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Building Trust in a Trust-less World

Building Trust in a Trustless World

Well before our current crisis began, facts, truth and trust were under siege. As the “post-truth” era has brought anxiety, disengagement and even fear across many facets of life, trust is emerging as one of the most important factors in customer and employee experience.

Watch as Paul Heckel, Kin + Carta VP, Digital Experience, explores the evolving role that trusts plays in our lives, it’s inextricable link to CX and EX, and tangible strategies to ensure you’re cultivating trust among the people your business depends on most.

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Paul Heckel, VP, Digital Experience, Kin + Carta


I'm Paul Heckel and I'm the VP of Digital Experience at Kin + Carta. When I set my alarm last night to wake up at 5 a.m this morning, I trusted it would go off in time. When I swung my feet out of bed to plant them on the ground, I trusted gravity would hold me down and I wouldn't float away. And when someone hit the broadcast button on this webinar, I trusted that someone, anyone would be out there to watch and to listen. Those are some of the simpler things in life. When it gets more complicated, things start to fall apart. I believe the institutions, communities and social structures that our civilization is built upon are systematically deceiving us. Do you believe me? Let's dive in.

The idea of a Post Truth world has been extremely well covered by authors and journalists in recent years. This concept certainly didn't originate in 2016. But since then, there's been a heightened focus in sensitivity on the validity of facts and truth in society. This is a screenshot of a small subsection of books recently published on the matter. There are a wide variety of threats to trust in our society, some well established and some emerging. So let's start with everyone's favorite topic, the federal government. No, this will not be a political presentation, don't worry. But this is the world in which we live. Officials in the highest offices in the United States government are publicly doubling down on things that are just 100% untrue. Here you see the infamous inauguration photos with 2016 on the left and 2008 on the right. The Press Secretary statement is clearly untrue. The technology companies are deeply ingrained in our day to day lives like Google and Facebook, Amazon and Apple. Are they abusing their power as monopolies? Are they doing shady things with our data? Google has been found guilty of antitrust behavior in the cases related to Google Shopping and Android products. It's been fined over 8 million euros by the EU. Google's also been accused of manipulating their search algorithms to favor big spending advertisers. Amazon's been accused of undercutting third party merchants. Facebook, who also owns WhatsApp and Instagram, is being accused of monopolistic behavior. Those network effects are incredibly powerful. And just this year, Apple agreed to a $500 million settlement to quiet customer complaints about slowing down old iPhones to stimulate upgrades or repairs.

Understanding the Dark Web


Every day, internet services that we use are using dark patterns on the web and in their apps. If you're not familiar with dark patterns, they're things that deceive user experiences, deceiving user experiences that mislead people onto paths that they may not intend to take. Intuit got in hot water after offering a TurboTax Free File program that was completely inaccessible from The Free File application takes customers through a series of screens and questions, capturing sensitive personal information, only to later inform many customers they're ineligible for the free program, and instead, they must pay a fee to upgrade. Only after the fact did Intuit disclose the truth about the Free File program in an FAQ document. Just the screen you see on the right. None of these people exist. For a long time, we've known that we can't trust everything we read or see on the internet. But this is a whole new level of misrepresentation. We can no longer trust our own eyes. So beautiful, so diverse, so lifelike, these images are synthetics, generated by AI algorithms known as GANs, Generative Adversarial Networks. We live in a world where photos and images are standard surrogates for proof. Unfortunately, these can no longer be trusted. And if you're interested in seeing an endless clickstream of synthetics, surf on over to,, or But please wait until my presentation concludes.

These GAN algorithms aren't only capable of generating synthetic still images, they can create videos as well. And these videos are known as Deepfakes. This is actor and comedian Bill Hader on the Conan O'Brien show, impersonating Arnold Schwarzenegger with a little AI assistance. Now given that video is a little unreliable over Zoom, I just grabbed these still frames from Bill's vid on YouTube. That's unaltered Bill Hader, upper left in that small frame, and then the Deepfake of him morphing into Arnold on the right. This video is absolutely worth a view. And there's a whole bunch of other examples of actors morphing into others. The implications of this technology are profound. I mentioned earlier that we use photos and other images as surrogates for proof. This completely unravels our ability to trust what we're seeing online. In a Wired Magazine article on the topic of Deepfakes, a gentleman named Sam Gregory was interviewed. Mr. Gregory works at Witness, which is a nonprofit project that trains and supports people to use video safely, ethically and effectively to advocate for human rights. In that article, Mr. Gregory predicts, "We're going to get more and more of this content, and it's probably going to get a lot better quality." Now there's mention this technology is completely free, open source and available for download from GitHub. As of today, nearly 31,000 developers have marked this project as a favorite, and the code has been forked nearly 10,000 times. This is what the democratization of technology looks like.

