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Personalising the customer experience in the midst of GDPR

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Jirsak)

When considering the imminent implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), it is understandable that many organisations may see the application of stringent privacy laws and the ability to personalise the customer experience as opposing ideals. But with the deadline just a month away, it’s time to have a swift rethink.  

GDPR should, in fact, be thought of as a key feature for improving the overall customer experience, not a hindrance. The new rules aim to protect as many rights as possible when it comes to how consumer’s data is stored and have been developed holding the EU data subject as a central priority. Therefore, if a customer desires and, indeed, consents to a personalised experience, organisations can – and definitely should –  ensure that they receive one.   

Personalisation: its power and potential   

Recent scandals have shone a light on the unethical way a consumer’s data can, and has been, exploited. Before that, customers had become accustomed to sharing personal information freely, not always considering what it is actually being used for. As consumers, we have come to accept and also expect a high level of personalisation from the services we receive on a daily basis – from online shopping to banking to social media. And within digital marketing, the consumer’s data is used frequently to deliver these tailored experiences by informing messaging and reducing friction in the customer journey.     

In recent years, personalisation has become a lifeline for brands looking to deliver individualised customer experiences – and those that have executed tailored services to high standard, have reaped the rewards in terms of customer satisfaction and loyalty. Research from think tank Nunwood Customer Experience Excellence Centre uncovered that companies like Amazon, Premier Inn and Netflix are leading the way when it comes to personalising customer services. Amazon, for example, is often held as the pinnacle of ‘the right way to do personalisation’ because of the tactful way the company approaches it – and tactful is the key word here. The site can pinpoint exactly what a customer has browsed on the site in the past, as well as use recent purchases to inform the promotional messaging without aggressively pushing the sale.     

It goes without saying, then, that personalisation is not something brands and customers alike will want to lose. That said, it is important to be mindful of three key points when looking to personalise customer experiences beyond the GDPR deadline: consent, transparency and execution.   

Organisations do not have to look far to realise consent is the central theme of GDPR. The legislation itself is clear in laying out how a data subject’s consent should be given willingly and in an informed, unambiguous way. This should be delivered through a clearly defined statement from the data subject that indicates the agreement to the processing of their data. The double opt-in is the main component: prospects will have to both fill out a form or tick a box and also confirm by email that they want to sign up.    

Guaranteeing that the customer has the choice to opt-in, or indeed out, to the use of their data is absolutely crucial to GDPR compliance. Once a customer has opted in, only then can their data be used to individualise their experience. Thinking back to the example of Amazon suggesting promotions based on browsing history, going forward this method will only be possible if a customer clearly states that the company can use their data.    

To track and monitor a customer’s choice when it comes to opting-in - remember, opted-out is the default setting – it is vital that organisations conduct thorough research around the GDPR consent management tools currently on the market. Making the correct choices when it comes to technology will ensure that processes are simplified and that is it less likely for mistakes to be made – reducing the risk of severe fines and massive dents to reputations. However, it is also important that the human processes in place are efficient and that every employee is educated on the importance of consent.   

Crystal clear communication 

Beyond GDPR, concerns should not revolve around whether or not organisations can still deliver these personalised experiences, but rather how they can gain the data subject’s consent. The question then becomes, how can brands make sure that their customers choose to opt-in?    

These days, mistrust around how consumer’s data is used is at its peak and as GDPR comes into effect, it's likely that yet more unlawful data harvesting activities will be exposed. In order to both comply with GDPR and personalise customer communications, organisations will need to be completely transparent around how they store data and why.    

The key will be to clearly explain why that data is useful to them and underline exactly how this can be used to provide a more tailored and targeted customer experience. This could be something as simple as stating that multiple addresses are held to ensure a parcel is delivered on the occasion you are stuck in the office and it cannot be delivered to your home address, or why birthdays are stored so offers can align with this.   

Executing personalisation to a high standard   

As the saying goes, it is as important as ever for brands to put ‘their money where their mouth is’ when it comes to proving just why customer data is beneficial to delivering efficient customer service. If consumers don't opt-in, organisations have not done enough to justify how they use this data constructively to provide tailored experiences.  

Recently, a survey by Engage Hub – looking at the fragile nature of customer experience – revealed that 54% of people have been driven away to competitors as a result of bad customer experience. In addition, worryingly, one in five highlighted that customer service standards have declined. With this in mind, brands should look at GDPR as a way to take a step back and review processes already in place objectively – looking at what works and what needs to be improved. After all, the opportunity to completely audit and rethink practices does not come around often.

Consumers are rightly becoming more aware of how their data is safeguarded and more inquisitive of how it is used. GDPR is therefore imperative to determine how relationships between brands and consumers evolve. By transforming consent and transparency, GDPR has the potential to repair relationships that are perhaps currently hanging from a thread. And, in turn, it will not only overhaul how customer data is stored, but also the customer experience itself.  

Nigel Linton, Digital Marketing Manager at Engage Hub 

Image Credit: Jirsak / Shutterstock

Nigel Linton is digital marketing manager at Engage Hub, the data-driven customer engagement company. Nigel is responsible for all things digital at Engage Hub, with a particular interest in using data to influence customer decisions.