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Building Trust Online

Jan 1, 2010
by Eric Leuenberger

Although a number of factors come into play when a customer makes a buying decision on the Internet, none is more important than trust. Ultimately, customers choose to purchase from a given web retailer based on their ability to trust the transaction taking place. Therefore it should be no surprise that all successful business relationships require building trust with the customer. If you can't build trust with your potential buyer, you won't get the sale.

To illustrate, let me give you a brief example. Let's say you have a flat tire on your car. You need that car to get from place to place, and thus you need the tire fixed. It's not a desire, but rather a necessity. Your doorbell unexpectedly rings and a man in a greasy jumpsuit is standing there. He says he was driving by and noticed you had a flat tire. He points to a rusted old pickup truck loaded with tires heaped in the back, and says he'll sell you a tire on the spot. He indicates that he will even install it for you at no extra charge. You glance at the truck and find no sign indicating the business he represents. Furthermore, the state of repair of his own truck leaves you questioning his ability and honesty.

Would you buy it from him? I doubt it. Even though you need the tire and you need it now, the likelihood of you completing the transaction at that moment is hampered by your ability to trust the seller. Can you trust the tire will be installed correctly? Are the tires old, new, refurbished? Why are they just thrown in the back of his truck in a big, unorganized pile? Who does he work for, and is his business even legit? What are his qualifications? These questions, along with others, are all examples of what would likely go through your mind. Each question involves basing a decision upon trust, and because of the lack of it in this case, the sale will likely be lost.

The above example illustrates how much of an impact trust plays in the final decision making for consumers. Now let's turn our attention to the impact trust has online, and detail the numerous factors that can help you build it.

Building Trust Online
Before we delve into how to build trust, let me just state there are many ways to misconnect or disconnect with site visitors, and thus break trust. Most often, it can be seen in bad design (which equates to the rusted out old pick-up truck and unorganized pile of tires in my offline example) or usability issues. A few of the most common design and usability mistakes I see include use of pop-ups, poorly designed shopping carts, weak checkout processes, lack of customer assurance items such as SSL seals, shipping information, payment methods, returns policies, and unresponsive or unprofessional customer service.

These are just a few of the factors that most often discourage trust. There are more, but I want to really focus on building trust online and not breaking it, so let's get into that now. Below is a detailed list of items you need to consider for helping build trust online.

Building an ecommerce site with a specific target audience or market in mind is critical to the ultimate success of the store. Yet this need is too often overlooked. Coordination and communication are the key. Graphic designers are rarely aware of the impact their use of animation, images and graphical text can have on search engine visibility or compatibility with mobile devices. In a similar vein, programmers developing back-end functionality are not frequently educated on the impact that dynamically generated content and code can have on visibility and browser compatibility.

Most importantly, the entire development team may create a site that looks absolutely wonderful on all screen sizes and types, but is, in fact, difficult to navigate to accomplish a desired task. One answer is to involve a usability engineer and search engine optimization specialist throughout the development process. Don't neglect the KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid). Make your site simple and informative. Oftentimes, the more information you provide, the greater your chances are of causing distrust and confusion in your brand to your potential cutomers.

Get a private SSL Certificate (vs. a shared one) and keep it up-to-date. Clearly display the seal and words like, "Your transaction is 100% safe and secure," on all pages of your site, especially in areas where you are asking for personal information like credit card numbers.

Few ecommerce stores operate in markets where there is no competition. To stand out, it is essential that you differentiate yourself from the rest. This is often called your UVP, or unique value proposition. It is what will make a buyer choose you over your competition when all other factors are closely related or constant. When a prospect visits your site, how are you differentiating yourself from the competition?

Too often, companies use their competitors as a baseline when developing their own site. While this is not a bad idea (providing your competitors do it right and you have done your homework), make sure that when you design your site, it is not so closely related to your competition that it takes away from your uniqueness. The inclusion of key differentiators and less tangible benefits like your brand identity, culture and values all factor into the overall customer experience, and are what will help you gain the competitive advantage.

Social Media
Don't neglect social media. Social media includes things like Twitter and Facebook, and can also include blogging. Taking advantage of this new channel of communication may help give your company a personality and an identity beyond the site itself. Harness the power, and you can create trust through relationship building.

Contact Information
It seems obvious to include contact information on a website, but far too often, companies bury this information or omit it completely. All sites should include the basics: contact form, phone, fax and mailing address. If you do business locally, you may want to consider including a map to your location as well. Don't hide from your customers or they will hide from you.

The presence of your site across the Internet through marketing and promotion also helps build trust. The more positive exposure you can get for your business, the greater the credibility. Get mentioned in blogs, get listed in search engines (using both paid and organic methods), send out press releases, run contests, sponsor events, etc. These are all ways to gain positive exposure for your business and create trust at the same time.

Respect Your Audience
Know who your customers are and respect their needs. Any B2B company worth its salt will have one or more of the following elements on its site: industry certifications, reviews, awards, press coverage, articles, customer testimonials, case studies, product demos, free trials and white papers. The key is to understand the benefits of each in building trust, and determining relevance to your company, industry and target audience.

For business to consumer (B2C) websites like those of e-retailers, there are entirely different expectations and requirements. Some of the more important site elements include: strong brand identity, security certifications and guarantees, shipping, return and privacy policies, customer testimonials and product reviews, merchandising, promotions and product comparisons. Rather than get distracted by the bells and whistles, it is critical to ensure the site functions reliably and visitors are able to find what they are looking for without needing to dig deep for it.

Anticipate Every Question
I have written numerous articles on answering your customer's questions before they ask them. This is accomplished by first understanding your customer and then placing the proper elements in the right locations on the site to address their concerns at precisely the right moment they typically would ask. Anticipating their questions and answering accordingly helps build trust. Any impression of secrecy or precious, anything that makes a customer's visit to a site difficult, can annihilate trust.

Confirm, Confirm, Confirm
It is often said the most important time for car manufacturers to advertise is within four weeks after purchase. Why? This is the period during which consumers need confirmation they have made the right choice. The principle is no different online, but the reality is more important than in the brick and mortar world.

Confirm orders with emails to the customer immediately following a successful sale. Confirm the shipment of the item when it is sent, and include tracking information as well. Don't forget to follow up with an email sometime after delivery (not too soon), thanking them again and asking if they are satisfied with the product or have any questions. This type of proactive approach builds a relationship that has trust as its foundation. Even after purchasing, customers want to feel they made the right choice. It is your job to assure them they have.

Answer Inquires Quickly
If a customer asks a question, answer within 24 hours. Nothing can hurt your business more than not responding to a customer inquiry on time. It sends a message that they are not important enough to warrant a quick response, and often leads to lost sales and bad PR. Trust is built on a foundation with a multitude of influential elements. The fewer of the above elements included in your website, the greater the likelihood the visitor will go elsewhere, like a competitor's site. By following the above recommendations, you are all but guaranteeing an increase in trust and online sales.

Eric Leuenberger is an ecommerce conversion marketing expert and author of a leading Ecommerce Optimization blog He coaches store owners using his online coaching system Ecommerce Amplifier, teaching how to increase website sales using his proven six step process. He can be contacted at 866-602-2673.

Topic: Business Strategies

Related Articles: ecommerce 

Article ID: 1253

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