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The Rapport Report

September 23rd, 2020

The Importance of Building Cognitive and Emotional Trust with your Customers

by Gregor Hofer, CoFounder + CEO

Customer trust and loyalty are essential in building a successful business. While this might be obvious, learning how to build that trust and its long term value cannot be overstated. This is where interaction with your customers comes in.

A large portion of customer interactions today are digital and online, be that through a website or online communication tools like video conferencing or messaging apps. And as we’ve all observed, the current COVID-19 situation has accelerated this trend. While brick and mortar stores have lost their mainstay significance in retail, many B2B interactions still happened face-to-face, until recently. Initial interactions are now primarily conducted online, and more significantly, are staying online for longer until the first call or meeting.

What components build trust?

To be successful at generating trust, it’s helpful to understand what goes into building it. Broadly speaking there are two dimensions of trust: cognitive, and emotional, or affective trust.

Cognitive trust is a customer’s confidence or willingness to rely on a business’ perceived competence and reliability. It arises from an accumulated knowledge allowing one to make confident predictions regarding the likelihood the other party will live up to their obligations.

Emotional trust is the confidence one places in a partner or party on the basis of feelings generated by the level of care and concern they demonstrate. It is characterized by feelings of security and perceived strength of the relationship. At its core, it means you trust them because you like them.

Most often, online B2B companies tend to focus on building cognitive trust by presenting themselves in a professional manner. Their marketing materials might include authentic imagery like photos of their staff and products, rather than stock photos. They provide personal testimonials from clients and partners including a photo of the person in addition to a logo. They might even create helpful content resources addressing particular pain points of their audience. All of these techniques are to increase the confidence for their customers that this business knows what it’s doing, and is trusted by other leaders in the industry.

When it comes to building emotional trust, online businesses currently have less tools and tactics at their disposal to generate those feelings of “like”. Without human interaction emotional trust is much harder to achieve in an online setting. However, combining advancements in machine learning and science, there are new opportunities emerging to offer businesses better ways to build emotional trust. There have even been studies examining the relationship of digital avatars to trust dimensions and in particular, emotional trust.

Research backs it up.

In one study researchers conducted an online survey of 599 e-commerce customers in two scenarios about skincare products. The results indicated avatars can indeed increase customer trust in e-commerce. They also found different avatars elicited different types of customer trust. It was found, customers have higher cognitive trust in an expert avatar than in a solely attractive one, and yet customers have higher emotional trust in an attractive avatar than in an expert avatar. Avatars were also found to be effective for customers with either knowledge or low product knowledge.

And you might be surprised to find out, the effect of emotional trust on purchase intention is stronger than that of cognitive trust. [1] In another study it was found users relied much more on avatars in conditions of high uncertainty, indicating a building of trust in an online setting. [2] So the next time you’re looking to increase sales online, it’s important to not only reach for the best practices of building cognitive trust, but think also about how to build emotional trust with your potential customers. Having both will yield even more benefits.

We’ll continue unpacking the science behind building cognitive and emotional trust in an ongoing series. Have a comment? Tweet us @Rapportcloud

1 Lee, Huei-Shan. (2015). THE EFFECTS OF AVATAR ON TRUST AND PURCHASE INTENTION OF FEMALE ONLINE CONSUMER: CONSUMER KNOWLEDGE AS A MODERATOR. International Journal of Electronic Commerce Studies. 6. 99-118. 10.7903/ijecs.1395.

2 Bente G., Dratsch T., Rehbach S., Reyl M., Lushaj B. (2014) Do You Trust My Avatar? Effects of Photo-Realistic Seller Avatars and Reputation Scores on Trust in Online Transactions. In: Nah F.FH. (eds) HCI in Business. HCIB 2014. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol 8527. Springer, Cham.

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