Designing products for trust

What the world is used to defining as valuable is changing: while oil prices plummet and airlines despair, many supermarkets have been struggling to keep their shelves stocked and some video conferencing service companies have enjoyed an unbelievable business breakthrough.

A bond of trust that should be created when building products for the users
Trust concept and connected symbol as two different ropes tied and linked together as an unbreakable chain as a faith metaphor for dependence and reliance on a trusted partner as support and strength.

Even though we have seen and experienced the silver lining of previous crises in the form of products and services (such Uber, AirBnB, Slack and other innovative solutions born out of the needs pushed forward by the unique circumstances) there is still uncertainty abound when it comes to answering how COVID-19 has affected the users’ perception of companies and their products and services. Making your website easier to use, load faster or applying discounts on your products and giving free shipping might all be options to consider, however there is one factor that stands apart from the rest: trust

Almost all industry sectors are suffering from lack of trust at the moment: the inadequate response of many governments to the COVID-19 crisis plunged government trust levels to anew low, and that is not even the worst part: according to theEdelman Trust Barometer, it is apparent that we do not categorise a single institution as both trustworthy and competent. By just looking at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, one realises how much trust is important: safety is the second-most essential tier in the pyramid, right after physiological health, and followed by love and belonging. Therefore at a time of such critical uncertainty, a business founded on trust, which strives to make the customer feel safe and cared for, will shine like a beacon among the throng.

What trust is and how it works

  • Trust brings people together, and there is enough power in numbers to effect impactful changes of considerable scale.
  • Trust is a choice to enter a relationship, together with the implied risks.
  • Trust is a shared understanding between two or more parties which is hard to build and very easy to lose.
  • Trust is the valuable by-product of social and economic interactions- you trust the barman will not poison your cocktail; you trust that Asos will ship the items that you purchased on their website

Hence, the proper recipe for your product’s success lies in your answer to this question: do you think of your product as an invitation to a trusting relationship-and do you follow up?

Maslow's Pyramid of the Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow’s Pyramid of the Hierarchy of Needs

How to build Trust with your Clients

Trust starts with empathy: once the client trusts the company, a feedback loop has started wherein the company needs to reciprocate by keeping its promises and delivering continuous value. Since empathy is at the core of trust, there needs to be an understanding of what the users think and feel about the company so that it can respond accordingly. There are 3questions that need to be answered:

  1. What do people perceive that you can do-and can you really do it? (Ability)
    The business needs to show its great reputation in this space by communicating its beliefs and values upfront and leveraging social proof that further defines its valuable contribution. Furthermore, there needs to be a (unique) selling proposition that is aligned to the customers’ needs and which clearly offers enough value for the users to deem it worth the time and risk to start the relationship.
  2. Do people think and feel that what you stand for directly aligns with what they need? (Benevolence)
    Adopting a user-centric approach to your product is a sure-fire way to indirectly show the users that they are a priority: you understand what they are looking for and you are turning it into a delightful experience for them. Users need to feel in control of their situation and their decisions. Three of many ways of doing this are: optimising the user journey of your product by addressing all possible pain-points and testing them with your users; avoiding the application of dark patterns to your design; and offering as much customisation as possible.
  3. Do you rise to the people’s expectations which reflect your values and beliefs? (Integrity)
    Validating the users’ trust is an essential part in evolving the trust-based relationship. A company which joins the user in the journey is something which is increasingly being encountered: the relationship does not end at Checkout-ask the users for feedback, and how you can make the experience better for them, inform them if shipping is a little late, and provide fair remuneration for such inconvenience. Partake in significant CSR efforts and leave no user behind: accessibility is an element which costs little, but is often overlooked. Creating value and establishing trust at every touchpoint and rising to people’s expectations are what foster brand advocates-and every little promise counts.
Trust is the foundation for everything we do. But what do we do when it’s broken? In an eye-opening talk, Harvard Business School professor Frances Frei gives a crash course in trust: how to build it, maintain it and rebuild it.

Trust should not be the new business model driven by crises. It should be the daily bread we give to our customers, and those uncertain times should be the moments where the company strengthens this bond even further. Design thinking fuses innovation and empathy into one process, and it is not something we heard of yesterday. So let’s look inward and analyse what is holding us back from offering the best experience based on a foundation of trust, and constantly think of our users: who they are, what they think and feel, what they are expecting, how they would react-and bring those insights and our business objectives into harmonious alignment