By Sabrina Leblanc

The vast majority of Canadians (95%) believe trust plays a role in making big purchase decisions, according to new SurveyMonkey research of over 3,000 consumers around the world, including input from over 1,000 Canadians.

However, that trust is difficult to earn; an earlier study of ours shows consumers have very little trust in marketing, saying it’s “just trying to sell them things they don’t need.”

And who can blame them? Consumers are inundated with thousands of advertisements. For marketers, there’s more technology at our fingertips than ever, enabling us to reach out to consumers at scale. But this technology often threatens the thing that all good relationships are built on, which are human connections, founded on trust.

It’s never been more difficult —or more important—to win customer trust. If people don’t have trust in your brand, they won’t buy from it and they certainly won’t recommend it to their friends. Luckily, there are tangible steps you can take to lay a foundation of good faith with your customers.

Here’s the do’s and don’ts of building (and breaking) customer trust:
Do: Have a web site people can reference and social media accounts. Nearly half (45%) of small businesses still don’t have web sites, according to the CNBC/SurveyMonkey Small Business Survey.

When it comes to winning trust, that’s quite a miss. Consumers are significantly less likely to trust a brand without a web site or a social media account, and it’s especially important for Millennials; 51% of Canadian Millennials trust a company without a web site either “a little bit” or “not at all”.

If you’re looking to grow, especially among Millennials, it’s time to invest in digital. With do-it-yourself software readily available the cost of hosting a web site has gone down. With the benefits that come from winning consumer trust it’s an incredibly worthwhile use of your resources.

Don’t: Push customers away with way too much social ad targeting. 51% of Canadians have never made a purchase because of an ad, and even fewer have purchased because of Facebook ads (16%), Instagram ads (7%) and Twitter (4%), according to our recent research. Algorithm-driven marketing campaigns simply don’t sit well with many of today’s consumers. Automated advertising—while efficient—sometimes misses the mark. It even drives people away; most people in our previous research said they “feel watched” by social media ads that follow them and some even have said that such targeted ads make them “feel disgusted.”

Instead, try personalized marketing that’s relevant to your specific audience. And if you don’t know what that looks like, start with a little market research.

Do: Test your ads before pushing them live. 35% Canadians would lose trust because of offensive advertising, which is a lot to gamble if you’re unsure about your messaging. You can mitigate that risk by testing ads or ad concepts a.k.a. concept testing before sending them out to the public. Concept testing involves reaching out to small panels of people that represent your target audience and seeing how they react to different prompts. Careful concept testing can help you identify both potentially offensive messages and potential selling points.

According to Dorie Clark, a professor at Duke’s Fuqua school of business, interviewed in an article on our site, 3 Strategies to defeat bland marketing and take smarter risks, when “you understand your customer intimately, that’s the message you should go with.” In other words: do your homework.

Do: Look to your customers for help. The number one factor that convinces Canadians to make a big purchase? Family and friends. 64% of Canadian respondents said that they’d bought products on the recommendation of someone they’re close to. If you can encourage happy customers to share their experiences with those around them, it’s a powerful way to earn trust.

Even if your customers don’t have friends or family members in the market for your product, their objective voice can still be valuable. Researchers at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management found that third-party sources like consumer reports and review sites are the sources that potential buyers put the most faith in1. People want to do their own research, read reviews and check out your web site, so marketers need to make sure that type of information is available.

Satisfied customers can often be your strongest allies. If you’re uncertain about who to reach out to, you can survey your customers and calculate your Net Promoter Score (NPS) using a free calculator, both available through our site.

Do: Invest in exceptional product experiences and customer service. Winning trust as a brand isn’t all that different from winning trust as an individual. It boils down to being transparent and building up a rapport over time. In our research, people consistently listed customer service among the most important factor for winning their trust. Making customers feel respected is the best (and only) way to keep their faith in your brand.

Here are the three things Canadian consumers value most when it comes to customer service:

1. Resolving problems to the customers’ satisfaction (68%).
2. Responding quickly (68%).
3. Acting like a human being (46%).

Winning trust has become more of an uphill battle as the barrier to entry for starting a company gets lower and the marketplace consequently gets more crowded. But taking the time to differentiate and really win customer trust pays off. Once brands have differentiated themselves and earned customer trust, the loyalty is nearly priceless; only 9% of people trust a brand at the first purchase, but by the second purchase it’s up to 67%.

SurveyMonkey CEO Zander Lurie recently delivered a keynote, available on YouTube, about trust at the popular international tech conference, Web Summit. He put it simply: “treat your customers like humans—because they are.” Connecting with customers on a human level is still the best way to win their trust and loyalty—and it likely always will be.

Sabrina Leblanc is director of sales, SurveyMonkey Canada, (

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