“Trust and safety will become a critical competence for companies that want to fuel trade and enable economic success.” [Source: eBay Trust Playbook, 2004. P.22]
Last week I wrote a blogpost that was more than anything an homage to the eBay Trust & Safety pioneers who, back in the early 2000s created the very playbook that to this day online companies employ to fight fraud and create a trusted buying and selling experience.
Still feeling inspired this week and maybe a bit nostalgic, I pulled out my copy of the eBay Trust Playbook that friend and former colleague Dave Steer created back in 2004. As a “trust marketer” at both eBay and PayPal between 2003 – 2008, Dave’s mission was to drive safe trading activity between buyers and sellers and between buyers and sellers with eBay (and PayPal). He did this primarily through community (aka user) education. The Trust Playbook was designed to help the eBay leadership and ultimately all employees not only understand the importance of trust and safety but to embrace it as part of eBay’s core competency and to make it a part of their thinking as they created new programs, policies, tools, and initiatives. I’m amazed at how relevant much of the 58 pages of content Dave and his team created for the Trust Playbook is to today’s expanding universe of marketplaces – both tangible goods or services.
What is Trust and Safety?
The Trust Playbook assumed that its readers really knew little if anything about trust and safety (after all, who would? It was still the early days of eCommerce and trust and safety, a newly formed group within eBay to combat the surge in fraud and unsafe trading, was a fairly new concept). So that meant starting at a very high level. Before implementing any trust and safety strategy for a marketplace, stakeholders needed to understand in simple terms what it is and why it matters.
According to the eBay Trust Playbook, “Trust and safety are connected, so we tend to talk about them in the same breath. But they are different concepts. Trust is a social, shared good between people that is hard to quantify. Safety is individual, and more simply measured as the everyday odds of staying free from harm. Both concepts are critical for the long-term success of the eBay Marketplace and the services that support our community. But we have to maintain a delicate balance between them. If we push safety mechanisms too far, we risk dehumanizing trade and encouraging irresponsible behavior.” [Source: eBay Trust Playbook, p. 7]
Put into practical terms, trust and safety (or T&S) is the combination of technology, policies, processes and user experience to create an environment in which online buyers and sellers who are complete strangers – perhaps in different countries and cultures – are comfortable and confident about doing business with one another.
The Three Pillars of Trust & Safety
Now, how does that translate into a strategy? At eBay, we created the “Three Pillars of Trust and Safety”. The three pillars consisted of:
Fraud prevention. This typically consists of two distinct groups. The first is a fraud analytics team consisting of a team of PhDs in applied mathematics who spend five to seven days a week analyzing the data trends in thousands, hundreds of thousands even millions of transactions looking for fraud trends. The second is law enforcement relations. These are often former law enforcement, customs or even immigrations officers who understand the language and process of law enforcement and work closely with local, state and national law enforcement agencies worldwide to educate about how the site is combatting fraud AND to respond to subpoenas requesting data to help those law enforcement agencies catch bad guys.
“As we innovate new anti-fraud technologies, fraudsters evolve their techniques in response. How will we stay one step ahead of fraudsters?” [Source: eBay Trust Playbook, p. 29]
“Safety should support trust, not smother it.” [Source: eBay Trust Playbook, p. 20]
EBay sought the best and the brightest for these roles. PhDs in applied math from the finest undergraduate and graduate institutions worldwide. But getting the best and the brightest wasn’t sufficient. They also had to have an entrepreneurial spirit and be able to work collaboratively with their business counterparts in ensuring they were not constricting creativity and free movement by buyers and sellers on the eBay platform. In other words, they needed to be pragmatic. They needed to embrace the notion that “too much in the way of safety mechanisms can actually undermine trust – introducing a sense of oppression, and rendering trade antiseptic and antisocial.” [Source: eBay Trust Playbook, p. 20].
Reputation. Since the early days of eBay, marketplaces have employed either a visible ratings system like Feedback or have used hidden ratings (i.e. the accumulation of bad transactions which can, in turn, be used as a martinet by the site to get a buyer or seller to change their behavior). Without a reputation system of some sort, it becomes difficult for end users to decide which seller to purchase from. Feedback scores that are visible to the buyer can have a material impact on the price of an item or service. A seller with a 99% positive score is likely to have a significantly higher sale price than a seller with, say, an 85% rating.
“[The marketplace] must reciprocate trust, because this reciprocity validates their trust and helps to build community. The feedback system is critical here. It encourages people on the eBay Marketplace to reciprocate trust. Many people check their feedback every morning – it becomes their personal trust index.” [Source: eBay Trust Playbook, p. 17]
Today’s marketplaces employ a range of rating systems both visible and invisible to buyers or sellers. Visible ratings will help.
Issue Resolution. Perhaps the most important “loyalty moment” between a buyer and a marketplace is when something goes wrong with a transaction. The item isn’t delivered or the service was not provided as described. These are the most fraught and emotional interactions and must be handled correctly. Trust is won or lost based on how the marketplace responds to and engages with the buyer – or, in reality, to empowering buyers and sellers to work out their own issues without having to contact customer service. Moreover, statistical analysis demonstrates that buyers who receive a fast and fair resolution to their dispute buy at a rate of 18% more than those who do NOT have a dispute.
“The court system does not work well for solving online disputes, unless the issue is clear serious fraud. eBay Inc.’s role is to enable people to resolve their disputes fairly, efficiently, and in a more community-oriented way through a neutral party which can arbitrate disputes.” [Source: eBay Trust Playbook, p. 51]
Most marketplaces will attempt to handle issue resolution by “throwing more bodies at the problem” and invest ever-so-incrementally in tools to help the customer support team gain some efficiencies. This approach results in the inevitable tsunami of contacts because the support team simply cannot keep up with the volume. Buyers and sellers leave the marketplace for another venue.
The Three Pillars of Trust & Safety continue to prove essential to the success of any contemporary marketplace. And where there is insufficient funding or focus or timely implementation tools, policies and programs in each of these pillars, the consequences can pose serious risk of customer churn, bad publicity and lawsuits. Fortunately, for companies that are having a difficult time building their own pillars, there are any number of third-party software providers that can help them meet the challenge: for fraud-fighting, there’s SiftScience; for reputation management, there’s TrustPilot, BazaarVoice and Power Reviews; for issue resolution, there’s Modria.
So, should all online marketplace companies create their own Trust Playbooks like the one Dave and eBay created over 10 years ago? The answer depends on the answers to three questions:
- Are trust & safety considerations a part of every conversation related to policies, programs, and technology implementation?
- Do all stakeholders (i.e. employees, investors and customers) consider trust and safety as core to the company’s success?
- Are you investing sufficiently in all three pillars?
Answering No to all three suggests that a wider conversation needs to take place at your company and that, in fact, building a team whose goal it is to “evangelize” trust and safety issues within the company might not be a bad idea.