Customer trust and brand loyalty are inextricably linked, essential to long-term business success, and tougher than ever to gain and retain. With all the breaches, hacks, and misuses of customer data in recent years, customer trust is low. And with the proliferation of digital channels making upstart competitors a mere millisecond-click away, loyalty is precarious, as well.
This reality, along with digital channels becoming the norm in buying from and interacting with both B2C and B2B customers, means that it’s mission critical to reshape the way you’re building customer trust. In the digital landscape, brands need to focus on tapping into the right customer data in a way that is mindful and doesn’t cross boundaries of privacy, while also prioritizing transparency and individualized support tailored to each customer.
Here are three best practices you can use in your marketing strategies to build customer trust and lasting loyalty in the digital age.
1. Respect privacy and avoid “creepiness” when personalizing experiences
“Customers are done with creepy; don’t be creepy,” Alex Atzberger, president of SAP customer experience, said at the 2018 SAPPHIRE NOW conference. “Without consent, don’t personalize.” He couldn’t have been more right.
Personalization plays a major role in thoughtfully engaging customers, but when it isn’t handled with care, brands can lose favor with customers who suspect their privacy isn’t being prioritized. New laws around data governance, such as GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act, help give customers an extra layer of security, but the responsibility still lies with brands to create personalized experiences without being creepy or crossing any lines with the consumer.
The challenge is that we have access to more data than ever, especially customer data around specific behaviors and preferences. It’s natural as a brand to want to make use of any and all data you can access to create a better user experience, but respecting customer privacy must be the top priority. Plus, the better results will come from identifying and acting on the right data, rather than trying to make everything you can get your hands on into something actionable.
Mastering personalization is about showing each individual customer that you’re committed to and respect the relationship they have with your brand.
2. Maintain transparency and keep it consistent across your organization
Transparency should span across every aspect of business, but when it comes to building digital trust with your customers, price transparency is always an important practice. It supports a connected customer experience, adding long-term value by giving your customers the ability to explore pricing options before making purchasing decisions. Be upfront about costs throughout the buyer journey (e.g., taxes, service fees), so customers aren’t seeing them only at the end when it’s time to make a purchase. This way your customers can understand exactly what they’ll be buying and for how much before heading into the final transaction.
Giving your customers trial periods with products also plays an important role in transparency. Many consumer products are set up in this way, from cars to clothing to even food – these items are set out in a way that lets customers view them and try them before they buy. Apply the same principle to B2B products, such as software.
When implementing digital purchasing options into your customer journey, always include trial options. Your customers can use this opportunity to properly evaluate whether or not a product meets the challenges or needs they are seeking to address without needing to make a purchase first. They can then make better, more confident purchasing decisions, which also supports long-lasting trust in your brand.
3. Be helpful along the entire customer journey
Support – especially with digital sales that lacks face-to-face interaction with a sales or service representative – should always be ready and available before, during, and after purchases are made. Customer service takes many shapes: sometimes it’s in-person, other times it’s over the phone or via online chat, and sometimes it’s simply in the background, providing support without the customer realizing it’s there.
B2C companies already focus on support as part of the entire customer journey and experience, infusing the same customer support systems they have in person into their digital platforms. This is a model that B2B companies can use for digital sales and e-commerce, as well. In fact, B2B brands should be held to a higher standard in supplying customer support from a digital perspective, as these customers are used to the high-touch services of a vendor’s field sales team.
Even though your customers want quicker, more seamless online options, you shouldn’t let service levels drop because the customer is no longer working with someone directly. Your customers will still expect your guidance and support throughout their digital journey, through the transaction process and beyond. It’s important to show your customers your commitment to their experience along this path, allowing trust to take shape as you do this.
Customer trust is gained – and kept – by aligning goals. Your customer’s goal is to solve a problem, improve a process, transform their business, etc., and your top goal should always be to support customers along their path to achieving their goals. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to building trust, especially in digital interactions, but incorporating these best practices into your overall marketing strategy is a great starting point.
As head of digital commerce for SAP, Benjamin Herrmann is responsible for developing the digital direct sales channel at SAP across products, professional services, and education. Dedicated to helping customers become best-run businesses, Herrmann has established himself as a leader in B2B digital business models. Prior to his current role, Herrmann was senior director of strategy for SAP Portfolio & Pricing, where he ran board-level change programs. He also worked as an enterprise business architect and lead business architect in the Business Transformation Office for PricewaterhouseCoopers, and served as a lecturer on Information Systems at the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management.