Food for Thought: Building Trusted Digital Experiences
As part of our Food for Thought series, discover how technology leaders build frameworks to connect customers and digital platforms, and encourage trust and loyalty.
Trusted digital experiences are a modern phenomenon, but trust has always been the cornerstone of the relationship between customers and organisations. Historically, it was in the handshake, the verbal agreement and in the word. Since 1801, for example, dictum meum pactum, my word is my bond, has been the motto of the London Stock Exchange. Today, trust in this context is a little more complex.
Today, trust is built with a clear brand, product or service value, a journey relevant to the context of your business and the customer’s desired outcome reached. Done consistently, that experience builds loyalty and competitive advantage. But with the advent and the continued evolution of digital technology, those experiences have evolved both in quality and quantity—as have customers’ expectations. The number of touch-points a customer, client or partner has with a business has multiplied by orders of magnitude in two decades, and the ramifications this has had in maintaining seamless, safe experiences, both online and offline, has become a key C-suite conversation, connecting CIOs and CTOs, data leaders and their younger cousins, the customer leaders.
Building trusted digital experiences forces these leaders and their teams to unpick the differences between trust and loyalty, the mechanisms behind customer identity and privacy, as well as the data, strategies and talent required to see it all through. In 2023, with a changeable geopolitical backdrop and increasing amounts of digital transactions, discovery and real estate, amongst others, building trusted digital experiences is more vital than ever.
Joining HotTopics, in partnership with Okta and PwC, the following technology leaders compared and contrasted frictionless experiences, strategies to build loyalty and what they’re investing in to cement building trusted digital experiences into their mainframe.
Technology leader insights:
- Ching-Har Wong, Chief Digital & Customer Officer, Ganni
- David Kavanagh, former Group CTO; NED, CrowdToLive
- David Ivell, Chief Product & Technology Officer, Team Teach
- Gerard McGovern, CIO, The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association
- Giles Lindsay, Interim CIO, Satago
- Ian Golding, Interim CIO (recently Anthesis Group)
- Mark Murray, IT Director, EcoWorld London
- Roberto Maranca, Data Excellence VP, Schneider Electric
- Will Sprunt, CIO, Deliveroo
- Rachel Phillips, VP UK&I, Okta
- Will Stevns, Partner, PwC
Key learnings at a Glance:
- The best digital experiences are when businesses understand their customer segments well, using tried and tested data to map and personalise different user journeys.
- Be wary of seeking ‘frictionless’; some friction can be preferred, and in some contexts, legally compliant.
- Customer identity is a cornerstone of experience, but there is scope to allow customers to curate their own experiences, building loyalty within your shared relationship.
- The main difference between loyalty and trust is one is implicit, the other, explicit; loyalty is more forgiving than trust—the former can be tested, the latter cannot.
- Don’t lose brand voice by focusing too much on the customer. Much of customer loyalty is because they understand what your business stands for and how that fits with them.
- Don’t forget the human element: human interactions and digital experiences should not be mutually exclusive moments.
- Investment in talent is the single most important factor for building tomorrow’s standout experiences.
- Investment in data and research is, perhaps, the second most important.
- Overarchingly, the lesson here is context is both King and Queen. It informs you what the appropriate experience should be, when, why, how and for whom.
Unpacking ‘frictionless, trusted digital experiences’
A North Star for technology leaders as they are building trusted digital experiences is the concept of ‘frictionless’. It is an almost theoretical experience whereby a customer’s or client’s digital interactions with a business are completely seamless, their needs predictable and predicted, in the simplest and quickest journey possible, every time.
At the mention of the term, many across the table nodded their heads in recognition. Ching-Har Wong, then Chief Digital & Customer Officer of Danish fashion brand Ganni, spoke first.
“The key to any good customer experience is to start by understanding who your customer is,” she began. “We sit at the intersection of luxury and mass fashion, and have a global footprint of stores, customers, digital platforms and wholesale partners; friction needs to be reduced at every part of their digital experience. That was our aim.”
Ganni, led by Ching-Har, redesigned its entire website based on new understandings of its customers. She analysed the then-current customer journey, mapping things to keep and fold. That “involved speaking to a lot of customers.” It also led them to pursue a “customer-led, not brand-led, strategy” in order to pursue the best digital experiences.
But customers rarely, if ever, fall into a simple category where a single journey can suffice. Digital experiences now require enormous power and thought to balance different user types and journeys, and map where and how those customer touchpoints are and feel. The digital experience is all of those together, said Will Stevns, Partner and FS-focused lead at PwC.
A definition for frictionless?
At this point, the group took a step back to consider the definition of frictionless. Will continued to explain that technology has given us frictionless experiences, but actually “you want to design the friction back in.” He gave an example within banking to illustrate his point. “In financial services, may place more trust in the bank that has the best due-diligence, even if it is technically a more friction-full user experience. The bank is building trust by demonstrating its friction. It’s relevant in this sector, in this context.”
