Fostering Customer Loyalty through Trustworthy Data Practices


Contributor / Praveen Sharma

Vice President, Loyalty and Business Development
United / Data Analytics

Data can help create a personal touch in simple and unexpected ways, even onboard a flight. In his video, Sharma shares how simple data-driven acts--such as a flight attendant wishing passengers a happy birthday or the airline saving a customer from the grief of a fraud alert by passing on flight information to a credit card company--can foster positive relationships of trust. Sharma shares how building trust through data management requires transparency from acquisition to application.


As, we the airlines, are in a consumer business, we are trying to sort of surprise and delight our customers. We are trying to create this personal engagement. And, when we do that, when we try to do that we have to use certain personal information sometimes with analytics in the data which we have from all the customers.

It is something which we need to be very careful about how we use the data, and how we not sort of break that trust. So, for example when we capture the data on what interactions a customer is having with the airline, or where they are sort of shopping and what they are buying and all, there is a utility which we have which we can use to inform their future interaction.

So, when a person in our case traveling internationally, and sometimes in the country where they have previously not traveled, the credit card companies may have rules around calling certain transactions fraudulent and decline that transaction.

However, if I know that the particular customer went on a flight to Peru, for example, and then they are in Peru and using their credit card, I can use that, pass that information to the credit card company and say "no, it is not fraudulent transaction; it is this particular customer who has just landed on our flight is using the credit card."

In that way we can earn the trust because nowadays there are customers who are having interaction in various other channels, they believe that if the company has the information, why didn't they share it with someone else who could have made my life easier. And, we have to be very careful how we use that, because a customer may not appreciate that they might have told us all we might have inferred this.

So, that may appear very creepy. So, we have certain examples where we provide our flight attendant certain data about our customers, by which they can use that to create a positive interaction with the customer.

And, one of those datasets could be just the birthdate, not the year, just the day, and we leave it to the flight attendants to sort of gauge the customer before they sort of wish them Happy birthday. So, there are certain customers who may feel pretty good about it, certain not.

You have to also be aware of the delivery person who is delivering the data. A very good example that came about is we had a situation where flight attendants were sort of wishing people birthdays on their on their flight as such, and we got a note from the husband of the flight attendant who sort of said "that you know what, the whole day she was wishing customers their birthdays, but nobody wished her back.

It was her birthday. So, imagine sort of, you know, the envy. For our employees, we should have the data, we had the data, but we just sort of did not use it. Imagine how cool it would have been if the pilot, or even the screen that she had brought, lit up.

You could have earned her trust also, and then cleared this very positive engagement, which could be useful. So, I think it is having the full context, and making sure that we can use the data in the right moment is pretty critical.

Related Videos

Understanding trust economics can lead to breakthroughs in the market.

Trust in Transactions: An Economist's Perspective

Contributor / Niko Matouschek
Niko Matouschek Economics Economic Exchange,Economics,Legal Guarantees,Long Term Focus,Mergers and Acquisitions,Regulation,Reputation Management,Social Psychology Trust is an issue that most people don’t associate with economics, yet economists actually care a great deal about trust. And they care a great deal about trust because, in the absence of trust, many value-creating transactions simply wouldn’t take place.

To take the quintessential economic transaction as an example — if you (the buyer) don’t trust me (the seller) not to sell you a lemon, then you won’t buy from me in the first place. And you won’t buy from me even if, in principle, I could make a product that you value more than it costs me.

And so, trust matters to economists because it enables and facilitates transactions that create value and therefore are good for all of us.

Or the other way around — trust matters because the absence of trust is an impediment to growth. It’s an impediment to growth in employment, wages and profits, and therefore makes us all worse off.

To be sure, not all transactions require trust. If, for instance, you can verify on the spot whether I’m selling you a lemon or not, then our transaction doesn’t require any trust. Or, alternatively, if we can write a contract that ensures I’m not selling you a lemon, then, again, we don’t need any trust between us to transact.

The problem is that in many situations, that’s not the case. In many situations, you can’t verify on the spot whether I’m selling you a lemon or not, and writing a contract is either costly or even impossible.

And in such situations, transactions do require trust. What the economic literature on trust tries to understand is how markets function when transactions do indeed require trust.

BUMPER: Rationality and Trust: "Good Types"

To explore how markets function when transactions require trust, it’s useful to start by asking yourself when and why it’s rational for market participants to trust each other — that is, to believe that the other side is going to follow through with their promise, even if it’s not in their immediate economic interest to do so.

There are really two reasons for why it may be rational for you (the buyer) to trust me (a seller). One is that you may think that I’m what’s called a “good-type” or a “virtuous-type seller” — that is, I’m not really a coldhearted homo economicus who, at any moment in time, tries to maximize his profits.

