Q. The BBB tag line is "Start with Trust." How important is "TRUST" with consumers in our marketplace today?
A. The Better Business Bureau just released new research that shows about three out of five American consumers start from a point of trust when engaging with a business for the first time, and their expectations are increasing even as their customer experiences too often disappoint. The "BBB Trust Sentiment Index," based on research conducted for BBB by Nielsen, introduces a new standard for measuring consumer trust in a marketplace where trust is increasingly becoming a key strategic priority for businesses and institutions in building long-term relationship with consumers.
The BBB Trust Sentiment IndexSM created a trust scale from 0 (start skeptical) to 100 (start with trust) to assess the consumer experience in today's marketplace. Overall, consumers do have an inclination to start with trust; the average overall Trust Sentiment was 67.5. Males (70) are more trusting than females (62.5) and millennials ages 18-34 (72.5) are more trusting than those 55+ (62.5). Trust sentiment also varied with type of business. You may view a copy of the BBB Trust Sentiment Index at bbb.org/TrustIndex.
One of the most startling findings in the research is that customer expectations seem to be increasing faster than customer service is improving, accoridng to Dr. Rubens Pessanha, senior director of research, insights and strategy with the Council of Better Business Bureaus and principle author of the research report.
"We found that 41 percent of those surveyed said they had a negative customer service experience in the previous 12 months. Even more concerning, three out of four said the number of negative experiences with companies is about the same amount of (or greater) than it was three years ago." This is important since service quality is a key aspect of how consumers build or lose trust in businesses.
Another aspect of trust sentiment that should concern businesses is the "hidden voices" of those whose problems are unresolved. About one out of three consumers never complain to a business or to a third-party, as they perceive it's not worth their time.
"This is where trust really erodes and businesses lose an opportunity to better themselves," said Pessanha. "A lot of factors go into how businesses earn and lose trust, but one area where they can really lose people is hard-to-use customer service and poor handling of complaints. Consumers want to be heard and, even when there is a problem, 6 out of 10 will do business again with companies that assume responsibility and resolve disputes. The way a business handles a complaint shows that they care about their customers, and are therefore more trustworthy and honest in the eyes of those consumers." BBB concludes that businesses need to make it easier for consumers to engage and pay more attention to these "hidden voices" as they seek to improve customer relations. The research found that when customers contact a business directly to resolve a complaint, most found it difficult to do, and almost half of those businesses did not resolve the issue to the customer's satisfaction.
One of the more interesting findings in the study is the power of millennials to influence reputation and trust in the marketplace via online reviews. The survey showed that millennial consumers are about four times more likely to post a review when they have a good experience with company versus when they have a bad experience. Although almost all consumers read reviews and ratings, millennials (18-34) are more likely to post reviews or comment on social media than other age groups. They also are more likely to post positive reviews, which give their impressions and opinions on outside impact on a company's reputation in the marketplace.
Pricing does matter, although it did not rank as high as honesty/integrity/ethics. Prices higher than expected were cited as one way consumers lose trust in a business. A minority of consumers (about a third) said they would consider purchasing from a company with poor ratings or reviews if the price is right for the product they want.
Other key findings of the report are:
Business interactions are human interactions. In-person is still the preferred customer service channel. Even half of all millennials would prefer to talk to a person instead of using an automated telephone system, even if it means waiting online for the next available representative.
The top causes of customer frustration: 34 percent bad customer service; 24 percent product or service different than advertised; 15% product or service was not delivered; 13 percent billing issues; 8 percent could not return item or get a refund.
The top factors for earning trust are: honesty/integrity/ethics; good reputation; competitive prices; good customer service; reviews and ratings; recommendations from family and friends; quality.
Consumers rely on ratings, reviews, and the opinions of fellow consumers to a great extent, and businesses in every industry need to take their online reputation seriously
Jim Winsett is president of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga.