The EU TRUESSEC programme is an inter-disciplinary initiative to foster trust and confidence in new and emerging ICT products and services throughout Europe. The project intends to achieve this by encouraging the adoption of appropriate assurance and certification processes.
Last week the Digital Catapult (the project coordinator) held a debate entitled “Can you trust digital products and services?”. One of the inputs to this was a business survey run by Innovate UK’s Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN), which examined issues surrounding trust, labelling and certification. This found, for example, that 80% of businesses felt that that ICT security certification is a valuable tool to reduce cyber vulnerabilities of ICT products or services.
Cybersecurity is an essential foundation for trust. Labelling may help in some circumstances. But neither are sufficient to ensure trust. For trust, the buyer needs to believe that the seller is offering a product that will do what it claims at a price that is fair, that the seller will be there to help if something goes wrong and that protection is there as a last resort.
New and emerging ICT products are frequently subscription-based, with free or discounted entry points and business model based on upsell over time. Although the buyer is a person, the seller is now invariably a software program and the store is invariably digital rather than physical. All this makes for a new and complex trust dynamic. Products will embed sales algorithms built on AI technologies that have the goal of increasing average revenue per customer. The product will have to learn to create a trusted relationship, even as it tries to extract more revenue from the user.
The latest survey from Marketing Sherpa reiterates that consumer trust in online channels is far lower than in traditional channels. Vendors of ICT products will need to shift their thinking from the supply side to the demand side. A good start would be a behavioural study to understand the causes of reduced trust online and predict what will happen as the product becomes the channel.
If you need to know whether a software application meets your exact needs (for example that it will interface to your current system), testing prior to sign-up is an essential activity. Many cloud-based applications use a minimalist front end listing the reasons to buy, but not fully describing the functionality provided. In the ‘Freemium’ business model the customer can play with the application and find out what it can do for themselves. I recently got a free account with a web conferencing tool to find out whether it would meet my needs.
But testing was painful. I was constantly presented with messages asking me to ‘upgrade’ and buy a monthly subscription (with great savings if I paid for a year in advance!). The navigation continually pointed me towards features that I could not use as they were unavailable in the free version. Support via online chat yielded the bare minimum in terms of answers. That company lost a prospective customer.
Computer software used to be sold to us by people, a natural person to person process. Now it is the software itself that (often covertly) sells to us, which for humans is unnatural. Instead of selling to us just once when we first buy the product, software sells to us all the time we are using it. It constantly upsells the next subscription tier, or the purchase of extras, which can leave the user feeling irritated or manipulated. Cloud-based application providers need to carefully consider the integrity of their offering if they are to establish a loyal customer base.
Andrew Keevil assists technology companies with strategy and marketing, specialising in new proposition development.