In data we trust

by Mark Rowe

Peter Boyle, pictured, CTO at Burning Tree, an information security consultancy, writes of building customer confidence in a digital economy.

In the modern, digital world, online shopping is becoming the norm within the retail market. Accelerated by the pandemic, the UK’s proportion of online retail sales soared to the highest on record, reaching 35.2 per cent in January 2021. And with digitisation continuing to evolve the online shopping experience, it is unlikely that we will see a shift back to pre-pandemic norms anytime soon.

So, what does this mean for business-customer relationships in the digital era? Without the experience of in-person shopping, online user experience has a strong influence over consumers’ buying decisions. As a result, brands must define their reputation as trustworthy and reputable providers by shaping their processes around customers’ online behaviours.

‘Digital trust’ is defined as the confidence users have in the ability of processes, people and technology to create a secure digital world, dividing the dependable services from the corrupt ones.

In a world where most people understand that not every online service is legitimate, establishing digital trust helps users decide which companies will keep their personal information safe. So, how can businesses gain the trust of their digital customers — and what will happen if they do not?

Why should businesses build digital trust?

When people make a purchase or interact with an online retailer, they demonstrate their digital trust in that business. However, the quality of the service is no longer defined by how an interface looks or how easy it is to navigate.

Customer expectations have evolved with digitisation. Driven by rapid device proliferation and improved internet connectivity, the modern online shopper expects to encounter seamless digital processes from sign-in to purchase — particularly since the pandemic, which increased the number of people using online services regularly.

Today, customers are more aware of how their data is being used and stored and base their shopping behaviours on a provider’s ability to ensure security. The Okta Digital Trust Index (2021), which surveyed 13,000 office workers, found that 88 per cent of people in the UK were unlikely to purchase from a brand they did not trust. And according to a recent report on the 20 most-trusted UK retailers, 58% of consumers are highly conscious about their safety when shopping online, citing identity theft as a significant concern.

Plus, with most businesses working online in some capacity, the government is introducing more regulations for using technology to use and manage digital identities. A new digital ‘trust framework‘ was announced earlier this year to make sharing digital identities between users easier and safer, allowing more control over what personal information is available to different services and organisations.

There are several ways businesses can generate a loyal digital customer base — from generating positive customer reviews to providing excellent customer service. But when it comes to digital trust, three main factors make people in the UK more likely to trust a brand: its service reliability, good security policies and quick response times — all of which can be facilitated by successful digital transformation.

Digital transformation

Cyber security is an essential consideration for organisations undergoing digital transformation, which involves implementing technology to automate processes, encourage a more cyber-aware business culture, increase security and refine the user experience. As such, retailers must ensure data is protected from a cyber breach to remain compliant and secure digital customers — and keep them coming back.

According to Okta’s survey, 47pc of UK people permanently stopped using a firm’s services after hearing of a data breach. As such, IT professionals are harnessing advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning to support existing traditional threat models and automate risk management to reduce the overall probability of falling victim to a cyber attack.

Many organisations are also taking a ‘zero-trust’ approach to cyber security, which means that no activity within a network is trusted straight away. Every device, service, application or user connected by a network must go through a robust identity and access management process to gain a least privileged level of trust and associated access entitlements. As such, implementing a zero-trust framework helps bolster cyber security and minimises the likelihood of a breach.

Effective customer identity and access management (CIAM) solutions will also enable organisations to capture and interpret customer profile data to inform customised user experiences whilst controlling secure access to services and applications. A robust CIAM solution may involve implementing multi-factor authentication (MFA), self-service account management and single sign-on (SSO) to minimise friction, increase engagement and develop trust in business processes over time.

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