Your friends and family are liars. How often do the social media posts of your friends and family members convey reality? Everyone is living their best lives in a constant state of joy and accomplishment, 24/7, 365. We know that's not true. Tracy Clayton, a writer and acclaimed podcast host asked her 150,000 Twitter followers to, if comfortable, "Post a picture of you that you shared on social media, where you were actually having a really tough time in life, even though you look perfectly fine in the picture." Within minutes, the replies flooded in. People told their stories of anxiety, depression, eating disorders, relationship issues, chronic illness, financial stress, all while putting on their smiling faces for the smartphone. We simply can't trust these communications as direct, personal, and spontaneous as they may seem.

And finally, this is where we find ourselves today in 2020. Unable to trust each other unless at a distance of six feet. And here, unable to trust the cleanliness of the spiritual symbols, icons, and artifacts that many in this world hold so sacred. So I reassert, trust, facts, and truth are under siege. Do you believe me now?

The Trust Barometer


Okay, I admit that these are my own qualitative, anecdotal observations of the world. So in doing some research for this presentation, I looked for proper research and data to see if I could support my observations. And as luck would have it, it exists. Edelman, an American public relations and marketing firm has conducted research on the topic of trust annually since 2001. The output of that research is the trust barometer. And for those research junkies, a quick synopsis of the 2019 research method. They analyzed over 33,000 survey responses from adults across 26 markets and the term markets here maps to geographies. The sample was segmented into two main populations, and this is important. The first is the informed public who are college educated, higher earners and engaged in public policy and business news. The informed public represents about 16% of the global population. The second group is labeled as the mass population which represents everybody else of the other 84%. So the survey explores trust attitudes towards entities such as government, media, business, non government organizations, and employers. And in 2019, the barometer focused on the employee-employer relationship, so they over sampled employees of multinationals.

Distrust is Pervasive


So to spare you from reading the 66 page report, which I did, I'm offering four key takeaways that I found most thought provoking and relevant to this conversation. And those are, distrust is pervasive, and it exists globally. Number two is the measure of trust inequality is at an all time high. Number three is that men and women exhibit different trust characteristics. And lastly, people globally trust their employer the most. We're going to dig into each one a little more deeply. So even though human beings are hardwired to trust one another, we're still a bunch of distrusters. For the general population, which is all survey responses, distrust is pervasive. 15 of the 26 markets scored out as distrusting, and only five scored as trusting. And it's very interesting to see which markets, in blue here, scored out as trusters. This concept of trust inequality exists, and the gap has never been greater. There is a 16 point trust gap between the informed public and the mass population. And so from a customer experience-customer engagement perspective, it's important to know who your audience is, and what levels of trust they may be bringing to the table.

Men and women exhibit very different trust characteristics. Globally, men are more trusting than women by five points on the index. And that gap is 11 points here in the United States. Further, women in the United States are 15 points less trusting of businesses than are men. So to all you business leaders out there, if any of your customers or stakeholders are American women, you may have an uphill trust challenge to overcome. And lastly, the most trusted relationship is with my employer. This is the most trusted relationship by a wide margin. Think about that for a second. The entity that we trust the most by a huge margin is our employer. The implications of this finding are wide ranging and covered very, very well in the trust barometer report.

So what do we do with all this information? Qualitative, anecdotal, quantitative, research based. We trust that a dollar is worth a dollar, a pound a pound, a peso a peso. We trust that our governments will help keep us safe and secure. We trust that businesses will act fairly, ethically and responsibly. We trust that our friends and family have integrity and will tell us the truth. We have trust in the safety of an embrace. When we can't trust these things, our systems break down. But there are ways that we can build trust in the experiences we provide for our customers and our stakeholders. And I'll close out this talk by giving you five recommendations and a bonus at the end. Here they are.

Number one, show your work. Number two, own your mistakes. Number three, create transparency. Number four, build confidence and comfort. Number five, tell authentic stories.

Show Your Work and Own Your Mistakes


Let's talk about each one individually. Remember taking algebra class back in middle school, and solving those problems on paper, at least I solved them on paper. And you remember how you wouldn't get full credit for the answers unless you showed your work? How you arrived at the solution. For me, that was super frustrating, but an important lesson nonetheless. In agriculture, the most important number in the whole operation is yield. How much harvestable product can you produce each growing season? Farmers have historically used a variety of manual techniques to predict yield. Corteva Agriscience thought of a better way. We partnered with Corteva to create an Artificially Intelligent yield prediction application, that uses a smartphone camera and machine learning algorithms to predict harvest yield. The farmer snaps a photo of an ear of corn, kernels are counted and yield prediction calculations are executed. But for a farmer who might be using this technology for the first time, it may appear to be a black magic box. So it's important to show how the system is working.

