Who can you trust these days? In an era of ‘fake news’ and everyone’s opinions masquerading as facts, it’s a relevant question. I just read a great Fast Company article on the dodgy world of mattress-recommendation sites and it made me think that trust is going to be a key differentiator for all kinds of enterprises, whether they’re in the recommendation business or supplying products and services that someone else is recommending.
You snooze, you (don’t) lose
‘The War to Sell You a Mattress’ is a long-ish piece so if you’re time-poor, or would rather spend the time having a nap, here’s the gist:
- There’s a number of websites that provide reviews of mattresses – if you’re looking, then the article mentions Sleepopolis, Mattress Nerd, Sleep Sherpa, Mattress Clarity and Slumber Sage – particularly those available from online-only suppliers
- They’re a good source of free mattresses, since the reviewers get sent them by suppliers and pass them on to others (which is how the author got wind of the story)
- The article reveals some of these had, or were alleged to have had, cosy relationships with suppliers – these include Casper, Leesa, Tuft & Needle and GhostBed – where payments were alleged to have been made by some for favourable reviews
- None of this seemed to be a problem for the owners of Sleepopolis – the main focus of the article – who sold their site to another company for an undisclosed sum.
Leaving aside my faint astonishment that the world of mattress-reviewing was big enough or interesting enough to warrant so many competitors, this tale holds a lesson for both customers and those companies they forge a relationship with, which is this: from a customer’s viewpoint the key question is
- What do I trust this company to do for me?
Which gives rise to a second question:
- How is that trust demonstrated?
In the mattress recommendation world, visitors to any of the sites would reasonably expect the reviewers to provide an objective, unbiased view of the products they are reviewing – even though, like other forms of review (arts, restaurants etc), the preferences of the reviewer will influence their opinion. In the case of one or two of the players, this does not seem to have been the case.
Trust me, I’m a banker
For any provider of goods and services, establishing that trusting relationship takes place even before anyone considers becoming a customer. Scouring the web for opinions on any company is now the precursor to buying their products and I had that experience recently whilst looking for a new business bank account. Whilst looking at business banking options recently I came across an article that covered the main options in the country I wanted to set up an account in. The article was on Transferwise’s site. The article mentioned their Borderless account, but also covered the main operators, apparently in an entirely objective way. In my eyes this established their brand as open and honest – a similar approach is taken to their charges – and therefore I am not more likely to open an account with them rather than their competitors. In this case, ‘recommending’ competitor products paid off, since I trust Transferwise to manage my money in a transparent and honest way as they have demonstrated trust by acknowledging that other products may suit some customers better.
Now for a thoroughly biased recommendation… the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into effect in May 2018. My sense is that not enough companies are prepared and therefore the likelihood of non-compliance is high. Non-compliance means that customers asking the trust questions above might end up getting answers they don’t like and their relationship with that company will suffer. I’d recommend talking to me about this, but in an article dealing with bias in recommendation sites that would hardly be appropriate.