How to design for trust in internet companies?

Learn how to build trust with your users to increase product adoption, growth and defensibility in your business.

How to design for trust in internet companies?
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Are you struggling to become a revenue growth leader?
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GrowthX is the community for top 1% growth leaders. All of them started like a newsletter reader just like you. All they did was to take action & jump into the GrowthX tribe. This week, we are hosting a fireside chat with some of the leaders at GrowthX in a curated setting. They’ll share stories from their GX journey, unfiltered and LIVE.


I want to think about the following questions deeply

Would you 🔽
  • Keep your retirement money in a newly launched banking app?
  • Allow a stranger to live in your home for a night?
  • Buy a brand of smartphone that none of your friends use?
  • Drink tap water in a remote village you visited for the first time?
Most of us will answer “No” to these questions. But let me add a few pieces before you answer the questions.
  • The shiny app has the Government of India as the main shareholder.
  • The platform is Airbnb & they offer up to $1 million in damages if they occur.
  • The smartphone brand is “nothing” built by the “OnePlus” founder.
  • The village was recognized as one of the cleanest villages in India.
Is your answer changing towards a “Maybe” now? Are you trusting the stranger/ banking app/ smartphone brand more?

This essay will debunk a few things about “Trust” as a core lever.

  • The “why” of building trust
  • Drill down on products on how they built trust.
  • The distilled framework on what builds trust?
  • How is trust borrowed and evolved over a period of time?
  • How can you build trust for your product?

The “why” of building trust

→ Get the first set of users to try your product.
→ Make users do the first transaction.
→ Improve average order value per customer.
→ Improve lifetime value per customer.
→ Reduce customer churn
→ Build competition defensibility.
→ Fuel referral loop with word of mouth.
Now that we have established what “Trust” impacts from a product growth point of view, we will drill down a few products that have instilled trust across different stages.
Some of the trust experiments Airbnb (the travel stay company) provides Hosts with $1 million in coverage in the event their place or belongings are damaged by a guest during an Airbnb stay. Zappos (the e-commerce acquired by Amazon) provides up to a 365-day return policy on items. Apple builds trust through being reliable with its superior hardware meets software experience every time. In its early stages of search product, Google did something no one else did - optimize search results for users & not for advertisers.
But should you copy what Airbnb, Zappos, Google, or Apple is doing? The answer is - “NO.”
Solving for trust is based on two core levers - Context & Motivations.
→ First, Before the user discovers the product.
→ Second, post-discovery, the user hasn’t tried the product.
→ Third, the user bought the product but isn’t a repeat user.
→ Fourth, repeat user but has low average transaction value.
→ The rest of the article will give you a framework to solve trust at each stage. {in each of the following diagrams, run an exam, for example, using a neo-bank through the low transaction value problem of repeat users}

Solving for trust before the user discovers the product. (original whimsical)

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Let’s apply this framework to Tinder, a dating app. Crisp marketing pitch → Dating app to meet new people & find friends. Creative design → Checkout how Tinder’s colour pallet & brand archetype works on ads. Ratings & reviews → Tinder’s play store listing is ~3/5; high time for Tinder to fix this. Balance touch-points → No spam ads on social (IG/Facebook) Borrowed trust → Open Tinder’s website, and the first three testimonials borrow trust from users who found love on Tinder & got married. Or the Swipe Stories series, where real users talk about their tinder stories.

Solving for trust post-product discovery, but the user hasn’t tried the product.

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Let’s apply this framework to Hubspot, the all-in-one CRM. Consistent flow → It shows the same pitch on marketing & its landing page. Actual Trial/purchase experience → Clear 14-day trial communication, no credit card. User testimonials → Calling top internet companies that use them, borrowing trust.
Solving for trust with the user who bought once but isn’t buying again
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Let’s apply this framework to Zomato, the online food delivery app. First transaction experience → Did the first food order get delivered hot & on time? Does this happen for most first orders from new customers? Customer support → How do I raise a complaint? Is the support buried under 100s of knowledge base bot responses? What’s the typical response when I say the food is not good? How much time do I waste every time I raise an escalation with a brand? Do I always have to raise this on social media to get noticed? Feedback loop → How likely will you refer this product to your family/friends/people in your close social circle? Unrelated levers than trust → Did I move city & the new city isn’t serviceable on Zomato?
Solving for trust with repeat users but has a low average transaction value
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Let’s apply this framework to CRED, a fintech product built for the affluent. Do high-trust individuals choose it → Top CEOs, leaders, and affluent celebrities choose it. Madhuri Dixit, Rahul Dravid, and Ravi Shashtri * 10s or more endorse it. Will this company last ten years → CRED has raised more money than any internet company. This raises eyebrows. Is it scaling too fast or too quickly? Does it have enough funds if it can’t raise money for a few years? If CRED liquidates, will my money go under → Does it have a strong governance team? Is it compliant with RBI guidelines and follows the proper lending structure? Do they have deposit insurance? Is it boringly predictable → Does this bring no surprises on credit card payment failures? Is the flow water-tight for refunds, payment delays & more? Does it work like clockwork almost always? Is it far superior to the substitutes → Now you know why CRED UI design is the product's core? Not just the UI but the whole payment experience from start to finish. When things go south, how does the company respond → Does the company admit mistakes and solves them without any social escalations? How good is their “choice of words” from the customer support executive?

Written by

Abhishek Patil
Abhishek Patil

Abhishek is co-founder at GrowthX. He has led growth teams at consumer internet companies across Indian ecosystem - CRED, Dunzo & more during his time at Sokrati.