Building Digital Trust

Bertram Schulte

Last month, world leaders convened in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum to discuss the most pressing global, regional, and industry agendas. SAP’s CEO, Bill McDermott, attended the event and penned an article on the World Economic Forum’s website titled “Trust is at a breaking point. It’s time to rebuild it.” Bill’s article was a refreshing take on a critical, yet often overlooked part of running a business: trust.

Bill wrote that consumer trust is at an all-time low, and leaders need to improve their listening skills, utilize new data, and tap into a new human experience to win a customer’s trust. As SAP’s chief digital officer, I found that this rang especially true.

Trust is the ultimate currency, especially in the digital world. When so much of the world’s business is conducted online without any face-to-face interactions, how can a company succeed? The answer, in part, is rebuilding customer trust. The Internet is straining customer faith, online and offline trust is eroding, and companies now need new ways to establish credibility and trust.

Here are some of the most important ways to rebuild trust with customers.

1. Be 100% transparent

Price transparency. Customers should have full transparency into all their purchases from a single company, regardless of what they’re buying. For example, SAP is creating a connected customer experience on SAP.com that gives customers visibility into their overall engagement, with personalized online self-services around account data, subscriptions, products, contracts, interactions, and actions like renewals. A full product section with price transparency enables the customer to find the right solution and package and to see exactly what they’re purchasing.

Trials. Most prospective car shoppers wouldn’t buy a vehicle without a test drive, right? Well, the same principle applies to online purchases. With software, for example, customers should be able to evaluate and test the product to make sure it meets their needs, and then convert the trial to a full version with minimal effort.

2. Align to customer value created

New offerings and business models. With a consumption-based model, the customer is in the driver’s seat to provision their services and be billed only for what they actually consume. Let me explain how consumption-based pricing can work in the software world. The customer acquires cloud credits via a prepaid contract, which they can use to activate any available service or capability (e.g., data storage, bandwidth, or user experience), as needed or wanted. The customer can then activate the service or capability via a self-service cockpit that controls the provisioning of the functionalities requested.

3. Be helpful

Digital sales support before purchase. Extending an olive branch to customers takes many shapes, but perhaps it is never as evident as offering digital sales support before purchase. There is built-in trust that comes with support and assistance for customers who have yet to pay – helping them understand the value in a very tangible fashion.

4. Don’t be creepy

Respect privacy. Alex Atzberger, president of SAP Customer Experience, said it best during last year’s SAPPHIRE NOW: “Customers are done with creepy. Don’t be creepy … without consent, don’t personalize.” This is so true. New data and GDPR rules provide customers an extra layer of security, and it’s on companies to deliver a personalized experience without stepping over the line. This is challenging, because data is providing more insights than ever into customer behavior. Companies must deliver on the promise of trust and continue to rebuild customer relationships.

Every crisis is an opportunity

Being transparent, value-oriented, and helpful (and not creepy) on the customer journey takes the ballgame beyond the contract signature. The focus must be on actual usage of your offering, where the actual value for the customer materializes. The business relationship is a natural consequence of value delivered, but cannot be the focus (and end) of all efforts. Trust is gained by aligning the goals.

Online trust is waning, but every crisis is an opportunity. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to re-establishing trust; it will have to be earned with many small changes. Can the technology industry and business as a whole rise to the challenge? I believe we will. We have no other choice. We must deliver.

These new customer experiences deliver on expectations that already exist in the digital world and do not overpromise on the transformational ability. Each trust-building tweak requires the seamless connection of the customer experience with the supply chain, in both the front and back office, and involving experience and operational data. It’s a worthy cause. Thank you for your trust.

Lack of trust is a key problem holding back the advancement of artificial intelligence: “What Is Intelligence Without Trust?


Bertram Schulte

About Bertram Schulte

Bertram Schulte serves as SAP’s chief digital officer (CDO), running the digital business, overseeing digital customer strategy, and helping provide customers one seamless, digital experience.