As we head towards 2019, people are starting to look to the year ahead and ask what the big trends of the next 12 months will be. One theme identified in a new study is that as technology continues to disrupt how firms do business, it will be more important than ever to focus on customers and ensure that they are building a trustworthy reputation – especially when it comes to how organisations handle sensitive personal data.

Indeed, while it's often said that every business is now a digital business, it should not be forgotten that people will still be at the heart of all firms’ strategies.

The importance of trust

This was one of the key findings of Vodafone's latest Global Trends Barometer, which noted that in a more digitally-focused world, trust is the key for businesses. The study, which polled more than 1,700 organisations around the world about their priorities for the year ahead, found retaining customer trust is the number one concern for businesses.

More than half of respondents (55 per cent) cited this as a top issue, ahead of keeping up with the latest technology (49 per cent), the risk of losing important data (42 per cent) and keeping their company safe from online threats (38 per cent).

The study noted: "In an uncertain world of shifting loyalties, trustworthiness has become a valuable commodity. In this context trustworthiness is defined by keeping data safe and being transparent with the use of data."

This comes at a time when it may be all too easy for firms to lose their customers' trust. Legislation such as GDPR has not only greatly increased the financial penalties for failing to take care of customers' data, but could also mean people are more aware of what their rights are.

Cyber security just the start

Indeed, with many companies bombarding users earlier this year with requests to continue using their data, it will not have escaped people's notice that their personal information is now a precious resource to businesses, and they will expect it to be used ethically. 

This does not merely mean keeping it safe from hackers who will look to use it for fraudulent purposes, but also not sharing it with third parties for uses such as advertising or political targeting. This is something that has become a major issue for the likes of Facebook over the past year.

Indeed, Vodafone's research also noted that a business' ethics are increasingly important to customers. It found that 83 of firms believe that acting in an ethical manner will ultimately generate more revenue.

However, they clearly have work to do in this regard. According to Deloitte's Millennial Survey 2018, only 48 per cent of millennials believe businesses behave ethically – down from 65 per cent in 2017.

Vodafone noted: "In an era where trust is hard to earn and even harder to maintain, business leaders need to identify what is threatening or preventing trust in their business and where the opportunities to nurture and develop it lie." 

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