Instead, I’m somebody who incurs, essentially, a psychic cost from not doing what I’ve said I was going to do. Even if there’s just a small number of these virtuous sellers — these virtuous sellers are in short supply, as you might think they are — they can still have significant impacts on how markets work.

One implication comes from the fact that if you’re a virtuous seller, you have a competitive advantage over regular rational ones.

If you’re known to be a virtuous seller, buyers want to transact with you. And to compete, the regular rational sellers have to create essentially contractual alternatives for trust that are both costly and typically imperfect substitutes for trust.

And so, somewhat paradoxically to being committed not to maximize your profits at any moment in time actually increases your profits. And so, being virtuous is not just good for your soul, if you want, it’s also good for your bottom line.

And that’s why virtuous sellers, or so-called virtuous sellers, can play an important role in a market, even if there’s just a small number of them.

Economic historians, for instance, sometimes argue that one of the reasons for why the Quakers played such an important role in the British economy in the 18th century is because they were known to be trustworthy.

And so, people knew that they would keep their promises, even if it were not in their immediate economic interests to do so. That put them into a competitive advantage vis-à-vis other business people and led to them playing a disproportionately important role in the economy.

BUMPER: Rationality and Trust: Good Incentives

A second implication of having virtuous sellers in the market is that if there’s uncertainty about who is who — who is virtuous and who is rational — then the rational sellers have an incentive to try to mimic the virtuous ones.

That’s going to be costly for them today because they have to forego some profit opportunities today, but then they reap the benefit of being perceived as virtuous tomorrow.

There’s a large literature on reputation games in economics, as it tries to understand the incentives, how they play out, what extent there is scope for this mimicking behavior, and how the mimicking behavior affects the functioning of markets — whether it’s overall good for the market or whether it’s bad for the market.

Now, suppose that you know that I am a coldhearted homo economicus; can it still be rational for you to trust me? And the answer is yes, provided that I care not only about today’s transaction with you but also about future transactions, either with you or with others.

In deciding whether to honor my promise to you, then, I face a trade-off. By breaking that promise today, I can make more money today, but now it comes at a cost of less future business, essentially.

As long as I care enough about the future, it is then rational for me to keep my promise to you. And since it’s rational for me to keep my promise to you, it’s rational for you to trust me in the first place.

Repeated interactions, then, can allow a coldhearted homo economicus — somebody who’s known to be a rational agent — to commit to behave as if he were a virtuous one and to do so without having to rely on any formal contracts.

Now, for that to work, two things have to be true, generally speaking: One is I, that seller — that coldhearted seller — have to care enough about the future. And two, there has to be enough transparency, in the sense that current consumers can observe enough about how I’ve treated past consumers.

And there’s a large literature on repeated games in economics that tries to understand exactly when and how these reputation mechanisms that work through repeated interaction operate.

In summary, then, there are two strands in the literature: one focuses on good types, and one focuses on good incentives. And together, they have a number of implications and shed light on a number of economic issues and phenomena.
Harry Rosen establishes consumer trust with every suit they sell.

Consumer Trust in Company Culture: A Competitive Advantage

Contributor / Larry Rosen
Larry Rosen Retail Breaches,Building Brands,Institutions and Context,Leadership,Long Term Focus,Regulation,Retail I'm Larry Rosen, the CEO of Harry Rosen Inc., Canada's largest quality menswear retailer, and for us, trust has always been the centerpiece of our organization. And without earning the trust of our customers, without earning the trust of our associates and earning the trust of our vendors, I don't think we could point to 62 years of fairly significant success in men's retail.

We find that when you can earn a man's trust and make the process easy for him, he'll reward you with his loyalty over the years, and when you think of a man's shopping every year and building a business wardrobe and a personal wardrobe, that's pretty good annuity to have if you can keep his trust.

And so, everybody knows it's part of our cultural mission as a company not to let a customer down, not to lie to a customer. If something doesn't look right on a customer, you tell them. I mean, it's not about the sale today. It's about the long-term relationship we have. So it's not uncommon to hear on a selling day that, "You know what? That's not the right thing for you today. I don't have exactly what you need." To us, selling isn't about short-term. Selling is about lifetime value of a customer. And, you know, the other part of it is when you violate trust, when you let a customer down and listen, we have 1,000 associates, somebody's going to do something that upsets a customer where he feels he's been betrayed, and how we recover from that is so critical. I personally spend a decent part of my week dealing with customer problems¬¬ — we'll do whatever it takes to earn back that trust.

And even when they've lost confidence in us, when we react the way we do with that very, very proactive approach to earning back their trust, they come back to us. And in fact, they become more passionate about our brand.

BUMPER: Fostering a Culture of Trust

There's — the things that keep our associates in line with our values — there's really two things that really make a difference. One is, we as a company spend more on training, I believe, than any other company per associate. We train them on how to deal with the customers. We teach them all the philosophy of earning customers' trust. The other part that really is important, and this is, I mean, people have written on this, but it's not easy to quantify, is the culture of our company.

