Trust me, I’m a global financial institution…

…how we listened to customers to learn the emotional language of trust

Repaying the trust overdraft

In March 2016, as the Banking Standards Board nervously published its first annual report, top executives from several major banks commented that they expected fines to keep coming for at least the next 4 years. The boss of HSBC UK and Europe, Antonio Simoes, piled on the misery, saying it will take consumers “a generation” to begin to trust banks again. Ouch.

But the trouble isn’t just with the executive pay, insider dealing and pinstripe suits being perceived as evil. Our insight shows the relationship between financial providers and customers is being damaged through day-to-day operations just as much as rogue trading.

We wanted to know what was causing the trust issue between financial institutions and their customers, so we applied our unique research techniques to listen to and learn from real customers having real conversations.

What’s really going on with you?

Traditional research methods such as market research surveys or customer focus groups give us some level of insight, but it’s limited because respondents know they’re there to answer pre-determined questions chosen by clients. Not the best way to get a natural answer. Recently, social listening is getting us closer to the truth, but it lacks the depth and analysis of qualitative research.

At Listen & Learn, our mission is to get depth and honesty on a scale that goes beyond traditional studies. By listening to people in their natural social environment (social media – blogs, reviews, posts, forums etc.) and then reading, coding and analysing each and every social comment, we don’t just get under the skin of the data, we’re practically soulmates.

Don’t talk to me about trust

The media and commentators talk endlessly about trust. It’s the currency of consumer insight, brand strategy and market analysts. If you’re conducting any kind of research to improve your customer experience, service offering or brand marketing, knowing how to gain trust is vital.

But if you’re trying to understand how to get customers to trust you, just don’t bother looking.

Emotional intel

Through our research, it became clear focusing on trust wasn’t going to work. It’s like trying to get a promotion by booking the same holiday as your boss, then surprising him at the poolside.

To understand trust (and more importantly for our study, the opposite, disgust), we need to get a bit more emotional. Our team at Listen & Learn, over the last 10 years, has been identifying and classifying individual emotions and the emotional territories they exist in.

This emotional spectrum includes primary (intense gut reactions) at the core, secondary (heartfelt) and tertiary (using your head). The further you move from the primary core, the more nuanced emotions you have – around 600 across our entire range. They all work together to create the human emotional experience.

Trust sits within repulsion-attraction dimension, between adoration and acceptance. It’s surrounded by feelings such as: welcomed, protected, privileged, safe, belonging, included and secure. And it’s bi-pole, disgust, is surrounded by feelings such as worry, rejection, suspicion, dislike, left out, complacent, hate and despise. Knowing the landscape of trust gives us a far better understanding of what happens when customers and providers interact, and how this makes them feel.

Now we know what we’re looking for, where to look and how to really understand what we find, we’re in a unique position as a research agency to give more meaningful results.

Worrying times

We looked at thousands of social media conversations about bank accounts, insurance and mortgages. Each comment was read by us, coded and analysed using these emotional dimensions. Discussions focused on the actions of the institutions and the reactions of the customers. Topics included customer service, product range, fees and charges and flexibility.

Guess what? People don’t talk about trust. Only 0.1% of the thousands of comments we analysed mentioned trust. Experiences were discussed in terms deeper and more varied than was being searched for. People felt worried, suspicious and rejected, wronged, stressed and irate. And this led to an overwhelming emotion, not of trust, but of worry. Over 50% of comments mentioned feelings of suspicion and worry. From an account being closed without notice, to being rejected for travel insurance, the feelings expressed led to mistrust, but “trust” wasn’t the chosen term.

Regaining trust

What our study has shown is that, by identifying and listening for the right terms, we can learn how to improve. Banks and financial institutions need to look closely at what their customers are saying across the range of emotions, reactions and the activities that make up the relationship to get a practical means of building up trust. The overall brand experience is what happens to customers day-to-day, through every touch-point, across every department in the institution. So everyone needs to sit up and take notice.

Maybe, if they look for the right problems, they can get this generation to trust them, as well as the next.


About us

We’re an insights agency that uses social data to help brands + their agencies find new opportunities for growth.

If that sounds good to you, drop us a line and we’ll get straight back to you. If you want to hear more stories from social, then sign up to our blog (As heard on social) below.

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