Oops, I Can’t Be Trusted

Last week I wrote about how a poor user experience at your site can undo all the good work you’ve done with your permission-based marketing efforts.

What’s the point of driving highly qualified traffic to your site if everyone is completely disappointed when they get there?

This week, continuing in the “Oops” series, here’s a look at how trust, or the lack of it, can also have a profound impact on the experience people have at your site.

First, a few figures.

According to NetZero, in 1999, 53 percent of online consumers cite privacy and security as major concerns when shopping online.

And figures from NFO Interactive, suggest that 69 percent of offline consumers in 1999 stayed offline because they feared that private information would be shared among sites.

More recently, according to eMarketer, 35 percent of British adults think that the Internet is the riskiest place to shop, and this view is shared by 55 percent of British Internet users.

The bottom line? It would be a smart thing if you made an effort to let your customers and prospects online know that you’re trustworthy.

And this is one of those things that you have to demonstrate, rather than just articulate.

Saying, “Trust me” isn’t going to cut it. You have to show that you are trustworthy.

Here are a few first steps.

1. Write a privacy policy that your customers can believe in.

The privacy policy you write for your online business speaks volumes about the kind of company you are.

It signals to your users whether you are sincere in your promise to protect their personal data or not. As an example, I always get a kick out of the AOL Privacy Statement. I’ve never read it all the way through. It’s about 12 screens long on my monitor. It is clearly the work of a team of lawyers, with a thin coating of verbal candy to make it more palatable to anyone patient enough to read it.

But you don’t need to read it in order to draw conclusions about AOL’s position on privacy. It doesn’t take 12 screens to say, “Your info is safe with us.”

But it does take 12 screens to protect AOL against privacy-related litigation.

In short, AOL’s privacy position, along with those of dozens of other top sites, is there to protect the company and not its customers.

Fortunately, most customers have a pretty good nose for this kind of thing and will draw their own conclusions.

2. Write a privacy policy that you and your employees can believe in.

A long, ambiguous statement written by lawyers in order to protect your company sends a message to your own people.

The message is this: Don’t worry, be cynical; our lawyers will protect us.

And when your own employees become casual about the privacy of your customers, the rot sets in very quickly.

Again, your customers will quickly sniff it out when something is rotten in the attitudes of the people they deal with. They may not be able to immediately articulate what’s wrong, but they’ll know they don’t feel comfortable.

3. Be trustworthy.

The proof is in the pudding. Do it.

Set a strong example from the top of the company down.

Raise the bar when it comes to getting permission to send out emails.

Make every “unsubscribe” option highly visible.

And never break your own promises when it comes to the use of the personal data you collect from your customers, however much money that might make you.

In conclusion, what is the point of investing in a permission-based list of customers if you then undermine that permission by being untrustworthy?

If you can’t be trusted, every penny you spent on acquiring permission has been wasted.

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