In recent times, U.S. adults’ trust in their fellow people is at an all-time low. According to the 2014 General Survey by the National Opinion Research Center, only 30% of Americans today agreed that people could be trusted, down from 46% in 1972. According to the same survey, trust in people has been on a constant downward slope since 1989. The negative consequences from this decline are plenty but the most damaging may be the growth of the "what's mine is mine" mindset.
Is technology to blame?
There are many studies (such as this and this) out there that correlate technology growth and social interaction decline. The anonymity provided by the internet and human disconnect by mobile devices mean that people are losing trust in others and giving them less time. When it comes to getting help and information outside of your normal circle of trust, it can be hard to tell who to rely on and what information is fully accurate.
But despite all of this, the very same technology growth has ushered in a wave of sharing economy companies looking to help people trust each other again. Today, we are hopping into strangers’ cars (Lyft, Uber, Sidecar, Curb), staying at strangers’ homes (Airbnb, Homestay, VRBO), inviting strangers to help with errands (Thumbtack, TaskRabbit, Homejoy), and getting information about personal questions from strangers (JustAnswer, Quora). For sharing economy companies, building trust also makes business sense. A recent PwC report estimates that the five main sharing economy sectors (peer-to-peer lending, online staffing, home sharing, car sharing and video/music sharing) generate $15bn in global revenues, and overall potential value of the sharing economy could reach $335bn by 2025.
The sharing economy’s approach to building trust
Traditional peer-to-peer companies like eBay and Amazon developed massive marketplaces connecting those in need and those who can provide, and leveraging anonymity in the early days of e-commerce. Sharing economy companies, in contrast, are humanizing e-commerce marketplaces by removing the anonymity. Most sharing economy companies today require a form of identity verification (usually a social media account) and ask users to complete profiles with detailed personal information. The idea is the more you know about the person with whom you’re interacting, the more likely you are to behave and trust that person.
Sharing economy companies also act as guarantors of trust. You get into a stranger’s car because you know Uber screens every driver and insures every ride. You rent out your home to strangers because you know Airbnb provides insurance for damages and verifies every renter. Where trust in people is an important ingredient in the sharing economy recipe, it’s easier to trust when there are infrastructures in place to ensure quality and protection.
How JustAnswer leverages trust in professional services
These ideas have become values for companies like JustAnswer, a platform for people to get answers from verified professionals, or Experts. When JustAnswer started, Founder and CEO Andy Kurtzig envisioned a B2C platform that would be “eBay for professional services.” If you wanted to talk to a health professional, you would be connected to one.
As JustAnswer grew organically, it found the “eBay for X” model to be too systematic. Customers expected verified trustworthy Experts and demanded more categories. JustAnswer’s challenges were to facilitate Expert quality across all categories and guarantee customer happiness.
To face these challenges, JustAnswer evolved its values and expanded its role. Expert profiles now have a photo, location, certifications, experiences, work history, and expertise categories. Experts’ ratings are also available for customers to view. Susan, a JustAnswer customer, notes, “I appreciate doing business on the internet with people that show they are trustworthy.” When you ask a medical question, you’re getting a verified and licensed doctor, many of whom have over 15 years of practice experience. Experts are expected to provide fast and accurate information, listen to customers’ needs, and be empathetic. Customers are encouraged to converse with Experts until they are satisfied with the answer. When customers are asked why they chose JustAnswer versus online search, most gave some version of: “I like talking to someone who I know is an expert in the field.”
Susan uses JustAnswer to get second opinions and understand diagnoses.
While JustAnswer largely leaves Experts and customers to their own accord, it developed infrastructure to maximize Expert quality and customer happiness. New Experts are required to go through a comprehensive 8-step verification process that includes credential verification, subject matter test and peer-to-peer reviews. JustAnswer also has a Prove It or Lose It policy which allows Experts to challenge other Experts’ credentials. If customers are not happy with their experience, JustAnswer has a money-back policy called The JustAnswer Promise that simply states, “If you’re not happy, we will give your money back.” JustAnswer, like many sharing economy companies, does all of this in order to maximize the facilitation of the interpersonal connection between providers and customers.
Future of trust and the sharing economy
Whether it’s getting information from trusted Experts or meeting someone to give them the keys to your home, the sharing economy has and will continue to transform how we interact in our everyday lives. What's mine can now be yours and vice versa. Imagine this: You start your day with an Uber ride to your favorite coffee shop, order lunch delivered from Sprig, let someone borrow your car for the afternoon through Getaround, have your laundry picked up by Rinse, use your computer expertise to answer some questions on JustAnswer, and end the day with a massage in the comfort of your home from Zeel. That’s a new group of strangers you’ve instantly trusted and shared with on different levels – thanks to the sharing economy.
Do you think the Sharing Economy is helping to rebuild trust? Share your comments below.