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What Is Trust?
by PriceWaterhouse Coopers, LLC

Trust is the webbing that produces an orderly, civilized society out of anarchy and disarray. In organizations, it is the same as love in marriage: Trust binds people together to make them strong and effective. it also increases feelings of security, reduces inhibitions and defenses, and frees people to share feelings and participate with one another in all manner of transacting. Without trust, no company can ever hope to achieve excellence.

Traits of a Trusting Relationship
As delicate as trust can be in a commercial setting, it is a formidable force, nonetheless. Once a trusting relationship has been developed, it becomes the cornerstone that supports the Organization in virtually every effort it undertakes. It is also the catalyst for increasing sales as customers are drawn to those with integrity.

The traits that characterize trust must be examined early on. In a world where a single hour is precious, we often move quickly without having time to explore all our options; we use shortcuts to circumvent the process. For this reason, an organization's history, track record, and patterns of behaviour are often evaluated to anticipate how we will be treated in future transactions. A company must, first and foremost, possess integrity. It must be committed to doing the right thing and have conviction to stay the course. it must communicate a sense that it is a safe choice; that the Organization is competent, dealing fairly with its customers, vendors, employees, and partners. Those traits convey a sense that the company is, in fact, reliable--open and communicative in its dealings. Over time, these characteristics take on overtones of consistency, from which predictable behaviour is defined and there develops, in actual fact, faith in the organization's ability to conduct its affairs with a high level of integrity.

Building Trust
Since time is an essential factor when building confidence, Internet trust, still in its infancy, is relatively scarce. Consequently, organizations can use a variety of measures that, taken together, communicate trustworthiness. Trust can be built with:

History: The cycle begins. With each transactional experience successfully completed, a pattern emerges. Over time, experience replicates itself and ultimately a sense of trustworthiness develops based on all that has come before. Each successful venture bodes well for a continuation of the process, even when it diverges into other areas.

Brand: A company's brand is an important asset for communicating trust. It is the ultimate goal of all marketing activity-a product in a given category that a consumer prefers to buy, based on criteria other than price alone.

Since consumers can be persuaded to remain loyal to brands, their e-business activities should extend their brand position. Beyond that, your company can assume leadership through association. A description of your affiliation with other well-known, trusted, organizations-- portals and aggregators such as Yahoo, eXcite, iVillage, and Lycos, to name a few-- affirms your commitment to excellence. Your mother was right: You are judged by the company you keep.

Reputation: As an organization's history fosters multiple transactions, the brand is strengthened. Taken together, they are the nexus to reputation, the overriding sentiment that this is a company committed to trustworthiness, because its history supports such a conclusion.

Experience: Fundamental to all e-business is a company's determination that its website be easy to find and understand. Navigation, presentation, the functionality of underlying technologies, and scalability together provide for a rewarding experience.

Navigation: The navigation system design must be clear, consistent, and easy to find. There should be prompts, guides, and instructions to aid usage and search along the way. Terminologies for navigation and content should be apparent for the user to employ.

Berkman Center for Internet & Society