Trust is the currency of the sharing economy. Buyers wouldn't rent a house, purchase a product or depend on a ride from a stranger without trusting the reliability of the seller.
Few services demand more trust than the one I focus on. My company, UrbanSitter, connects customers with babysitters for their kids. Since our launch seven years ago, we have successfully connected hundreds of thousands of families with babysitters nationwide. Here's how we earned trust from our customers using product features, logistics and customer service – and how you can too, no matter your industry.
1. Identify a need and speak to it.
Your goal is to grab visitors' attention and demonstrate that you are an expert in fulfilling their need. First identify your ideal customer, and then determine the top three scenarios that describe the reason they've landed on your site. Your goal should be to immediately show your visitors that you understand their need and have the most relevant product for solving it.
For instance, UrbanSitter's ideal customer is a parent who has a somewhat urgent need for a babysitter. They visit our site because they need to hire a sitter. We know that cost can be a concern for them. We also know that they're likely in a pinch and don't have an offline referral from a friend or family member for this date and time. Knowing this, we can speak to them the second their eyes land on our homepage, delivering information and proof that allows them to make a well-informed decision. We show them available sitters, average response times and price ranges. What's more, by using LinkedIn, Facebook and other social connections, we sort available sitters based on the customer's degree of connection to them, so their friends' sitters are shown first.
2. Let your data speak for you.
Once you have identified your customers and their needs, you know what's important to them and can deliver data to help them make an informed decision about your product or service. Many companies in the sharing economy rely solely on star ratings and reviews, but adding data specific to your service builds expertise. In addition to allowing users to give high marks to favorite sitters, UrbanSitter provides data on response times so those who need a last-minute sitter know which sitters will likely get back to them quickly. We also share data on repeat families to show how many families have hired a sitter more than once – a trusted marker of credibility for the sitter.
You can also leverage data to address customer concerns and deepen their trust. Simply ask what concerns them during strategic opportunities, such at the end of a transaction or when they leave your site without buying. We found that some customers were hesitant to book a sitter online when they didn't know anyone else who had done it. We were able to show them data on other parents they know who use the service, culling from shared groups or associations.
3. Leverage trust earned by others.
LinkedIn, Facebook and Google services that port user information make it easier than ever to leverage social graphs that are hugely beneficial to earning trust. When people know that you've already established trust in your product or service – especially among people they know and respect – it makes them feel safer getting on board. Social proof on the scale networks offer is hugely beneficial to decision-making.
Start with sharing data points from a chosen network that will signify expertise and show credibility to the group of customers you're trying to reach. For UrbanSitter, we started by showing people's Facebook connections – friend and family recommendations carry the most weight with parents – and then added local group affiliations, such as schools, churches and parenting groups. As our service and customer base grew, we collected and added testimonials and reviews from influential bloggers and trusted news sources. When someone with a following writes about their experience with your product, it becomes highly compelling information. You absorb the trust of their followers.
4. Make it personal.
Nothing creates trust more than human-to-human connection. Because of this, video can be a game-changer for internet-based companies, personalizing an online experience in ways text and photos cannot match. Video can turn flat, data-filled profiles into lively, three-dimensional experiences. For our service, video profiles allow sitters to showcase their personalities and make parents feel more comfortable with hiring them.
Another way to personalize your brand and create closer connections with prospective customers is to take your marketing efforts offline. Hold or attend events that give customers a chance to interact with your brand and service. Don't be afraid to try unscalable events, especially in new markets. Eye-to-eye contact and a handshake go a long way toward building connections that lead to trust.
5. Rely on influencers.
When you're launching a new company or expanding into a new market, go hyperlocal, and go for a "wow" factor that can be repeated. Assemble the highest-quality product or service providers – for us, the best-of-the-best sitters – and introduce them in an area where customers are highly concentrated and uber-connected. Those powerful first customers will have top-notch experiences with your service and spread the word throughout their circles. For this reason, when UrbanSitter launched in the New York Metropolitan area, the service first went live in Brooklyn, letting word-of-mouth grow and naturally expand over to Manhattan and Queens.
You can do this online too by embedding social media capabilities into your product – leveraging Facebook sharing, for instance. We embed it into sitter profiles so customers can post about sitters they love. These shared endorsements become powerful success stories, especially when shared between customers who already know each other. People see that their friends have found success and assume they will too.
6. Let your customers guide you.
To earn trust, empower your customers by giving them control over their experience. Once you know your user and understand how they are using your service – by tracking behavior and analyzing data – you'll be able to give them what they really want. For instance, in looking at data trends, we found that when our customers' favorite sitters aren't available, they are often interested in hiring their sitters' friends. Knowing this, we modified our search parameters to make it quicker and easier for parents to find their sitters' friends on the site and in the app. They feel completely in control of the process when they can seamlessly connect with the sitters they want to hire.
No doubt, earning your customers' trust is critical to building success in the sharing economy. By understanding their needs and concerns, delivering quality products and services, and making it easy to share their experience with others, you can show your customers you respect them enough to ask for their trust. Once you convince them – and continue to provide reliable service – they become ambassadors for your brand, helping you secure both repeat business and new customers.