The Internet lowers the barrier to entry for many products and start-ups. However, with that lower barrier comes the greater need for establishing and maintaining Trust and Credibility.
Credibility cannot be assumed to simply exist. Credibility is a product feature that needs to be created and cultivated. The most elementary components of Credibility are Design, Contact, and Team, and also used by Quick-UX in determining product Usefulness and Credibility. Beyond Quick-UX, altogether, the principal factors of Credibility and Trust are:
First impressions are important. When someone visits a new online product they start forming their opinion immediately. Therefore, it is important to instantly convey the look-and-feel appropriate to your target audience. If you are targeting a business audience, you will start out on the right foot building that critical initial Trust, with a clean and professional site design.
Many may be surprised by the level of simple mistakes, typos, that can be found in online products. No matter your audience, business or social, typos are a quick way to damage Trust in the product and the people behind the product. Evidence of typos demonstrates a carelessness and lack of attention to detail, which no consumer wants to be receiving.
The more prominently displayed is the contact information, the more comfortable any web product user will feel. Users want to know that if they have a problem, a question, or a simple desire to comment about a web product, there are one or more means by which this can be accomplished. The more options available, the more personal and real those options feel, and the more credible will be the web product. Even if the contact options are not used, having that safety net, that security blanket for “just in case,” helps keep the user engaged and utilizing the online product. The ability to contact by email (or form) should be seen as a basic requirement. Proving that the company has a physical location to which mail can be sent or that the company can be reached by phone where a real person will answer only serves to bolster the important case of web company / product legitimacy.
Are there real people on the other end? Hello? Is somebody out there? When you are a company offering products on the web, prove it. There is nothing like actually seeing and learning about the people behind and supporting the product. A friendly face, a trustworthy visage, builds personal, emotional bonds.
It is important to show that there are real people, with their names and reputations standing behind the product, especially if you want your users to stand in front of, and use, it. And, here too, to increase the Trust further, a very welcoming act to the timid user is demonstrated by showing that (in addition to being able to contact the more amorphous support team) even your team, with real people, can be directly reached by email or phone.
At the start of this article I asked, “Would you use an online product that has neither made any announcements, nor made any improvements to their product in 6 months or longer?”
The lower barrier of entry to releasing a product on the Web also makes communicating to that product’s users easier and, in turn, builds on the expectations of recurring and forthright communications. There is no excuse in today’s world for a web product to not be in constant, open, and honest communication with its various audiences (press, user, prospective user, etc.).
There should never be a time when there is nothing to communicate. There is always a status update, a product update, a company update, a product tip, and more that can be communicated to a web product’s users via many channels, from product blog, to homepage and forums.
Users will come back and continually engage a web product if the people behind the product continually return the favor, engaging the users, honestly communicating, and respecting those who have placed their Trust in it.
Part of Trust means that I can count on ‘you’ to be there when I need you; and I will, in turn, be there for you. I will be your web product’s user. For a web-based product, Trust in reliability is all that much more important than that of a software or brick-and-mortar company. Web products perform such tasks as enabling communication, enhancing mobility, and/or storing information. The moment the value-add of the web product comes into conflict with the ability to access that product or interferes with that product’s ability to meet expectations, then loyalty will wane and alternative web and desktop products sought out.
A company like Google understands the Trust that has been placed in them, and understands the damage to its Credibility, and the tremendous amount of mending that must be done to restore it, when Quality falls short (see Worldwide Vacation Day – Courtesy of Google). Even with the tremendously positive reputation of Google, there exist many individuals who fear storing their personal or other important data within Google’s products.
A web product is making the argument to its current and potential users that it will in some way improve or enhance each user’s life. The user may initially take a leap of faith with the product, but that faith needs to be surrounded by a cushion of Trust. That Trust is established through the consistent delivery of reliable services (e.g. uptime, release dates, information updates, etc.) and meeting (or exceeding) the user’s expectations.
Often Credibility is not well understood by both well established companies and startups. Many times it exists for a brief moment, and is squandered due to mismanagement or negligence. Credibility is critical to the retained growth and prolonged success of a web product. The basics of establishing and maintaining Credibility and Trust can be best summarized by…
Be professional. Look professional.
Be reachable. Provide prominent contact information.
Be visible. Show your face.
Be active. Frequently communicate.
Be reliable. Act professional.
Credibility starts and ends with presenting a professional online presence, be it for a fun, social website, or a b2b product.
With so many online product options available, there is simply no reason to use an untrustworthy product — just move on to something else.
Whether you are a start-up or a long established company, you should never rest on your laurels. You need to establish Trust and Credibility early and constantly maintain and build upon it. People have too much choice to be bothered with any company that causes them even the slightest bit of doubt.
Everyone knows of online products with Trust issues. What is happening (or starting to happen) to their userbase? How well do you feel those companies are addressing their challenges of Credibility?
Feature Request: Trust
To the creators and guardians of both new and old online products:
Your users, your fans, your critics, whether they enjoy or disparage your web product, there should be one pillar no one should be able to fault, and that is your company’s and your product’s Credibility. They may like or not like what you are offering, but they should, at the very least, Trust you.
Thank you & Enjoy!
The Product Guy
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