Build Customer Relationships on the Web with Trust and Privacy

Build Customer Relationships on the Web with Trust and Privacy

by Tina Hou, October 2011

Not long ago, reaching prospective customers was the toughest challenge facing most businesses. With the Internet, the sales process became much easier and more effective because of the unprecedented power to reach people. However, now businesses face new challenges: how to convert site visitors into customers—essentially, how to get people to trust your online presence enough to click.

The fact is, online trust is still a big concern for companies. According to studies, 88% of online shoppers say that the protection of their personal data is a top concern, while 79% of consumers are concerned about unauthorized access to their personally identifiable information. So, how can you gain customer trust?

The answer to this challenge is twofold:

Step 1. Ensure your online privacy practices are up to the highest standard

Step 2. Promote your privacy practices to customers to assure them of the trustworthiness of your organization

Step 1: Review and Articulate Your Privacy Practices

Customers need you to provide transparency, choice and accountability into your privacy practices such that they can easily:

  • Understand how you handle their private information
  • Have a way to affect how their data is handled
  • Have a method of dealing with issues should they believe their information hasn't been appropriately managed

Collecting sensitive electronic data from consumers or business partners puts a burden on companies to be good stewards of privacy. One of the quickest ways to lose customers is by exposing their personal and financial information—intentionally or unintentionally—to third parties without their knowledge. There is also no surer way to dissuade customers from patronizing your business than by gaining a reputation for poor business practices. In addition, companies that fail to respect their customers' privacy may face significant legal costs and stiff regulatory actions from state and local governments as well as industry groups.

Protecting your customer's information is about more than just securing your network from hackers or posting a boilerplate privacy policy in the fine print of your website. It involves developing a plan—unique to your company—that ensures pragmatic data collection adequately secures what is collected and clearly communicates your business practices to customers. You should review your plan frequently, and change it as your business evolves. As new technologies and practices raise new questions, you will need to have the answers.

Key questions to explore when developing your privacy practices:

  1. Where do you get your information?
  2. What kind of data do you collect?
  3. How do you collect data?
  4. How do you store the data you collect?
  5. How do you delete data?
  6. What do you do with the data you collect?
  7. What would you do in the event of data loss?
  8. How do you market your business?
  9. How do you communicate your privacy practices to customers?

The answers to these questions will be the basis for how you build your privacy plan and what you articulate in your privacy policy.

Step 2: Show Customers that They Can Trust You with Their Private Information

One way to gain trust is to display a privacy trust mark on your website. Trust marks are badges or logos that indicate endorsement or certification of your website by a third-party organization. They can have a range of meanings from the presence of security technologies to membership to the local merchant association.

TRUSTe's privacy seal indicates that your privacy practices have been certified and adhere to the highest standards of transparency, choice and accountability. Once you've made it a priority to ensure your privacy practices are in order—make sure your customers know it. In an era when people carefully safeguard their digital identities from theft or abuse, trust marks that certify your commitment to sound privacy practices are more important than ever. 

Trust marks from a highly recognized third parties, like TRUSTe, can have a tremendous impact on your customer's peace of mind when they do business with you, and the benefits can directly impact your bottom line. With increasing competition, sometimes a trust mark is what will give your business the advantage of drawing in customers and standing out in search results. By example, the following businesses saw significant uplift by displaying the TRUSTe privacy seal on their websites:

  • 84% increase in purchases for wedding site,
  • 29% increase in conversion rate for online retailer,
  • 26% increase in monthly site registrations on
  • 22% increase in average order value for audio vendor,
  • $10 increase in average order value for allergy product vendor,

When selecting a trust mark, it's essential to choose one with broad consumer recognition and a focus on privacy. While there are many kinds of marks to indicate a variety of things including data security, malware protection and reputation services, it's important to incorporate one that directly addresses one of the largest concerns of today's consumers—online privacy.

Once you're able to craft your company's privacy policy, you're more than half way there. You can begin to showcase your website's “trustability” with trust marks, which reassures customers that they can safely navigate your website. This ultimately leads to returns—and by that, we mean repeat customers.

Tina Hou is the Director of Product Marketing at TRUSTe, the leading Internet privacy services provider. Since 1997, TRUSTe privacy seals have helped thousands of businesses promote online safety and trust, and guide consumers to websites that protect their privacy online. LegalZoom subscribers can try TRUSTe's website privacy service free for 90 days. Learn more.