In fact, some frictionless digital experiences can be “creepy”, said Will Sprunt, CIO of Deliveroo.
“Frictionless experiences require data and talent to activate, but also customer expectations, too,” he said. “In a pub, if a best friend surprises you with your favourite drink, it’s a nice surprise. If a stranger does that, it’s actually disturbing. The difference? It’s the permission or consent present within the relationship.”
The same can be said for customer-business relationships, agreed the group, reminding us that skipping steps just to say one ‘delivers frictionless digital experiences’ seriously risks alienating the very customers you claim to know. The most effective way to build out that journey is to invest in data.
As a group, the technology leaders agreed that frictionless digital experiences require the right data and operations—nothing is worse than a frictionless experience that hasn’t actually understood or recognised the customer, we heard. Know your customer first. Iron out the kinks from then on. The closer you get to a single source of truth, the greater your data’s impact on building better digital experiences. And remember to test your data(!), David Ivell, Chief Product & Technology Officer, Team Teach, reminded us all.
Customer identity and personalisation
Which brought us onto customer identity. Who is your customer and what digital experience(s) do they actually want? Perhaps self-curation is the answer.
“We have seen the extent to which a customer can design their own experiences,” said PwC’s Will. Again in a banking context, customers are now asked how they want to view their data and information. It’s a level of flexibility that some brands are using as marketing collateral.
“This makes them feel more ownership towards your shared product, thereby building a shared experience,” he closed.
This inspired a number of different trains of thought. For Schneider Electric’s Data Excellence VP Roberto Maranca, “the act of buying is still emotional, so digital experiences should be understood through the lens of emotion.” It’s also more “subscription based”, said Will of Deliveroo. So, either the experience is emotional and some friction adds to the enjoyment of the purchase or experience, or it's transactional, and a simple, quick journey will suffice, he continued.
Should we personalise the friction a user has? Do we run the risk of giving too much power to the user? These were valid follow-up questions, ones however for a follow-up conversation.
What was important to mention here was fraud. Frictionless, trusted digital experiences rely on huge amounts of data and people’s digital footprints require protection. In many respects, those protections could also be classed as ‘friction’, from an experience perspective. Where does fraud sit between identity and experience; is there an ultimate tension between frictionless and fraud?
“There are progressive levels of authentication and permission that customers expect”, felt the group as a whole. In more detail, day-to-day actions differ from more complex ones; one needs higher degrees of friction and trust than the other. Again, context is key. This matters for everyone because context will differentiate what is appropriate for whom, when and why.
For Deliveroo, it is important to understand whether an account has been hacked or not. “Do you impose credit or debit card validation to protect customers? Many would say yes—until ordering a repeat order on a Friday night becomes a laborious task.” The balance can be hard to find.
Perhaps then the very term ‘friction’ in this context is a misnomer. If frictionless is the North Star for digital experiences, why do so many instances of friction seem to be a necessary layer?
The group bandied around alternatives. Grip? Control?
From a data perspective, both compliance and ethics rule, as we learned from Roberto. “Compliant measures abide by the rule of law and ethics abide by our codes of conduct; those are the two guardrails for the Chief Data Officer. They build trust. And as we’ve heard, if you don’t have trust, you don’t have a business.”
How to win customer loyalty
With trust comes loyalty—or so we assume. But is there a risk of that assumption catching leaders out? And if so, what strategies help mitigate that risk whilst also supporting customer loyalty?
“The main difference between loyalty and trust,” said Roberto, “is that one is implicit and one is more explicit. At Schneider Electric I can tell you there has been a conscientious movement to make trust central to operations and employ a ‘trust charter’. We need to walk the talk internally before we advertise externally how trustworthy we are.”
This consideration of trust and loyalty within an organisation’s teams struck a chord with the table.
“I completely agree,” said Giles Lindsay, Interim CIO at Satago. “Only this morning I said that ‘as trust is absolutely key for our business, it is just as important internally for employees as it is for customers externally’. It’s within our vision and purpose, and the team has to believe in that.”
Building a community
David Kavanagh, a recent Group CTO, agreed, and shared his experience, with a former FS investment firm that encouraged users to save money, using community marketing.
“The community effect was reinforcing,” he said. “We encouraged stories about lives changing and this built an inclusive community. This helped build and grow certain products and purpose values.” The proof of the power of this community was evident in the business’ funding round soon after, which saw many of its customers turn investors.
For David Ivell, “loyalty is more forgiving than trust; the former can be tested, the latter cannot.” The message here? Do not go over and above trust for loyalty, because you’ll fail.
And Mark Murray, IT Director, EcoWorld London, brought the conversation full circle: “Don’t ever aim to be frictionless if you’re an SME. Longevity, which all SMEs are seeking, requires constant interaction and data to build relationships with your customers. That data is collected via friction-points in order to build better experiences that then builds trust and loyalty. You can’t skip that part.”
The conversation evolved then to encompass cautionary tales (and lessons) around building trusted digital experiences.
