In order to have a successful business relationship both sides need to trust each other. But…
What is trust?
There are a lot of definitions for it. Trust is a feeling or belief about the integrity, kindness and ability of the other party. We learn to trust others by observing their behavior. A great deal of trust is earned when somebody fulfills a promise they had made before, for example.
Trust is therefore build through time. Several interactions with the same person give us a background that we can use when we have to choose whether to trust him or her or not. Affection has a part in building trust, too: we feel closer to somebody after making small talk.
But there are other signals that people use to gather information from the first time they meet someone. You probably have been in this very annoying situation: you are trying to have a conversation with somebody and obstacles keep getting in the way, preventing you to see each other. People are usually pretty annoyed because it makes it impossible to have a satisfying conversation.
This happens because non verbal signals are a very important part of communication. We made judgement based on the voice of our partner—tone, pacing, pausing, volume, pitch, etc— and mainly based on non-verbal cues. There are lots of signs we can perceive that provide information about a person’s intentions: facial expressions and the position of the body, for example, can betray people and show if they are feeling anxious, nervous or lying. There even exist body-language experts who judge politicians during public appearances.
Normal people don’t do this analysis consciously but that doesn’t mean we don’t perceive the signs: some studies prove that looking at different face expressions has effects in our brain. Lately, it has been proved that, surprisingly, even smiles can trigger a brain response similar to those caused by a real face.
Trust in the online era
In the Internet people interact mainly through text: chat and email, which makes it more difficult to build the necessary trust between customer and business because all those not-linguistic cues that help build and maintain confidence are lost.
A research study by the School of Information of the University of Michigan analyzed how trust emerged in four different communication situations: face-to-face, video, audio and chat. Three-person groups played what is called a social dilemma game, a situation where the best interest of the group as a whole conflicts with the best interest of each individual, so that if each looks out only for oneself, all lose.
Then, the researchers the extent to which they cooperated or competed and the time it took to achieve the same levels of trust. Conclusions are really interesting. Unsurprisingly, face-to-face groups achieved a cooperative behavior quickly, the audio group gained an intermediate level of trust and text chat groups competed throughout the experiment, never achieving a good level of trust.
Video groups achieved the same levels of trust as the face-to-face groups but they did a bit more slowly. Researchers concluded that video is as good as face-to-face for building trust, that both video and face-to-face are way better than chat and that telephone is somewhere in between text chat and video for trust building.
The Internet today is moving towards the reintroduction of people to online interaction through services like live chat and or videoconferencing. Businesses and users have start to value the added benefits of these human intermediaries who can offer counsel, guidance and customized advice because they understand our needs and goals.