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How do you solve the digital trust dilemma?

Building digital trust with stakeholders is no mean feat for enterprise-level organisations facing increasingly complex technological disruptions.
Read time 4min 40sec

At a time when more critical transactions are taking place digitally, a lack of trust can be costly for businesses.

Many research sources confirm that after months of radically altered lifestyles due to COVID-19, people generally - consumers/remote workers, etc - have carried a healthy dose of scepticism on the topic of digital trust, going into 2021.

Doubting the security of online privacy is understandable in the face of widely-publicised cyber breaches that have led to personal information being leaked or stolen.

A Cisco survey revealed the extent of consumer mistrust during the height of the pandemic, with more than 60% of remote workers polled being moderately or very concerned about the privacy protections available for their online tools.

New ways of using technology are coming at us with speed, with many people having spent the early days of working-from-home learning Zoom or MS Teams and sharing their experiences with family members. Some turned to apps for grocery deliveries, got help from chatbots to raise queries or track lost packages, and welcomed doctors, co-workers and coaches into their living rooms, virtually.

In the past year, Hyland surveyed 1 000 consumers to find out what needs to happen if we are to foster trust in technology going forward.

Not surprisingly, results reveal that almost three-quarters (71%) of respondents say their technology use increased during COVID-19, with 44% reporting their usage to be significantly increased.

It's important to note the healthy scepticism currently displayed by consumers is not necessarily new.

Naturally, one would assume the shift to remote work to be the main factor for this trend but surprisingly it turns out this is not quite the case. The biggest reason for increased technology use during the pandemic has been to pass the time. Of course, remote work is a big contributor, with 34% noting this as the reason for their increased technology usage, but 29% of respondents say it was their primary way to shop for groceries.

Familiarity doesn't always breed contempt

Contrary to the cliché, trust in technology starts with familiarity. As we take a deeper look at the research findings on the increased use of technology and how it has impacted trust, it's important to keep this point on the radar.

Research sources:

Moreover, there are many lessons to be learned for those in the business of building new technologies about the role content plays in new consumer experiences.

Additionally, understanding consumers' attitudes toward technology is the first step that will lead to technology leaders creating an environment of trust with them.

Emerging technologies can overwhelmingly benefit consumers, but a good degree of concern surrounds some areas - such as artificial intelligence (AI), chatbots and smart speakers - which need to be addressed.

It's important to note the healthy scepticism currently displayed by consumers is not necessarily new. In the 1930s, people were wary of standing too close to a telephone during a thunderstorm for fear it would explode; just one example of how irrational fears can impede buy-in and uptake. Today, consumers rank the telephone as one of the most trusted pieces of technology with which they interact.

Video-conferencing was overwhelmingly voted the tool most consumers tried for the first time during lockdown, with up to 45% of those surveyed reporting their first encounter happened after March 2020.

The survey also posed a question to consumers regarding how they ranked their trust in the new technologies they tried over the past year. The following are the results, during COVID, to date:

  • 5G: 20% used it for the first time during COVID-19, and 20% also had no trust or limited trust in it.
  • Smart speakers: 19% used them for the first time, and 39% had no trust or limited trust in them.
  • Gig services: 18% used these services for the first time and 27% also had no trust or limited trust in them.

How can content positively influence consumers' attitudes to technology - old and new?

Let's pinpoint where lack of trust exists and highlight the implications. Overwhelmingly, AI and applications that rely on it are the least trusted technologies. The survey results reveal that, in fact, 41% of consumers distrust AI, and the tools powered by AI also have sceptics.

Why should this be the case? It can be likened to the early attitudes to telephones: the more established the technology, the more accepting and trusting the public is of it. AI and the applications it powers are newer, so people are wary of them.

The top three least-trusted technologies are as follows:

  • Social media: 32% have very limited trust, with 20% having none whatsoever.
  • Chatbots: 18% have no trust whatsoever; 24% have very limited trust.
  • Smart speakers: 15% have no trust whatsoever; 24% have very limited trust.

The top three most-trusted technologies are ranked as:

  • Landline telephones: 38% completely trust; 39% have some trust.
  • Mobile telephones: 31% completely trust; 49% have some trust.
  • Fax machines: Despite many of us believing the last fax was sent off on the ark with Noah, 30% still show complete trust and 44% have some trust - this takes us back to the established technology trust syndrome.

In my next article on digital trust, I will position precisely where AI ranks in the trust/distrust stakes.

Monique Williams

Southern Africa regional sales manager for Hyland Software.

Monique Williams is the South Africa Country Manager for Hyland Software, where she is responsible for sales on Hyland's Content Services platform.

She has in excess of 20 years' experience in the information technology sector and holds an Honours Degree in Marketing Management and a Bachelor of Social Science in General Psychology, Industrial and Organisational Psychology, from the University of Cape Town.

Williams has worked for Hyland Software for over a decade and in that time, has been partner manager for UK and Scandinavia, and business development manager in South Africa. Her duties in her current role include generating revenue for Hyland Software by establishing and leading the execution of a plan to market, as well as managing existing and newly recruited partners in Southern Africa. Since being appointed to this role, she has increased sales revenue and has achieved year-on-year growth of a minimum of 30%.

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