honesty, credibility, altruism, and empathy.
Before diving into how to manifest these pillars in a digital presence, let’s define our terms.
Authenticity – “What you see is what you get,” isn’t just a word processing feature (WYSIWYG), it’s an apt description for people and organizations who are authentic. Authenticity means being yourself and projecting that unequivocally. Your identity doesn’t end with the wind.
Honesty – How do you define this bedrock requirement of ethical business? Honesty means you tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but. When you make a mistake, you admit to it, make it right, and move on. That’s integrity in leadership. Nobody wants to do business with dishonest people if they can help it.
Credibility – You earn credibility over time as people learn that you’re authentic, honest and have integrity. Think of it like reputation. People assign you credibility (or revoke it) when they talk about your company. The result of credibility? When you say or do something, people believe it.
Altruism – Altruistic people treat others how they want to be treated — even if those people do not reciprocate. Altruists are givers first, receivers second. They are selfless, not selfish. Should a company be altruistic? Only you can answer that question. If giving back is a core principle for your company, altruism is possible — even when it comes to your online reputation.
Empathy – Empathy is the art of tuning into how customers are feeling. You understand how their problem or issue is ultimately impacting them — their mood, their health, their bottom line. When you show empathy, you create a bond with customers. They trust you, and that trust boosts everyone’s experience. Excellent customer service is the definition of customer service. Your customer-facing employees try to listen and relate to the needs and concerns of the customer. With understanding, they can then take the appropriate steps to resolve the situation.
Leadership Integrity: Building an online reputation
How do you make sure your digital presence reflects your belief in and dedication to these five pillars? Let’s set the stage; your digital presence consists of your websites, social media accounts, customer relationship management, sales pipelines, your product and services, and your employees.
Even the most carefully crafted digital presence and messaging can become lost in the clutter of the internet. To understand what your website is up against, take a guess at how many sites are out there. According to the World Economic Forum, today there are more than 1.7 billion websites. Of this staggering number, 200 million, give or take a few, are active!
To build a digital reputation that reflects your commitment to the five pillars of trust, you have to stand out from this crowd. What do the five pillars of trust have to do with getting noticed? Well, if a business is credible but no customers notice it, is the business really credible? No. Fortunately, you can take advantage of myriad promotional tools to increase awareness of your business online. My favorite reputation-boosters are genuine, positive reviews that attract and retain customers.
Genuine, positive reviews. Not just positive. Trust but verify. Rather than buy positive fake reviews, hire a company to verify, manage, and police your reviews to protect against malicious reviews and keep reviews fair. These companies can also combat fake negative reviews. More on that shortly.
Here’s why the authentic review is my go-to strategy to build trust. Businesses have sought to establish credibility and solid reputations forever. In the pre-digital era, agencies like Michelin, the BBB, and AAA would review and rate businesses. Potential customers could confidently use those ratings to identify the best providers of goods and services.
Then there was word-of-mouth. People were happy to share their thoughts and recommendations. The old marketing adage was that the average person would tell 10 people about a bad experience and only one person about a positive one. Ten to one. People do like to complain.
When you mix in the power of internet communications, a single disgruntled reviewer can reach hundreds or thousands of people with the same weight as personal recommendations! And, this power is the reason that fake negative reviews can be so devastating.
Given the power of reviews, an unethical competitor can post a negative review to damage your business. Yes, fake negative reviews are a thing, and an expensive one at that. One negative review can cost up to 30 lost customers. Cost is the operative word here because a customer brings an average lifetime value (ACLV), which is the amount they’ll spend with you over their “life” as a customer.
If your customer ACLV is USD1,500 and your competitor posts 50 fake reviews, you stand to experience a lot of lost revenue. How much? Here’s the math: USD1,500 x 30 x 50 = USD2,250,000 in lost revenue!
Do reviews wrong, and you stand to lose out. But if you collect real reviews from real customers and share that feedback far and wide online, you’ll build all five trust pillars at once. That’s true leadership integrity. Talk about leverage.
Here’s how reviews allow you to establish your reputation firmly atop the five pillars of YPO:
How do you offer an authentic experience? First of all, you do not do it by buying reviews, likes, followers, etc. That technique may provide short-term results. However, sites and search engines are always improving their algorithms to ferret out and remove fabricated ratings. And, consumers will take a hike if they suspect fake reviews. Legal consequences can accompany hefty fines if the reviews are for fraudulent purposes.
Who uses reviews anyway? Research shows that 91% of people read online reviews. Once we start reading, we make our decision quickly. Nearly two-thirds of us form an opinion after reading between one and six online reviews.
And think about this, do you know any of the people who write reviews that influence your buying decision? Not likely, but BrightLocal found that 88% of consumers believe an online review as much as they believe a personal recommendation or warning about a product.
So, make it easy for customers to leave reviews; of products, services, customer service, customer experience, and so forth. Integrate automated opportunities to leave reviews into your customer experience processes. Present them at these points:
- After checkout
- After a chat session
- After a customer service interaction
- In follow-up emails asking how the product/service is working, can you help in any way, etc.
Just about any customer touchpoint can be the trigger to request a review. Be smart about it though, and don’t overwhelm customers. Make it easy to leave reviews, and you will be pleased with what you receive.
People expect companies to “toot their own horn.” Therefore, they tend to take company messages with a grain of salt. One interesting twist on using reviews to build honesty is to post employee reviews of the company along with customer reviews of employees. You can collect this type of customer review using the same touchpoints mentioned above.
Collecting employee reviews can seem self-serving. The emphasis here should be on how the company equips and empowers employees to go the extra mile for customers. The review can focus on training, resources, feedback, and so forth. Let the employees use their own words rather than have leadership write it for them. Remember, authenticity comes through better in your own words as opposed to “corporate-speak.”
Credibility goes hand-in-hand with authenticity, integrity and honesty. The three are intertwined. Credibility accrues from authentic communications and honest reviews from real people. If you say you are going to do something, do it and let people know you did, and you will help build credibility. This is an excellent opportunity for social media communications.
It also comes from setting clear customer policies and demonstrating that you adhere to them. Encourage customers to rate you on how well you live up to your promises.
A growing expectation of companies by their customers is that they give back to their communities. This is not the same as taking high visibility political actions, i.e., going “woke.” Activism and altruism are two different things. Activism is self-serving, done to garner favor with a particular group.
Altruism, on the other hand, enriches the well-being of both customers and non-customers with no specific gain to the company. There are so many ways to get involved altruistically. Communicate your actions as a matter of course. Reward employees who go above and beyond. Ask customers to participate in your events and programs. Ask customers to provide feedback on how well they think you did and what value you delivered. You may not receive a five-star review every time, but do not let that deter you from always offering a five-star experience. It’s just the right thing to do.
The best customer experience will include empathy by the employees dealing with customers. Respond to your customers empathetically, and they will reward you with strong reviews. Don’t think we are short-changing empathy with this short explanation. It just so happens that empathy is an essential part of good customer experiences and can receive reviews in the same ways as already described.
Pay attention to reviews and how you can honestly obtain them to create the positive digital reputation you want. You can ignore them and go about things as you always have. Just understand that you are going to get a digital reputation, whether you want one or not. You might as well drive it.