Middle East and African (MEA) businesses must find the balance between digital innovation and customer trust. One cannot be completely prioritised over the other.
A study from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services in association with Mastercard explores the current business landscape through the lens of an increasingly young population. One filled with consumers who prioritise brands with shared values and digital experiences that make them feel safe and secure. It highlights trust as an important lever for customer loyalty, business sustainability, and innovation.
UNICEF estimates that half the population in MENA is 24 or younger. Their embrace of a digital world that is purpose-driven and built on connection bodes well for businesses in a region that prioritises innovation. However, with economic activity increasing online, security and privacy are emerging as foundational. Not just for trust, but also for innovation.
Over 70 per cent of MEA businesses recognise that service reliability and availability are paramount. However, less than half (42 per cent) realise the importance of data security and privacy to customers. Especially as digital tools and experiences become ubiquitous. To safeguard the trust of consumers and earn a license to innovate in the future, businesses need to recognise that innovation requires flexibility and commitment.
Businesses are faced with the challenge of innovating to satisfy consumer demand for richer, more satisfying experiences. All the while maintaining consumer trust. However, consumers in the region are also quicker than their global peers to punish businesses for adverse events by withdrawing their trust. This raises the stakes for businesses.
The report notes that 80 per cent of MEA consumers are eager to embrace digital benefits. However, they will not buy from businesses or brands they don’t trust. Businesses in the region understand the importance of trust for their own sustainability. More than three-quarters say trust improves customer loyalty. A further majority say it provides a competitive advantage.
“As the Middle East’s young digital natives and adopters of new technologies become more discerning, companies have an opportunity to reorganise their innovation priorities to better align with the elements their consumers value,” said Amnah Ajmal, executive vice president for market development, Eastern Europe, Middle East, and Africa, Mastercard.
“This in turn builds deeper trust. When consumers can trust businesses, it gives businesses the space and security to innovate. Innovation can bring risk, and consumers across the region aren’t afraid to punish businesses they see as risky. That’s why trust is central to good innovation—it is the currency that underpins it,” Ajmal concluded.
Middle East consumers are more sensitive than their global peers to factors that damage trust in brands, and data security is a top concern. Around 60 per cent of consumers in the region said incidents in which consumer data has been mismanaged would damage their trust.
Consumers in the Middle East have also underlined the importance of strong values. Eighty per cent said they prioritised buying from businesses that act on causes they care about. This is a far higher proportion than the global average of 63 per cent. This includes the environment, supporting small businesses, women’s economic empowerment, disaster relief, and aid.
Meeting expectations through digitisation
The report further explores how businesses in the region are digitising their processes and embedding innovation while ensuring that they continue to meet their customers’ and stakeholders’ expectations for reliable, secure systems and maintain their trust, through best practices such as:
- Build security into products and be transparent when issues arise. Customers expect secure, reliable, appropriate systems they can trust to keep their personal data safe.
- Communicate the company’s vision and values. Consumers in Middle East prioritise buying from brands that support their values.
- Make innovation part of the company culture. A considered 360-degree approach to innovation will benefit large companies with legacy infrastructure and set processes.
- Partner with like-minded companies to boost innovation.