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The engagement economy wants a long-term relationship, are you up for it?

Trust is one of the biggest market differentiators of our time, but nearly 6 in 10 customers believe companies don’t have their best interests in mind, a state made worse by recent data breaches and a surging demand that your brand stand for something. And the moment your customers no longer trust your brand, they’ll kick you to the curb—swiftly and publicly.

Sustained trust isn’t earned by posting a digestible data policy or dropping AI into the customer experience. It can’t be built through old-school marketing tactics that overvalue quantitative data, emphasize one-sided transactional experiences or rely on one-off customer campaigns.

Just as in everyday relationships, consumer trust is earned over time. Customers crave a long-term, multi-sided relationship with a brand, one that includes a human touch, aligns with their identity and awards the opportunity to be part of something bigger than themselves. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it’s an investment that pays off: 95 percent of people say trust is a critical factor in their brand loyalty.

In Context Partners' work helping companies successfully build trust in millions of brand-customer relationships, we’ve found three approaches that rise to the top.

Tech is great, human is better.

Chatbots, AI, machine learning and other responsive technologies have surfaced as key ways to scale a hyper-personalized customer experience. Yet, despite the convenience (and human-like demeanor) offered by these tech-fueled tools, customers say they are still hungry for live, human connections. In fact, 47 percent of people say they prefer it, and brands that prioritize it are winning. Customers want to be wooed, understood, heard; in short, they want a relationship. And that requires a real-time human touch.

Few industries have felt the disruption of the tech transformation more keenly than retail banking. Just this year, 1,700 U.S. branches have closed their doors, as more and more customers make the switch to manage their money digitally.

Customer service obsessed Umpqua Bank quickly recognized a growing gap between the efficiency its digital apps delivered and the human relationships that had long set the brand apart.The bank devised a “Digital+Human” customer delivery strategy that includes a BFF (Best Financial Friend) app that delivers personal bankers (actual humans) to a customer’s phone via voice, video or chat.

The service design is brilliant. While other banks are either trying to drive more traffic into branches or more users into their digital platform, Umpqua recognized the beauty of combining the best of both worlds. Customer-driven details abound in the app’s service design: It allows customers to choose their banker (and keep that banker indefinitely) and has no qualifying criteria or interaction limits—basically what you’d expect in real life.

It’s community, not commerce.

The model offered by platform marketplaces sounds simple: Bring buyers and sellers together in a scalable volume that sellers couldn’t meet on their own. The reality is that these marketplaces are anything but simple. Important questions are surfacing for CMOs and product and service designers about what drives platform trust and, ultimately, sustained loyalty at each stage of the platform’s growth.

Brands that are nailing the trust:value quotient see their marketplace not as a platform for commerce but rather as a community. Etsy, which considers its success wholly dependent on their sellers’ success as entrepreneurs, has done this well.

Etsy has long operated with a community model that enables high-quality interactions between sellers, empowers sellers with business skills and engages sellers in the platform’s service design. When Etsy launched, it built critical mass by aligning with an existing community of “feminist crafters” and “alt crafters” with a substantial, established word-of-mouth network. While those communities had a significant established following, what they were missing was a marketplace. Etsy recognized that if it could deliver the marketplace while amplifying the voice of the seller community even more, a deep trust would form and network effects could drive sustained growth.

“Essentially, building a community around your marketplace means making your users feel that the marketplace is a part of their identity,” marketplace expert Cristóbal Gracia observed. And that’s key—it’s the very commonality among their sellers that sits at the core of the Etsy model—they’re all artists, creators, collectors and makers with a goal of earning a living with their crafts.

Design with, not for your customers.

Staying ahead of what your customers want next has never been more challenging or more essential to retaining customer loyalty. Community centered design—an approach in which you actively engage your customers as partners in the product or service design process—is quickly becoming an essential piece of the loyalty pie. It can also be a valuable opportunity to build trust among your most influential customer segment.

Human-level insights must be prioritized in this model. Relying strictly on quantitative data leaves a gaping hole in the social factors that influence how and when a product is used. Knowing who to tap for insights is your first step—as there’s typically a specific sector of your customer base who are your innovators. You can then recruit them into discovery experiences that provide valuable insight.

Once you have moved to the ideation or design stage, engage customers again to right-size design with actual use. Leveraging rapid prototyping, testing and adaptation to fine-tune features and surface barriers to adoption you otherwise wouldn’t have found.

The engagement economy is here to stay, and trust is its new currency. Getting it right will make or break a CMO and determine your company’s success in closing the gap between the sustained, personal relationships consumers demand today and the transactional tools many brands still rely on.

The following article was ghost written for Context Partners.


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