Our culture supports the right behaviors. It's funny because on occasion, a competition have come in and hung out big dollars and hired away people thinking they're going to get — going to get a piece of our expertise — but when the culture is a surrounding, the behavior isn't as natural, and people — people will behave in accordance with a great corporate culture.

BUMPER: Redefining Customer Engagement

It's interesting because on a strategy level, when we saw that the landscape was changing three or four years ago when the American department stores announced they were coming in, we realized that we had to look for competitive advantages that were compelling that couldn't be duplicated. Why do customers really choose us? What makes us a compelling choice? And what can we do that they can't imitate?

A pinnacle moment for us as an organization — as a relationship-based seller — came a few years ago when we used to call our associates on the floor, we used to call them sales associates. And we realized that that term really, I mean, everybody has this thing of a salesman on the floor and they, you know, the guy you have to hide from and who, when he approaches you, says, "May I help you?" and you say, "I'm just looking. Thank you."

And we changed their name to clothing advisors because we wanted a name that said that these are experts, that they're highly trained experts that are going to help make the shopping process for you easier. That one little change improved the whole culture of the organization, and I think it improved the client experience because we consistently refer to our people on the floor as clothing advisors.

You think it's, I mean, well, that's a simple name change. But it really encapsulated what we were trying to do and what our key competitive advantage was.
The change of name from a sales associate to clothing advisor, I think it really related a lot to the issue of customer trust. It supported our competitive advantage, but it also supported the fact that our clients could have trust in our associates to help them build their wardrobes and shop with us long-term.
A focus on interpersonal trust at Expo Chicago has been key to its revitalization and ongoing success.

Renewing Expo Chicago through Interpersonal Trust

Contributor / Tony Karman
Tony Karman Art and Culture Reciprocity,Institutions and Context,Building Brands BUMPER: Expo Chicago: A Trust Deficit

Trust is really the core of any transaction. You begin got build it with an individual as a possible business partner. You use trust as the foundation with which you build your reputation.

Expo Chicago is an international art fair of contemporary and modern art.

It convenes upwards of 140 international art galleries from 17-plus countries and 43 international cities. It convenes them for five days in Chicago at a venue that was international or renowned for hosting an art fair for many years and that’s navy pier.

The fair had slid in many ways to a place where the art world or collectors just didn’t bother to come.

What we had to do is enter back in at the highest of level, but prove and convince the world that we mattered right away.

BUMPER: Building and Utilizing Interpersonal Trust

Those relationships that you begin in your early career done right, if you are trustworthy and full of integrity in both words, deeds, and actions will carry for many years of whatever endeavors you’re doing.

And I think that that trust, that integrity, that work ethic and ethic in the way you do business allows success to be achieved.

Trust and honesty is how I was able to build a foundation even to raise money for the International Art Fair. Major business leaders, collectors, civic leaders in Chicago that I approached to back the fair before it was the fair gave me their support financial support not necessarily because they wanted to make money, because the deal is not a multi-million-dollar deal.

If one looks at a transaction how can I win all the time? I don’t think the long-term win is really possible, because after all, if both or several involved in that transaction aren’t finding a benefit from that then there is no long-term future. There is no win.

And trust really is at the core, because after all, you can’t do that for the long-term if you’re not both trustworthy or have presented that opportunity in a sphere of what I think is a trustworthy and open way.

BUMPER: Winning Trust through Institutional Support

I don’t think Expo Chicago would be without the trust or the support of not only the business community, the civic community, the cultural community, and most importantly the artists and the galleries and the cultural community of Chicago.

We know we were proud to have partnered with Jeanne Gang to design the fair. That was a statement of trust. That was a statement to the international art world that we were going to build an international art fair with the imprimatur and the stamp of a great internationally renowned architect.

I can spin or we can spin all we spin, but if the testimonial is coming from a trustworthy individual respected in their field, whether it’s a critic or a curator or a collector or an art dealer an influential art dealer, if they’re saying this is special or this is good or this is important, that sets a whole other layer of foundation for in my case an international art fair’s success.

I think that it’s a multi-cultural world, and clearly this is an international art fair that allows for 17-18 countries in 45 to 50 international cities to represent works from around the world. I would say building trust within that is no different than building trust as we’ve talked about individual to individual.

Trust in relationships, trust in partnerships, trust in vision, trust in those that were backing this fair, trust in the statements of support from our civic leaders, our mayor, our city departments, the collective of all of that allowed all of us working on Expo Chicago to present that first fair in a way that we knew was going to make a statement to the world and has continued to allow us to refine it, to grow it, to make it again a impossible fair to miss.

Other pages in Videos:

Pages in The Trust Project at Northwestern University