We used very subtle but impactful design elements to show the hit mark on each corn kernel, as well as display the total kernel count. The purpose of this of course, is building trust in the system. So my question to the audience, if you're using formulas, algorithms, or other computational factors in your customer experience, how can you better show your work so your customers can trust your judgment? Last year, I had the privilege of moderating a fireside chat with Robert Reilly, VP of Customer Experience at SpotHero. Can't see who's all out there, but perhaps some of you were there. The conversation we had steered towards the appropriate reactions when your organization makes a mistake. Fortunately, our marketing team, brilliant as they are, captured this quote verbatim from Robert. He said, "Every time we screw up parking, or somebody screws up parking, most of the time, it's not on us. Yet, we'll give you all your money back and give you another five bucks in your account just to make you feel good about it."

Transparency, Confidence, and Comfort


Incredible, so my question to the audience, when something goes wrong with a customer interaction of yours, how do you handle it? Do you stick to the policy? Or do you always strive to do the right thing? How can you take better ownership of your mistakes and turn errors into opportunities? Create transparency. Icebreaker is a high-end merino wool performance apparel brand based in New Zealand. I personally own a number of Icebreaker garments and I absolutely love them. My admiration for the brand goes much farther than just the quality of the product. It goes to how they position their brand and how they treat it. Icebreaker creates transparency across a number of areas within their business. Their products, their supply chain, and their labor practices, just to name a few. They launched the barcode initiative to allow customers the ability to trace an individual garment to the exact sheep farm where the wool was sheared. They perform station audits to maintain quality and integrity.

This shot, this slide here shows an interactive map of where the farms are in New Zealand and when they were last audited. I was able to visit one of those farms back in November and it was remarkable. And so here's the obligatory photo of my wife, feeding a baby sheep. Pro tip, always include photos of baby animals in your presentations. All these things, the photo of my wife notwithstanding, are summarized in an annual report that they published called the Transparency Report. And they put this out there for anybody in the world to consume. So my question to the audience, where can you safely shine a light on your business practices, your products, your culture, so that your customers and stakeholders can increase their trust in your brand?

Next is building confidence and comfort. One of our clients, Northern Trust, has a large wealth management business unit. As you can imagine, the conversation between the advisors and their clients are extremely sensitive, and critically important. Advisors use an iPad based application to guide the conversation across topics such as lifetime goals, assets efficiency, and market volatility. There are clear design decisions we made within the application that are intended to build confidence and comfort. One of which is the use of natural, approachable language. Here you see the statement, market volatility, is inevitable and normal. Also simple illustrations, like the one on the left, show how different client goals are funded. There's a number of other features and design decisions within the application that help build confidence and comfort. But with Intellectual Property considerations, I'm not at liberty to share what those look like here today. The impact of these functional and design decisions are reflected quite nicely in this quote from an anonymous Northern Trust client. When asked about the value of technology enabled wealth conversations, she or he said, "Comfort, comfort in the long term strategy that we've agreed on. Comfort in having a plan based on experience and ensuring that I'm able to maintain a standard of living that I come to expect." So my questions to the audience, in situations of heightened sensitivity, such as financial topics or displaying personal health information. How does your experience deliberately convey feelings of confidence and comfort and improve engagement with the brand? What design decisions can you make to improve upon this?

Be Authentic


And finally, telling authentic stories. Here's a company I referenced earlier, Google, for being in the crosshairs of monopoly and antitrust accusations. This is a screenshot of the viral Loretta Super Bowl ad, an utterly tear jerking story about how the Artificially Intelligent Google Assistant can play a critical role in capturing memories of love and adventure for a couple afflicted with dementia and resulting memory loss. Stories like these can profoundly humanize a brand as they did here for Google. So my question to the audience, how are you telling the story of your brand and the impact it has on the lives of others? Where can you find new stories or enrich the ones that you're already telling?

And on to the bonus recommendation and that is build a trustworthy workplace and employee experience. Research shows that a trustworthy customer experience and employee experience are inextricably linked. According to a Harvard Business Review study, people at high trust companies in contrast with low trust companies, have 106% more energy at work, 76% higher engagement, 74% less stress, 50% higher productivity, 40% less burnout, 29% more satisfaction with their personal lives, and they expend 13% fewer sick days. These are incredibly compelling statistics, but I will reserve that presentation for another time. And that's all I have for you today.

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