When it comes to online business we have detailed analytics that show us exactly how consumers behave when they reach a website. Visitor numbers, visitor pathways, entrance pages, exit pages, visitor intent (divined from their on-site journey), conversions, visitor interests, abandonment rate, bounce rate and visitor loyalty is the roll call of many a report that tries to show why an online business is not living up to its full potential.
What almost all of these reports and the many presentations that attend them do not show is that whenever a business fails to connect with its audience and turn a profit, almost always, the missing ingredient is trust. Whether a website serves ads or sells a product or service, in order for a visitor to spend enough time on it to make a decision that will lead to the kind of outcome the website owner expects, a series of internal events have to take place.
At the point where an article is read, a piece of information is consumed or a product or service is bought a connection has been made. That connection is the result of a nearly subconscious decision to accept a relational bond between the site and the online visitor. No relational exchange or indeed bond of any kind can take place without trust, however tentative, being present. The presence of trust is the direct result of a four-step trust building approach that underpins it in every situation:
Trust Runs Everything
The factors that can lead to a business underperforming and a website not working properly can come under many different labels: technical issues, design problems but practically all of them feed into the "Contact" and "Perception" stages of the four-step trust-building approach.
It really is about building a relationship. It doesn't matter whether the connection to be made is between a person and a website or an algorithm or a machine. The moment there is a connection that needs to be made, we are talking about a relationship which also means that we then have a relational exchange of values taking place which will happen (or not) only if trust is there.
Consider, for example, the case of Google's driverless cars. They are governed by complex algorithms powered by neural networks running deep learning architecture can perform flawlessly in almost any driving condition. They do not tire, their attention does not wane, they are not significantly affected by changes to the driving conditions and they do not suddenly forget driving laws. Despite this perfection when it comes to performing certain tasks in traffic they, currently, fail.
What stops them from performing perfectly is trust. When we are in traffic, despite the perception of individuals isolated within their cars, we are all connected in a complex network of intent (our destination), activity (we all driving), environment (the road network) and heuristics (the way we each use the rules of driving). All of this makes for a potent mix of relational exchanges that subconsciously take place all the time.
In order to change speed and lane and overtake a vehicle for instance we have to have a clear understanding of the capabilities of each car, the conditions of the road, the speed limit, the intention of other drivers around us, their ability to correctly understand what we are doing and give us space plus the possibility of their being less than perfectly attentive to their driving and not seeing us. Trust in others plays a significant element in our decision making. It is trust (or rather the lack of it), that funnily enough stops the perfectly driven driverless cars from being perfect drivers.
Where driverless cars fail is that they operate exactly the way we don't: they're in total sync with the technicalities of the road, the traffic conditions and the requirements for perfectly safe driving but they are in total isolation in relation to everybody else around them. Being machines in a sea of humans they fail to connect at the empathic level which allows us to predict what is irrational behavior: someone cutting in front of us without signaling, a car undertaking us on a lane which they shouldn't, drivers that slow down to give us space in their lane when there is nothing in the driving code that says they should.
Perfection is Less Than Perfect
The example of Google's driverless cars also shows how businesses often go wrong. Erroneously thinking that what customers value above all else is perfection they try hard to project a sleek, faceless façade they hope will project quiet efficiency and elicit trust, forgetting that what we really value is a human to human connection that will take into account the quirks of being ... human.
All of which brings us back to that moment when a visitor lands on your website and experiences, for the first time your online business. Great content, perfect information and a sleek design are OK, but if you are looking to connect, for the first time with a prospect then you need to ask a simple question: do the four steps of trust-building mentioned above project the humanity of your business? And if they do is there a way for a connection to be made? Is there a particular style, tone and character in the way you do business that will help humanize the experience?
It is only by answering questions like these that you will get to the real reasons behind the list of metrics and the issues they reveal that we started this article with.