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How to walk the data tightrope to provide perfectly balanced customer experience

data woman
(Image credit: Future)

The growing volume of data companies have access to means there is an increasingly fine line between consumers having amazing customer experience versus feeling ‘digitally stalked’ by a brand. Customers will want brands to know who they are and have one brand touchpoint, but may be unsettled if a company appears to know too much.

At the same time, there is also a growing disinformation epidemic on the truth about data – its uses, its impact, how it’s collected, stored, and how it is used. The lack of wider understanding around data has become increasingly apparent in our post-pandemic age where reliance on technology has soared. For example, last year’s consumer response to WhatsApp’s proposed privacy changes* highlighted how uneducated the average user is about data. One small policy change which was taken out of context, went viral on social media and resulted in an almost overnight loss of 100m users switching to other platforms – the irony here is, the ‘change’ was actually not a change at all and something that all users had already signed up to.

This type of viral misinformation can have real-world consequences. The recent news that an update to England and Wales's Covid contact tracing app** has been blocked for breaking Apple and Google’s terms of an agreement shocked most UK users. The majority of the public already mistakenly believed that sharing of location data was already happening. Not understanding ‘how’ and ‘why’ this application was using their data meant many did not use it, leading to fake check-ins alongside fake information spreading on social media about how the app is tracking you every minute of every day – an unfortunate outcome for an app which was built to save lives.

An upcoming hurdle for companies is the shift towards new regulations designed to protect consumer privacy requiring users’ explicit permission to share and use data generated from digital interactions. The highly publicized demise of third-party cookies and Apple’s recent announcement of blocking tracking pixels in the upcoming versions of its mail clients to name just two examples. Both technologies have far-reaching implications on how we interact with brands and how they market to us. I don’t believe it’s as simple as saying these things are bad. As a consumer, I really shouldn’t have to care about what a cookie is, let alone a third-party one, I’d like some plain English about the benefits and the risks so I can make my own decisions. The now-ubiquitous website popups which are actually making me consent to a company knowing less about me are just annoying. Instead, I’d like a popup that says: “Do you agree that we will use what we know about you to serve you better as a customer?” I think we’d all click ‘Yes’ to that! 

Unfortunately, the average consumer does not understand enough about data and these technologies to make an informed decision. This is what leads to viral scaremongering and mass exoduses from brands and platforms. In today’s increasingly complicated landscape however, who can blame them? Users and customers not only need to understand what data they’re giving over – they should really also understand the why, but currently have no motivation to. For example, when signing up to a website or service, it’s clear what information a user is giving as they type it in – this changes however when we look at ‘federated identity’.  Whilst way more convenient for users, signing up with an existing Apple, Google or Microsoft account, there’s a question over what data is being shared.  

While it’s now a legal requirement for brands to explain in very simple terms what data they are proposing to collect and for what purpose, it’s also widely accepted that no one “reads the T&Cs” anymore – no matter how simple. Consequently, organizations have to take stock of how their customers view their data collection and usage, as well as understand how a unified view of customer data can help drive better customer experiences without scaring customers off.

Getting personal  

Prioritizing consumer preference will always be key. Expectations for seamless service are high in the current tech flooded, tech-savvy world we live in – and rightly so.  As such, gaining, and crucially maintaining, a full picture of your customer is critical to a business. The rise in Customer Data Platforms (CDPs) is a testament to that. The more we ‘know’ about our customers the better we should be able to serve them. 

Data collected about the what, when and where of a customer’s purchase, down to knowing whether the customer is happy - for example if they have logged no complaints or support tickets – can be used to target that customer with related and associated products and offers in a very (seemingly) personal way. A Customer Success Manager who can see a customer's Orders, Purchase History, Support Tickets, Renewal information, for example, is far more effective than one who can’t. This is a great customer experience - contrasted with being served endless adverts for a product the customer has already bought, or calls with a Customer Success Manager who has no knowledge of a user’s history with the brand. 

However, creating the ‘golden record’ or ’single source of truth’ is a problem that almost pre-dates our industry. The challenge now, more than ever, is that customer data is changing all the time and whatever system you are using to capture and manage that data needs constant maintenance. While CRMs and CDPs do provide integration to many disparate sources and the promise of a ’Single View of the Customer’, without constant maintenance and updating, the data can quickly become stale. This is especially true, in a B2B context, where a unified view of customer data should not necessarily be limited to the data held within the organization. The reality is, it’s less about technical integration behind the scenes, and more about the right processes and tools in place to manage and capture the changes - whether it’s a job title change on LinkedIn, a known customer using a new email address or a business changing premises. CRM data decays at an alarming rate and keeping on top of this is key to great customer experience. 

As technology evolves to allow more advanced predictive and real-time analytics to optimize customer journeys, it will undoubtedly be a net positive to have the ability to profile, segment, target and streamline the buying process for potential customers. Done well, it creates a good customer experience whilst minimizing overheads on the seller side. However, companies must be aware that done badly, it can seriously hurt a brand’s reputation. Any process involving analytics fundamentally relies on the quality of the data on which it is built. Prioritize the need to feed clean, consistent, and accurate data into the model – and all parties will benefit.

Chris Hyde, Global Head of Data Solutions, Validity

Chris Hyde, Global Head of Data Solutions, Validity.