Networking, Channel markets, Governance, Risk and Compliance, Channel technologies

Personalized Service vs. Privacy: When Customers Want Both

Author: Ian Jacobs
Author: Forrester Research's Ian Jacobs

Your customers are walking, talking contradictions. Forrester data shows that more than half of them want you to value their time, follow them across channels, and answer their questions quickly and easily. At the same time, these customers are overwhelmingly worried about how they share personal data – 60% of online North American adults believe or worry that their online behavior is being tracked. Your customers want it all and they want it now, regardless of whether or not it makes sense.

So given the contradictory and confusing behavior of your customers, how do you walk the line between personalized service and privacy?

In the age of the customer, default to privacy. Offer your customers the option to see exactly what they’re sharing with you, and show them how sharing their data will directly benefit them. In 2015, music streaming service Spotify caused a minor uproar by convoluting its privacy policy beyond comprehension. Following the outrage, Spotify released an update to the policy, but the update didn’t contain any new information – it clarified what should’ve already been clear to the average consumer. Use Spotify’s example as a cautionary tale; don’t wait to be called out on vague and misleading language. Instead, proactively break down your policies so users can understand what they gain from this exchange: share with us, and you’ll get a more streamlined, personalized customer service. Give a little, get a little.

The idea of opening up data policies is not revolutionary. In the early 2000s, Harvard fellow, blogger and journalist Doc Searls began working on a CRM companion known as VRM, or Vendor Relationship Management. He developed this as a model for consumers to manage their end of all interactions with companies. As customers are becoming increasingly aware of how much personal data companies mine from them, a VRM model for service would be a much-needed platform for customers to control access to their data.

Today, if there was a bigger push (and more funding) from enterprises to empower customers with their own data, a VRM model for service would most likely function best as an app similar to your iPhone settings app, or perhaps a browser plugin. Consumers would be able to turn on/off access for every site or company that uses their location services (on mobile or desktop), personal information like addresses, credit card info and phone numbers, and usage of search history for ad targeting.

While customers are existentially worried about their data, they still click through user agreements and may not take action because they feel the problem is too large for an individual to solve. Often, companies take this as a sign that their customers don’t care and abuse the data customers reluctantly share. But in the age of the customer, backlash can be swift and devastating. Instead of fighting the tide of customer empowerment, embrace it and be proactive. Transparency and simplicity will go a long way towards establishing trust with your customers.

For more information on consumer privacy in customer service, see the Forrester reports “The New Privacy: It’s All About Context” and “The Top 10 Technology Trends To Watch: 2018 To 2020.”

Ian Jacobs is principal analyst at Forrester Research. Read more Forrester blogs here.