Trust earning or trust eroding? Designing micro-interactions that matter

I had a call a couple of months back with someone who was close to wrapping up their behavioural sciences post grad. The focus of their study was trust in conversational agents.

It was a great call. We covered a lot of ground. The thing that came out of it was some actual guidance (me whiteboard sketching in front of camera like crazy) on a service design (probably the most accurate way to frame it) method that could be used to understand where trust is earned or eroded.

This is a method I’ve been using for a number of years. It’s been called different things during that time. For the sake of today, let’s just call it Trust Mapping.

The reason I’m bringing it up is because there’s a very clear gap in the market for this type of process. It’s not super hard. Yes, it requires work. But for product and design and research folks already doing this sort of stuff, transitioning (or rather, augmenting) focus is easy.

And that’s all I’m here to propose. I’d like to ask the research, design and product management community to give Trust Mapping a crack.

Here’s a simple guide:

  1. Define what you mean by trust: This really matters. You might already be aware that there are lots of definitions and dimensions to consider. Your definition matters because it’ll impact how you measure consistently.
  2. Define how you’ll measure trust: This could be a qual/attitudinal thing, a quant/behavioural thing or a combo of both. Just get clear on how you’ll do it as a starting point. If you want some tips, reach out.
  3. Map the entire service experience: Yes, end to end. Micro-interactions and all. Or better yet, re-use work you’ve already done 😊
  4. Frame some hypotheses: Start by critically reviewing every micro-interaction and hypothesising whether it’s a trust earner or ‘eroder’ (add a basic rationale to the + or — you associate with the interaction). Document this process.
  5. Conduct some basic research: Start with outcome focused usability sessions that are paired with contextual inquiry. Here’s a little detail on how we did that here down under for the Australian Consumer Data Right. Here’s a video showing how we do this for a consent experience.
  6. Analyse: You get the gist. And
  7. Share your results: This is about getting people excited, building the case and getting prepared for a more rigorous and continuous approach.

Out of this process you should get a net trust score. You’ll be clear on your strengths and opportunities for improvement. You’ll have a tangible asset from which to move the trust needle upward.

It’s noteworthy that this only looks at the ‘top layer’ of an organisations’ interactions with its stakeholders. Trustworthiness is a bit of an iceberg thing. Most of what makes an organisation trustworthy happens ‘underneath’. More on that another time.

If you wanna work through this stuff with folks who have done it plenty, check out our 10x Better workshop series.

Until next time.



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Nathan Kinch

Nathan Kinch

A confluence of Happy Gilmore, Conor McGregor and the Dalai Lama.