Just over half of surveyed consumers discontinued doing business with a company because they were uncomfortable with their privacy protection, a report from Accenture found. The November 2003 survey of 570 individuals that mixed business marketing executives, privacy officers and customer relationship management executives with consumer respondents revealed that each group often has a different perception of privacy policies and trust issues.

The disparity is evident as 80 percent of the business respondents awarded their companies a 4 or 5 rating on a scale of 1 to 5 (where 5 is the highest) in terms of their ability to generate trust with customers, while 81 percent of the customer respondents chose a 3 or 4 rating.

Nearly one-quarter of business respondents indicated that their company primarily published their privacy policy because it was the ethical thing to do and it made them good corporate citizens, while only a mere 3 percent of consumer respondents believed that to be the reason. The largest portion of consumer participants — 45 percent — stated that companies published their privacy policies because it was required by law, and one-quarter thought it was done to minimize legal risk. Only 13 percent of the business responses cited an effort to build trust with customers, compared to 16 percent of consumers.

The survey found that privacy policies actually have little impact on whether consumers trust companies, and most were influenced by company or product reputation. Businesses believed that good customer service was the most influential factor.

Factors most influencing consumer trust with a company
  Business Respondents Consumer Respondents
Positive customer service experience 43% 26%
Length of relationship with company 27% 29%
Company or product reputation 23% 33%
Brand familiarity 6% 3%
Privacy policies 1% 9%
Source: Accenture

Accenture's Chief Scientist, Glover Ferguson, commented on the survey findings: "The study revealed no single reason that would compel consumers to immediately cancel their business with a company. However, the study did reveal two characteristics — brand impression and length of relationship — that fortify trust. Indeed, nearly two thirds of the respondents said that trust most frequently stems from those characteristics. Accordingly, it would seem that trust is not something that comes easily or quickly. It needs to be earned over time."

Corporations often have unrealistic views of what damages trust. When survey participants were asked about the biggest impediments to establishing corporate trust, the majority of the business respondents thought consumers were wary of security, when, in fact, most of the consumers blamed aggressive marketing tactics.

What Damages Trust?
  Business
Respondents
Consumer
Respondents
Online security fears 74% 49%
Overly aggressive marketing,
Especially telemarketing
67% 76%
Company reputation has been
damaged by a past incident
60% 44%
Generally suspicious of corporations 52% 28%
An incident at a similar company
has damaged industry's reputation
52% 19%
Disapprove of the company's
business practices
43% 37%
Source: Accenture