Article 4 min

How to build and maintain consumer trust in a digital-first world

Building consumer trust

March 31, 2022   |   Author: Zac Cohen

The pandemic rapidly accelerated the pace of digitization over the past nearly two years. It showed that in some cases, digital experiences could be as good, and often even better, than traditional in-person alternatives.

However, the pandemic also fast-tracked cybercrime and fraud, with bad actors upping the scale, sophistication and frequency of their attacks and causing major threats to businesses, governments and consumers. It has become increasingly clear that organizations must take a proactive, strategic approach to build trust.

So, where should companies begin?

The foundation of trust drives better business

The benefits of digital services are enormous, but the path to a better way isn’t always easy for organizations and people to navigate. Between the 69% increase in cybercrime complaints in 2020 and the 485% increase in ransomware reports, our digital well-being is constantly under threat. If we want to build digital ecosystems as forces for good, trust and transparency must be developed.

Businesses have an important role in serving in creating high standards for accountability. Edelman’s 2021 Trust Barometer found that among the four types of institutions studied, businesses are the most trusted (over government, media and nongovernmental organizations). Taking this analysis a step further, businesses are the only trusted institution with a 61% trust level globally, whereas NGOs, government and media were all rated as neutral when asked how much everyday people trust the institution to do what is right. Businesses were also the only institution seen as both competent and ethical.

With that data in mind, those who can establish, maintain and sustain trust will be the ones winning over customers and turning them into life-long purchasers and even brand ambassadors.

How to build trust

The time to build a stronger digital trust ecosystem is now. Consumers created, on average, 15 new online accounts during the pandemic, and 44% do not plan to delete or deactivate these new accounts, according to an IBM and Morning Consult survey. This means consumers have a larger digital footprint. And with 82% of consumers reporting they reuse online credentials “at least some of the time,” they are more likely to suffer from data breaches.

Knowing this, it is imperative businesses get ahead and ensure their digital ecosystem is built on trust. Earlier this year, my company commissioned research to understand the next generation of professionals dedicated to building this trust. We call these individuals “champions of trust,” and they consist of compliance, risk and IT security professionals. After conducting 408 interviews across 16 countries, we learned a few valuable insights. For example, nearly three-fourths (73%) said it’s important that organizations “have or develop Champions of Trust.” Yet, many respondents also said they don’t feel empowered to operate as one in their organizations.

As we enter 2022, a few areas where champions of trust can drive action include:

Ensure data protection. More digital transactions mean more information and data to protect. Implementing controls, detecting suspicious activity and protecting against unauthorized access are all examples of steps compliance, risk and IT security professionals can take to help ensure the right protocols are in place to maintain consumer confidence.

Consider multifactor authentication. You can also consider combining multiple methods of authentication to look at not only what the user has, such as their password, but also who the user is. (Full disclosure: My company provides identity verification solutions, as do others.) This layered defense can make it more challenging to hack as you’re stopping access before it can begin.

That said, you might also recognize that colleagues and consumers aren’t comfortable or familiar with multifactor authentication at first. Spending time educating these users on the importance of the added layer of protection will go a long way in encouraging adoption and building practices that involve more security steps to mitigate things like security breaches.

Empower employees. Establish a culture where employees feel welcome to speak out about risks they see within the business. This allows employees to play a hand in battling potential risks and squash them before they become a problem a consumer might encounter.

As risk, compliance and IT security professionals take tactical, meaningful steps forward, it’s key they receive support along the way. Forming alliances within the organization in IT and security, as well as securing C-suite and board-level buy-in, are all essential. With the right support, professionals can create a lasting legacy within their organizations based on their ability to build and maintain consumer trust.

This article first appeared on Forbes.