by KJ Dearie, product specialist and small business advisor at Termly
The rise of technology has invited a fall in consumer trust. As the regulations that govern the internet evolve and threaten the safety of online users’ personal information, more and more individuals are engaging the digital world with increasing suspicion and hesitance.
Just as we closed the door on 2017, the FCC voted to repeal the Net Neutrality laws which protected the rights of internet users and website owners. The landmark vote was met with an uproar of anger and fear, as this development paves the way for ISPs (Internet Service Providers) to auction off sensitive consumer information.
Now more than ever, internet users fear for the protection of their data.
In fact, a recent study conducted by Gigya found that “69 percent of consumers are concerned about security and privacy with Internet of Things (IoT) devices” and “68 percent don’t trust brands to handle their personal information appropriately.”
This growing climate of suspicion, coupled with the ever-increasing shift toward a digital marketplace, is particularly detrimental to small business owners. As many companies now rely on a website to grow, maintain, and manage their business, building consumer trust is key to success.
Here are three easy steps that online business owners can take to win back customer trust in 2018:
1. Get Your Website SSL Certified Already!
An SSL certificate – short for Secure Sockets Layer – designates a safe connection between a user’s server and your website. The certification adds an “s” to the “http” component of your website’s URL as well as a “secure” stamp next to your web address to indicate to users that your site is safe to access.
This probably isn’t the first time you’ve been advised to get your website SSL-certified. Yet, according to study results published in May of 2017 by SEJ, only about 25% of web traffic is protected under an SSL certificate. If your company contributes to the 75% of websites lacking this important safety designation – the time is now to change that.
Getting certified can be as easy as putting a protection plan in an online shopping cart and checking out. Some sites even claim that businesses can get an SSL certificates for free.
Not only will this attribute keep your own site safe from hackers, data miners, and cyber-criminals at large, but there are two groups who really want to see that “s” on your URL – consumers and Google.
Customers Demand SSL Reassurance.
More and more each year, the online community is becoming populated by a generation of tech-savvy individuals. Consider the bar officially raised on what consumers expect from their online experience – including your website. If your business collects private data, in particular, users won’t be quick to forfeit that information without assurance that it will land in a secure destination.
According to SEJ, “HTTPS is especially important on web pages where users provide their highly sensitive information (e.g., card information and other personal details). When visitors are interacting with your site, they expect a secure and private online experience.”
Boasting an SSL certificate is one of the easiest, yet most effective, ways to earn customer trust.
Google Rewards SSL Verification.
When operating a website, one of the keys to success is keeping Google in your corner.
One of the best ways to stay on the right side of the digital giant is by making a display of your security efforts. And when it comes to security efforts, SSL certification is essential.
Google officially announced in 2014 that websites secured through an SSL certificate are rewarded with higher search rankings. A boosted search ranking means more traffic to your website – a hefty reward in return for taking a small measure.
Not only does Google take measures to recognize SSL certification by rewarding its presence, but it also makes an effort to penalize the absence of an SSL. In accordance with Google Safe Browsing efforts, if your site is lacking the secure designation, Google will display a warning message alerting users to the potential risk of entering your site. While that safety warning is discouraging enough to consumers, it will also likely deter them from entering their personal data – especially billing and credit card information – given the risks associated with your site.
The rule of thumb for doing business online is always to do what Google says. And Google says it’s time to get SSL certified.
2. Be Transparent About Collecting User Data.
When the Google Arts and Culture app released a feature in January that matches a selfie to a famous work of art, it didn’t take long for the doppelganger game to go viral. However, the public reaction to this feature exposed an ugly underbelly to the perception of digital data collection.
Within hours of the app update, there were articles, comments, and threads popping up all over the internet positing that the feature was being used to collect images of people’s faces to store in Google’s database. While these concerns are unverified and, most likely, unfounded, they speak to the rising public concern over the collection of private information – something that business owners need to be especially conscientious about.
How can business owners respond to the growing tensions surrounding user data collection? The best route to take is one of transparency.
Consumers want honesty.
Here are the best practices for giving your customers peace of mind over the collection of their personal details:
The GDPR – though it originates in the EU – is due to affect business owners all over the world by enforcing strict regulations on how to disclose the collection of personal information.
Not only will this practice afford you legal protection, but customers will appreciate having knowledge of exactly where their personal information goes and for what purposes it will be used.
Get User Consent with a Clickwrap Banner.
Hosting a clickwrap agreement on your website will set you ahead of the pack in both visible security efforts and privacy regulation compliance.
3. Amplify Your Customer Service.
Consumer trust is not built in online safety alone. It’s also earned through exceptional customer service.
But this isn’t new information, right? However, according to Business Insider, “As consumers increasingly buy products online that they haven’t seen in person — leaving room for purchasing errors and buyer’s remorse — it’s now more important than ever to provide customers with positive customer service experiences.”
Stressing the financial risk that business owners take in not prioritizing customer service, Business Insider goes on to say, “60% of consumers say they have not completed an intended purchase due to a poor customer service experience.”
Customer service in the digital world is especially demanding as it is now an omni-channel operation. Big businesses, in particular, are able to boast 24/7 assistance via email, phone, live chat, and even social media outlets. While many small businesses don’t have access to the resources to compete on this level, business owners should still take steps to make customer service a priority – especially online.
Update Your Information.
Keep up-to-date contact information and hours present on your website, and consider designating a social media account – like Twitter or a Facebook page – where customers can direct their questions and comments.
Post Customer Reviews.
One of the best ways to build trust is to offer your customers testimonials and reviews from others. Invespcro.com found that “88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.” However, be sure not to make the all-too-common mistake of manufacturing reviews. Customers will know, and trust in your business will be further diminished. Instead, ask satisfied patrons to review your site or offer a testimonial. Consider incentivizing users with discounts or rewards in exchange for their honest feedback.
Personalize the Customer Service Experience.
While large-scale companies have the resources to handle massive inpours of customer queries, small business owners have the opportunity to accomplish something that consumers are seeing less and less of lately – offer a personal customer service experience.
Instead of letting emails pile up without replies, reviews be posted without responses, and questions left without answers, take the time to address the individuals that take the time to reach out to your business. Listen to what they’re saying, make an effort to understand, and offer a thoughtful response.
Given the impersonal atmosphere of the cyber-world, it can make a big difference to remind your customers that on the other side of the screen is another person.
If your company relies on the internet to thrive, earning the trust of wary consumers is now more important than ever. Ring in the new year with a new commitment to securing your customers’ faith in you, your website, and your business.
KJ Dearie is a seasoned product specialist and small business advisor at Termly. She has launched multiple websites and apps that serve to aid the business community in both customer relations and legal compliance. Passionate about online privacy and the digital business sphere, she also serves as lead writer for the Termly blog.