Designing Trust Online – Aoife Kelly-Cooney
Aoife Kelly-Cooney, a second year Masters student, studying an MSc in Work and Organisational Psychology/Behaviour at DCU Business School, writes about online trust for businesses who are increasing their online presence and activities in the wake of COVID-19.
COVID-19 has irrevocably changed how we work. St Patrick’s Day and the mutterings about its proceedings, with cases growing daily in Ireland, feels like a distant memory. Most of us went home that week. Most of us remain at home.
It would be remiss to say that the change has been all bad, particularly from a work perspective. Gone are the commutes, the packed buses and darts, the hours wasted in meetings that could have been emails. Gone too, are the spontaneous conversations in the shared kitchenette over an 11am coffee, the camaraderie of colleagues leading to innovation and collaboration. Increasingly, however, we hear reports of teams pulling together and going above and beyond the usual call of duty to work through this earth-shattering pandemic. And, where COVID-19 has created a void in our lives, the internet has been there to help fill it, providing us with the tools we need to communicate and work effectively.
In spite of its benefits, the internet is a widely unregulated space and most of us understand the naivety of unfaltering trust in the internet. Online trust significantly impacts consumer behaviour, and is a key obstacle to commercial success on the internet (Chen & Barnes, 2007). This issue of trust, for even the most reputable businesses, may, for reasons including a sense of increased risk (Li et al., 2014), be more significant online. Ultimately, opportunities presented to businesses by the internet may be appealing but, without the prerequisite trust, could be doomed to failure.
So, what can we do then with the information that we have? Although trust may be slower to build in online relationships, research shows that final levels of trust are the same over time (Law, 2013). The development of online trust is, therefore, a worthwhile pursuit for businesses, one that is easier to achieve than we may have first imagined.
Setting Your Business Apart:
Differentiation through the cultivation of trust is key to online business success in a crowded market. Where there is no pre-existing relationship with the business, the initial information-searching and choice stages are critical (Li et al., 2014). Investments in SEO may bring your business up the rankings on Google but, when you get that longed-for click into your site, how trustworthy do you appear to your potential customers and clients?
With regard to design, the appearance and user experience of a site is essential in the attraction of potential customers and clients and signals the trustworthiness of a site (Briggs et al., 2002). In addition, two types of online trust assurances can be readily adopted by businesses (Li et al., 2014): (1) “general” trust assurances, which are often provided by third-party organisations (e.g. review websites such as Trustpilot ), and (2) “specific” trust assurances which can be provided by the business themselves (e.g. refund policies). Competence is considered to be of equal importance to integrity in the cultivation of trust (Bluckert, 2005) and digital copies of business certifications along with testimonials, from previous and existing clients, can also be included to aid online trust cultivation.
Engaging with the Customer / Client:
COVID-19 has seen us adapt to different ways of communicating. Video conferencing was a novelty for many at the outset, serving to bring us together for innumerable catch-ups and quiz nights. Now that we are settling into our increasingly online lives, there is ample opportunity for innovative use of the internet for business communications. Whether as a stand alone or part offering, there are marked advantages online: asynchronous exchanges (i.e. email) prove flexible and convenient, whereas synchronous exchanges (i.e. video-conferencing) provide the benefit of immediacy (Law, 2013) and increased connection between physically separate users (Deniers, 2019).
In times of deep uncertainty, such as the one being experienced at present, businesses must show that they can adapt. Outside the context of the global pandemic, our society had already been profoundly changed by widespread internet use (Geissler et al., 2014). Rather than being an inflexible tool by which we are restricted, the internet can serve to broaden parameters, and exists as a passport to an enhanced future of work for those who choose to embrace its value.
● Bluckert, P. (2005). Critical factors in executive coaching – the coaching relationship.Industrial and Commercial Training, 37(7), 336-340.
● Briggs, P., Burford, B., De Angeli, A., & Lynch, P. (2002). Trust in online advice. Social Science Computer Review, 20(3), 321-332.Chen, Y., & Barnes, S. (2007). Initial trust and online buyer behaviour. Industrial Management & Data Systems, 107(1), 21-36.
● Chen, Y., & Barnes, S. (2007). Initial trust and online buyer behaviour. Industrial Management & Data Systems, 107(1), 21-36.
● Deniers, C. (2019). Experiences of receiving career coaching via skype: An interpretative phenomenological analysis. International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, 17(1), 72-81.
● Geissler, H., Hasenbein, M., Kanatouri, S., & Wegener, R. (2014). E-coaching: Conceptual and empirical findings of a virtual coaching programme. International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, 12(2), 165-187.
● Law, H. (2013) The Psychology Of Coaching, Mentoring And Learning (2). Malden, MA: John Wiley & Sons Inc., 19-21.
● Li, H., Jiang, J., & Wu, M. (2014). The effects of trust assurances on consumers’ initial online trust: A two-stage decision-making process perspective. International Journal of Information Management, 34(3), 395-405.