Trust Vs. Technology

by Bruce Tait  •  Published November 2011

Guy in Shower

Perhaps respect for privacy has become a truly differentiating idea.

I was part of a panel recently at a conference for resorts and casinos. We were speaking on the topic of building greater trust with customers through the use of new technologies, digital media and analytics. My job was to define trust in a brand context. We draw on the work of Lewicki and Tomlinson at the University of Colorado for much of our perspective on trust. Their work has found a distinction between “calculus-based trust,” which is a cognitive, rational relationship based on consistent performance, and “identity-based trust” which occurs when shared values and goals become evident. Calculus-based trust is less resilient and can be shattered by the failure to perform on even one occasion. Identity-based trust, on the other hand, is highly resilient because its intentions are perceived to be good, even if it does let you down once in a while. You forgive brands that have established identity-based trust. This could be called values-based brand loyalty as well.

We argue that brand managers should try to create identity-based trust and loyalty because it leads to higher margins and less churn.  To do this, the brand needs to show how it’s on the side of its customers – holding the same values they do.

After I spoke, three very smart gentlemen on the cusp of technology discussed ways new tools can be used to track where a customer is on a resort property and how to dig deeper into their computers than ever before possible. One person commented on the power of “fingerprinting,” which is far more invasive and harder to remove than the quaint cookie used until now. The potential for more relevant offers and increased revenue seems obvious from this type of technology but I wonder if it can also be seen to cross a line where privacy is invaded and identity-based trust becomes untenable.

Ad Age even had a cover article regarding the way Netflix and Facebook seem to act so cavalierly with customer trust and loyalty.  It appears that the analytics folks are ruling the roost in some cases and it’s not always to the company’s benefit.

Even more striking is the new reality that trust is being defined in a completely different manner. In this technology-driven perspective, trust equals ongoing revenue.  Period. Relationship is akin to transaction.

How much room for error is left to the brand that is based on this kind of relationship? It would seem very little. Will consumers see a brand that is willing to delve way inside their computers (and be highly resistant to removal) as being on their side? Every once in a while we have eruptions of concern around privacy rights in our linked-in world. When customers find out about some of this new technology, will there be a revolt?  Will there come a time when consumers consciously select brands that respect their privacy? Can that become a selling point for a brand intent on developing identity-based trust that is highly resilient and long-lasting?

Perhaps respect for privacy has become a truly differentiating idea.

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