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So, what is trust?

Tim Williams

And how does it drive customer behaviour?

If you realised you’d left your wallet on your desk at work would you feel less anxious than if you left it on a table in a cafe? 


If so, why?


Is trust the result of a calculated assessment of risk or is it more like a vague feeling? 


Or is it perhaps a bit of both? 


Perhaps the best way to get a better understanding of what trust is is to consider what life would be like without it: we’d be paralysed by indecision, unable to undertake simple tasks without going through a mental risk assessment every five minutes.


We’re hard-wired to trust

Trust is evolution’s way of allowing us to move from a subsistence existence on the savannah to navigate the complexity of modern society. Trust took off the moment our distant ancestors realised that working together was a smarter strategy than going it alone. We crave trust as if it were a drug. In fact it could be said it is a drug. Oxytocin is a chemical our brain produces when we feel safe, when we’re part of of the ‘clan’, when we’re with those we trust implicitly. 


One reason our brain likes oxytocin is because it doesn’t like having to sweat the small stuff. Thinking is actually hard work and it much prefers it if we can act on instinct. Imagine how exhausting it would be if you had to assess whether the ‘tribe’ you work with at was out to get you every time you go to work.


The biology of trust matters a lot when it comes to that other key aspect of modern society: the much misunderstood relationship between brands and their customers. How many customers choose our brand out of habit, without thinking about it? How many customers are we losing because there is something they instinctively don’t trust about us?

Behaviour is driven by emotion


Trust is a small word for a big subject. It governs our actions big and small every day - often without us realising it.

"What is trust? A confident relationship with the unknown."
Rachel Botsman


More accurately, it influences the emotions driving our behaviour.  Think about the first time you used a contactless payment card or used a self check-in app for a flight. Did being asked to do something in a new way excite you about a brave new world or did it leave you feeling a little bit anxious and apprehensive?

Such emotions can be triggered by seemingly minor things, which is of particular importance for anyone concerned with the customer experience. I remember boarding a plane from Los Angeles to Auckland, contemplating the awful lot of water separating the two runways, when the sight of a Rolls Royce logo on the side of an engine did wonders for my confidence. 


Now that’s trust.

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