Despite the prevalence of terms such as Fake News and the continuing reporting of high-profile data breaches affecting everyone from Facebook to Google, the outlook for businesses, especially those with a clear transformation roadmap is optimistic.
“There has been a real acceleration since the Hub Institute first started talking about transformation in 2013,” said Emmanuel Vivier, Hub Institute co-founder as he welcomed 30 keynote speakers and 50 partners along with hundreds of attendees to the heart of Paris and to the 2018 HUB FORUM. “Organizations are advancing in every element of transformation from leadership to customer experience.”
However, the theme of this year’s event is No Trust, No Business and a transformation that doesn’t find a way of baking in trust, is one that is going to fail.
“Trust is the basis of society. Without trust, we cannot live together,” Vivier stated. “And as business becomes something that we all conduct with each other as well as with businesses, trust becomes the foundation of commerce. No trust, no business, no society.”
But trust runs both ways. As well as finding ways to create stronger bonds with customers, businesses must have trust in the transformation they’re undertaking, and that can be challenging as, according to Vivier. Transforming a well-established organization that has decades of history is a combat sport.
“It’s not easy,” he said. “It’s tough, it can hurt you. It tests you completely and, like a boxing match, there can be a winner and a loser.”
A transformation amounts to more effort, more work and more risk, but the fight will be worth it.
This is because trust and transformation are intrinsically linked. Digitization has given consumers the tools to research, review and reconsider any aspect of a business from how they source their materials to how they deal with complaints. Therefore organizations need to use the same tools to admit when they may have made a mistake and to communicate clearly around these topics.
Likewise, with digitization starting to unlock the capabilities of automation and the Internet of Things, it’s time for companies to seize these innovations to change the way their employees work, for the better.
“We need to reengage our employees,” Vivier warned. This will increase their trust in the business and this will translate into a better service for customers. “We have to use this innovation to have a positive effect,” he continued.
Airbnb had a head start over many of the keynote companies talking at the Hub Forum. As a disruptive start up beginning with a blank sheet of paper, it could write modern concerns around trust into the heart of its business from day one. Nevertheless, asking two strangers to do business asks people to take a massive leap of faith. To illustrate this, Emmanuel Marill, Director of Airbnb for France and Belgium, asked the audience to unlock their smartphones and hand them to the person sitting to their left.
“Exactly,” he said when there was little movement. “That’s difficult. Now think about how much harder it is to hand over the keys to your house, to your children’s bedroom.”
This is why the company’s platform was built around trust. Whether it be messaging between hosts and guests, user profiles or hosts having a space to exchange ideas.
“Airbnb is the most emblematic example of the change in customer experience,” explained Laurent Uberti, CEO and founder of Sitel Group and Airbnb’s customer experience (CX) partner. “We have moved from the era of the contact industry to an era of conversation. [Because of platforms like Messenger and WhatsApp] today’s brands have to manage uninterrupted conversations and permanent discussion threads with their customers.”
Yet, even with a multiplication of digital communication channels and a growing number of opportunities to interact remotely with brands, real human emotion has never been more important in ensuring trust.
“No matter how many more channels are created, emotion remains crucial,” said Uberti. “It is still the most important element of customer experience. Automation can take care of the details but human customer experience guided by emotional intelligence remains the only true way to be different as a brand, to avoid disintermediation and still stand out, even in a world that is increasingly digital.”
In its role as a global CX partner, Sitel Group’s job is to address each moment of truth with an emotional, empathetic response.
“There are over 50,000 people using Airbnb to stay in Paris tonight and it’s possible there could be customer issues,” explained Uberti. “In those situations, speaking to a person that understands can turn a negative event into a positive brand experience, providing the emotional support at the moment when it’s needed most.”
And of course, with contact centers across the globe, that support will be in the customer’s native language, whether it’s a French person who has a problem with an apartment in New York or an American that has a question in Paris.
At Facebook, everything that they do is a meditation on trust. “What is trust?” asked Laurent Solly, the company’s Managing Director for France and Regional Director for southern Europe. And while there are a number of definitions, everyone, from the great thinkers to the average person, agrees that it is a fundamental element of life.
“It is fundamental to economic development, to banking, to family, to society,” Solly stated. “Therefore it’s fundamental to a social network.”
Facebook wouldn’t have grown to 2.5 billion users if it couldn’t manage expectations regarding trust. However technology doesn’t stand still and this is another challenge. “The relationship between trust and innovation is not simple,” Solly explained. “An innovation needs to be trusted if it is to lead to development.”
