Transparency in the Age of Data: Establishing Trust

By Madison Taylor
May 20, 2019
puzzle pieces together to create an image of people holding hands

You’ve heard the buzzwords all over the internet in recent months and years: transparency, privacy, data protection, hacks, password breaches, and the surrounding topics have been hot-button issues for a while now.

It’s a universal concern — 92 percent of web users worry about their privacy online, and 89 percent say that they avoid companies that don’t protect their private data. In fact, a full 68 percent of users say that they’re more concerned about their personal data than they are about losing their primary source of income.

You definitely want your customers to trust you — not only is it an important part of building a relationship and keeping customers happy, but it’s good business. According to Inc, customers value trust and transparency even more than they value price. But trust isn’t easy to come by. You have to earn it. If you want to create a business culture of transparency, here are some places to start.

Educate Your Customers

We’ll put it bluntly — customers don’t trust advertising. You can advertise that your products are ethically sourced or that you’re powered by wind energy or that you use 256-bit encryption for all financial data, but you’ll need to be able to back it up.

If you’re claiming something about your company that has a certification linked to it, make sure you get that certificate. That goes for BBB ratings, eco-friendliness, cyber-security, and so on. It’s easier than ever for consumers to check your credentials, and they’ll care if you don’t have them.

Customers are more willing to buy from a brand that can walk the walk — that’s why so many brands are focused on educational content, like this video from Patagonia about their recycled fleece jackets. Customers who feel that they can trust the company they buy from are more likely to become advocates, helping you bring more customers on board.

Don’t Just Talk — Listen

Communication isn’t a one-way street — for customers to trust you and your business, they need to know that their concerns are being heard. It’s easier than ever for customers to offer up their two cents on your product, whether through social media or direct contact, and you need to show them that you’re listening to what they’re saying.

For an example of what not to do, consider T-Mobile. In April of 2018, a T-Mobile representative on Twitter admitted that they stored at least the first few characters of users’ passwords in plaintext — a massive security mistake that makes passwords far more susceptible to breaches.

When a Twitter user pointed out that storing passwords in plaintext is a major problem, the rep was dismissive, saying, “I really do not get why this is a problem. You have so many passwords for every app, for every mail-account and so on. We secure all data very carefully, so there is not a thing to fear.”

At that point, another Twitter user weighed in, asking, “what if your infrastructure gets breached and everyone’s password is published in plaintext to the whole wide world?” The rep was dismissive. “What if this doesn’t happen because our security is amazingly good?”

Needless to say, this didn’t go over well. For any company, let alone one this size, to commit such an egregious security mistake is unacceptable. Worse still was hiding their lax security from users, then smugly dismissing user concerns. Perhaps predictably, T-Mobile’s “amazingly good” security was breached only four months later, seriously eroding consumer trust.

Admit When You Do Something Wrong

A few days after the plaintext password fiasco, T-Mobile announced that they’d be salting and hashing passwords going forward, a process they referred to as “state of the art in security.” While that description is optimistic — hashing passwords is about as basic a security step as installing locks on hotel doors — at least they admitted they were doing something wrong and pledged to fix it.

No one’s perfect — eventually, you or an employee is going to make a mistake. In today’s world of social media, it’s easier than ever for the world to see your mistake and spread it around. As such, it’s much easier to admit your error than it is to respond to the negative feedback you’re getting as a result of it. You can own the narrative, set out a plan, and explain the steps you’re taking to fix it.

Today’s customers are better informed than they’ve ever been — if your business is doing something unsavory, they’ll find out sooner or later. Rather than hiding your business practices, keep everything in the open. Listen to your customers concerns, address them frankly, and if you do mess up, don’t hide it. In the long run, honesty is the best policy.