|useit.com Alertbox March 1999 Trust|
Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox, March 7, 1999:
The current climate on the Web is one of disregard for customers who are traded like sheep. Companies buy each other, not to create better products or services, but to take over locked-in users and create more "stickiness." The advice in the Information Rules book is good as far as it goes: Switching costs are indeed an important element in design strategy. But the book can as easily be read as consumer advice: beware of lock-in unless you get sufficient up-front benefits to compensate for the later difficulties.
I am a perfect fit for the new eFax service to receive faxes by email. And yet I don't sign up. Why? Lack of trust. It would be nice to throw out my old fax machine and get my faxes by email (since I only get faxes when communicating with dinosaurs). But as soon as I put their phone number on my business cards (and thus in thousands of rolodexes), I will be at the mercy of any degradation in service, spam faxing, and who knows what else in the future. I am not accusing eFax of doing anything bad or of having nefarious plans: they are just an example of a useful service that is perceived as scary because of the current trust-impaired environment on the Web. Unfortunately the decent sites suffer from the actions of the devious sites.
History shows that high-trust societies fare better than low-trust societies. Right now, the Web is turning into a low-trust society, and as long as the main business models rely on advertising and eyeball herding, the situation will only get worse.
The key finding is that trust is a long-term proposition that builds slowly as people use a site, get good results, and don't feel let down or cheated. In other words, true trust comes from a company's actual behavior towards customers experienced over an extended set of encounters. It's hard to build and easy to lose: a single violation of trust can destroy years of slowly accumulated credibility.
This is why it is important to have contingency plans in effect to immediately mitigate any trust-reducing blunders or scandals.
In the long term, treating customers honestly is the only way to build true, deep trust, but how does one get started on this path? The study found several ways to communicate initial trustworthiness, including some traditional ones like seals of approval (TRUSTe, etc.) and brand reputation
Appropriate use of technology from encryption to download speed also matters: users feel that a professionally run server can be trusted more than one that feels like it could break at any time. When customers encounter technical difficulties at a previously preferred site, their reactions are:
Any time you have a need for capturing a user's email address, it is necessary to provide full disclosure of what will the address be used for. It is also necessary to give users the ability to control how much email they will be getting. For example, it should be possible for a user to place an order and be assured that the only email he or she will receive would be clarifications or confirmations of the order.
See reader comments on this Alertbox.
List of other Alertbox columns