That’s why companies aiming to innovate need to be transparent and be open to ensure progress. Solly said that this was why the tools it develops or the features it adds are made accessible to all brands and businesses, regardless of their size because they could and should be useful to all, not a select few.
“Without responsibility comes mistrust. Trust is nourished by the responsibility of the person who receives it. Trust, your trust, is earned,” he said.
The first panel of the event examined how future business models would also be focused on culture and technology as much as commerce. Made.com Managing Director for France, Jessica Delpirou, explained how her design-focused furniture company is using technology not simply to disrupt the market but also to add value and clarity and therefore trust for consumers.
“We’re disruptive because we’re making high-quality design accessible. But we’re disruptive because we add value by dealing directly with designers and linking them directly with customers,” she explained.
The transparency of the platform means customers that care can see the supply chain and sourcing process and have direct engagement with the designer.
But to create an extra sense of community and confidence, the company also has a talent lab.
“Designers can share their ideas with the community and through a combination of crowdsourcing and crowdfunding, those designs can become a reality.”
Amazon’s Director, Advertising Sales and Global Accounts, Zach Johnson, revealed how it builds trust with consumers and helps other businesses do the same.
“There are different ways to build trust,” he said. “One is convenience. Consumers have enough hurdles to jump over in their daily lives. Simplifying things is a form of trust.”
So too is engagement. This is achieved predominantly via reviews posted to Amazon.com that have opened what Johnson called a “two-way dialogue” between brands and customers. “On the strength of reviews, some companies have changed the characteristics of a product itself, said Johnson.
The third way of building trust with customers that Amazon has identified is authenticity.
“Ninety-four percent of consumers are more loyal to products that are transparent,” said Johnson.
Therefore it’s down to brands to communicate how they source their ingredients or how much and what types of packaging they use because they’re becoming part of the decision-making process for more and more potential customers.
What Amazon is to the U.S., Alibaba is to China, and Sébastien Badault, the Managing Director for France, was a surprise guest at this year’s event. He detailed the monumental effort that was required to create and maintain a platform that builds trust with both brands of all sizes and consumers of all tastes.
Over the past 20 years the company has had to convince businesses that it will protect their brands and their products and reassure customers that even if they live in the most remote regions of the country, it has the logistical strength to deliver.
“It works because we treat brands and consumers as clients that we’re serving,” said Badault.
Today, the platform is so respected and engaging that its 500 million users spend 30 minutes on it a day, every day. But this has only been possible by leveraging technology to create confidence.
“We provide a layer of technology that wraps customers and brands together,” Badault explained.
Customers are free to comment and share content on the platform while brands have complete carte blanche as to their product pages, including pricing – be that brand David Beckham’s House 99 or the local grocery store. The two forms of engagement deliver data and insights that Alibaba shares with brands and uses itself to make targeted content and marketing.
“This is insight [about Chinese consumer behavior] non-Chinese brands could not get otherwise,” Badault pointed out.
For instance, when Mondelēz International launched Oreo Cookies in China they didn’t sell well, despite the buzz around the product. Alibaba’s platform insights found that customers wanted to buy them as single serving snacks. The company repackaged the cookies as individual treats and now it’s the brand’s biggest selling product in China.
How it communicates has been key to Twitter’s turnaround. Two years ago, the world’s media were predicting its death. As Laurent Buanec, Deputy Managing Director, Twitter France reflected during his keynote: “Growth was flat, revenues were flat and we weren’t making a profit.”
However, as 2018 becomes 2019, the company is attracting users again. Revenues are up 24 percent and so are profits.
And it’s all been achieved because even new companies sometimes need to transform and to reevaluate the message they present to their customers. For example, Twitter saw that it’s not a social network, it’s a news and current affairs service.
“We decided to focus on doing fewer things and doing them better, starting with health,” explains Buanec.
Twitter realized that it has a responsibility to improving the serenity and the health of public debate and that within that debate, it has to hold itself accountable.
“To reinforce trust, we use Twitter to directly solicit feedback and advice from users,” Buanec said.
While to increase transparency even further beyond the Twitter bubble, the company invited two journalists from the New York Times into its headquarters to witness and report on how the firm conducts business.
But whether it requires news reporting or leveraging the emotional intelligence of human contact center agents, what this year’s event makes abundantly clear is that regardless of business type or business stage, from storied incumbent to disruptive start up, every organization needs to put trust and how that trust is communicated, at the heart of their business.