One, organisation design can be so focused on the customer voice that they lose sight of the brand voice. Two, the voices of strategic partners and even one’s supply chain are useful because they provide situational awareness, and they themselves have brand loyalty and trust that can be tapped into by association, where appropriate. Three, the employee factor is perhaps the most interesting element to digital storytelling: teams need to become partners and should be secured before considering new customer markets; in fact, consider your teams as a customer segment that should be provided for, too.
Moreover, do not treat human and digital as two mutually exclusive realms. Gerard McGovern, CIO of The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, is also the former CIO of Great Ormond Street Hospital, the children’s hospital in London. His perspective from the charity sector offered an illuminating view of purpose-driven, digital experiences.
“The human element is important because digital doesn't necessarily mean frictionless and human doesn't necessarily mean friction. At Guide Dogs, yes, we use digital technologies to be the best we can, but our services are delivered by humans, and we don't characterise that as friction,” he explained.
The standout experiences of tomorrow
How do you build the standout experiences of tomorrow? Talent, or people, was the unequivocal answer, we heard.
It is front of mind for Mark Reid who is seeing pre-pandemic levels of activity and people are central to supporting his business. It is front of mind for David Ivell who believes teams should be “empowered, as they do the work often closest to the customer.” It is also front of mind for Ian Golding, Anthesis Group, and Roberto Maranca, who believes a “common intelligence” allows teams to treat customers in the same way, giving customers a consistent experience regardless of touchpoint or time.”
But for Ching-Har and Rachel Phillips, Okta’s VP UK&I, for a common intelligence to be intelligent, the right systems and processes need to be put in place. “It falls on the employee to trust the brand and make an informed decision as they serve the customer. That’s also true for internal collaboration: trust has to be part of the internal culture for that to happen.”
Have companies articulated a standout experience?
“It’s easier to spot bad experiences than good experiences,” Will of PwC reminded the group. “But it’s not about one great experience, it’s lots of touchpoints that they have with you. How do you optimise all of those touch points, continually, is the question we should be asking ourselves.”
Lessons for today and tomorrow
Building standout experiences—building trusted digital experiences—therefore requires investment in talent to both support your business as it builds trust and loyalty with customers and clients, but also within themselves so they feel trusted and loyal. It is, as this group was keen to state, a simple thing to forget. Investment in data capture, particularly primary sources of data, helps you build pictures of your different customers that will inform you who they are and what they want. This is vital in building the types of journeys they enjoy taking with you, bringing them back for more. And these investments should be made strategically with partners on a continual basis because these journeys will have to evolve with the customer themselves, oftentimes using its own data to predict how they will change even before the customer knows. Caution: move too fast and you risk upsetting the tacit agreement that personalisation is only valued for trusted relationships.
“Building trusted digital relationships requires robust cybersecurity measures, and these should be communicated with customers at key moments to secure trust in the process,” advised Rachel Phillips, VP UK&I at Okta, closing the conversation. “Privacy is a growing concern for users and should be treated with respect.”
Finally, when we really think about frictionlessness in the context of digital experiences, it becomes apparent that it isn’t—or shouldn’t be—the North Star for technology leaders. Some friction can be secure; it can be legally compliant; and it can even be pleasant as it builds upon the emotional element of, say, an important transaction. Technology leaders must assess the context of each touchpoint and what it means to each customer. Only then can they begin to build out different levels of friction as they continue to build trusted digital experiences.
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Paul Coby, CIO of Persimmon Homes, and former CIO of John Lewis Partners, British Airways, and Johnson Matthey, who could not join on the day, reviewed the recording and offered his thoughts on this key topic, below:
“Trust can be the pinnacle aspiration for a brand, and it is—for some companies and some brands— what drives loyalty, and regular and repeat business. A good example of this is [at] John Lewis when I was there five years ago, where the JL brand was built on ‘never knowingly undersold’ and ‘unchallenged returns’. It meant that JL customers trusted they always got good value and could buy with confidence they could return. This built the trust that meant generations of customers trusted JL with their wedding lists, upsizing, downsizing and so forth.
Now, in the omni-channel digital world, JL worked hard to develop new ways to express value and trust, and this process has continued to evolve the brand. However, at heart, trust is simple: it’s the belief that customers have that a company will behave exactly how it says it will. This is much more than simply abiding by the law and codes of conduct.”
Paul also offered advice on the customer and their own stories, from his own experience leading global teams with important customer touchpoints.
“The points made about knowing your customer are important. Sometimes they want a frictionless experience, and sometimes they want to understand and ask questions. A simple example [is] from when we went significantly online at British Airways. If you fly every week to Amsterdam in Club Europe, you want to book it in as few clicks as possible and you want to be recognised as a valued customer; or, get Avios and seat choices easily. However, we realised if you are taking your family round the world with stopovers for a trip of a lifetime, you want to be able to explore this online but you want someone to ask questions of, and you want someone to call should there be problems to resolve in the journey.
“Recognise that customers are different and often the experience they want is conditioned by what they are buying, not necessarily who they are.”
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