Why Digital Trust Matters (And How Businesses Can Get It)

The need for a certain level of trust in the relationship between businesses and customers is nothing new. Long before the digital age, customers trusted businesses like banks and service organizations to handle their information responsibly and to look out for their interests.

networking securityBut now that businesses are going digital, trust has become a more critical issue than ever, not to mention a more complex one. The amount of personal customer information that companies can collect and leverage is already unprecedented and is growing exponentially. That’s true not just of companies in typically sensitive sectors like financial services or health care, but of any transaction-based company.

Against this backdrop, a new kind of trust has emerged: digital trust. Digital trust is defined by companies like Accenture as consumer confidence that an organization will collect, store, and use personal digital information in a way that both benefits and protects the people the information is about.

One of the top five digital trends selected by the Accenture Technology Vision 2016 report, digital trust is in many ways the true currency of today’s economy. It is also the main characteristic that distinguishes high digital performers from the rest of the pack.

A strong level of digital trust can help companies attract and retain customers as well as position themselves strongly within their industries. Businesses that don’t prioritize digital trust may find the consequences of a breach of trust to be serious, resulting in consumer alienation or brand erosion.

But how exactly can businesses set about earning digital trust? A recent report by Accenture identifies four key components of digital trust that businesses must satisfy in order to be considered digitally trustworthy by their customers.

  1. Security

When trusting companies with information about themselves, customers want assurance that their information is being sufficiently protected against unauthorized use or theft. For businesses, digital security began with in-house IT security, specifically network and PC security. However, that focus is changing as cloud systems and storage become the norm across multiple industries.

With systems, applications, and data potentially at risk from a variety of types of attack, today’s IT departments must shift from an insular and reactive mindset to a proactive one. They must ensure that security measures are dynamic, continuous, and most importantly, designed for resilience in the event of failure or attack.

This is particularly important with reference to the security of payment information. A security breach involving financial data has been cited by consumers as the most potentially damaging factor that could impact a business’ digital trustworthiness.

  1. Privacy and Data Control

Customers may provide a company with personal information, but that information remains their property. A significant component of digital trust, therefore, involves making sure that customers remain in control of who has legal access to their information, when they can access it, and how they are allowed to use it.

This is especially important now that personal information comes in all sorts of forms from all sorts of sources. It’s no longer just about the credit card number that a customer entered in order to make an online purchase. It’s about their browsing history, their social media behavior, and, increasingly, personal and household data gathered and shared by devices that are part of the Internet of Things.

However, as demonstrated by the typical length of most companies’ privacy policies, it can be challenging for companies to find the appropriate balance between giving customers control of their own data while ensuring that control remains manageable and comprehensible.

  1. Benefit and Value

It’s implicitly understood that when a business gathers customer information, it will use that information for its own purposes. For example, when identifying, developing, and delivering new products and services, companies are relying more and more on the analysis of detailed customer data.

However, customers want to make sure that a business isn’t leveraging their personal information for the business’ exclusive profit without providing reciprocal benefits or value. In other words, customers want to know that the data they provide to a company is truly necessary for its business operations, and the provision of reciprocal benefits is a way for companies to signal that their intentions are trustworthy.

  1. Accountability

Even with the best policies and systems in place, irresponsible data use still occurs, whether it is caused by outsiders or originates from within a company. To a certain degree, consumers are accepting of this, but only if the issue of accountability is handled properly.

If consumers are to trust a digital business, they must feel assured that if their information is misused or mishandled in any way, then an appropriate representative from the company will take responsibility for the problem and ensure that corrective measures are carried out swiftly.