How to Get Closer to Your Customers Without Creeping Them Out

eWEEK DATA POINTS RESOURCE PAGE: New research shows that despite the past year’s global focus on data privacy regulations designed to give consumers more power over their data, customers still feel like they’re being kept in the dark on how it’s being used.

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Data is widely viewed as the most valuable commodity in the world, even surpassing oil. While this has created unprecedented opportunities for businesses to attract and retain customers through personalized experiences, recent data breaches demonstrate just how vulnerable this information can be to attacks. As such, consumer sensitivities around their data – where it lives and who has access to it – are at an all-time high.

Customer qualms paired with a renewed focus on data privacy legislation has put a spotlight on today’s brands, calling their data collection and protection practices into question. Facing intense scrutiny, organizations today are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Customers want personalized offerings and experiences – they want to be known by the brands they deal with. But at the same time, consumers also want to feel safe, and far too often data sharing becomes a liability. 

New data from Acquia, polled from 1,000 U.S.-based consumers, gets to the bottom of customer views on privacy. The findings reveal that despite the past year’s global focus on data privacy regulations designed to give consumers more power over their data, today’s customers still feel like they’re being kept in the dark on how it’s being used.

In this eWeek Data Points article, Joseph Janik, VP, chief information security officer at Acquia, discusses five top takeaways from the company’s consumer research and what it means for brands looking to walk the line between privacy and personalization.

Data Point No. 1: Consumers don’t know, or are not sure, how brands are using their data.

Acquia’s research found that more than half – 55 percent – of respondents reported not knowing how brands are using their data. This lack of transparency is driving consumers to worry about how their data is being used and, in turn, makes it difficult for them to feel comfortable trusting brands with sensitive information. Given this, brands must tread cautiously, proving to customers that they can be trusted with email addresses, for example, before they can hope to gain more personal information.

Data Point No. 2: Most consumers would stop using a brand that was being dishonest about how it uses customer data.

This means that any perceived dishonesty or secrecy on a brand’s part can be very damaging to their customer relationships – so, when in doubt, always come clean to keep consumers’ trust. Similarly, brands that abuse a customer’s data by inundating them with irrelevant offers will find themselves quickly receiving an ‘unsubscribe’ request. In addition to transparency and protection, customers have come to expect their data to be respected – which means using it to add value to their experience with a brand and make their interactions more enjoyable, not push a brand agenda.

Data Point No. 3: Most consumers prefer to wait at least a month to share personal data with brands.

Fifty-nine percent of consumers polled in Acquia’s study said they would prefer to wait at least a month before sharing personal data. This figure indicates that brands need to earn the trust of consumers before having all of their data, and therefore need to find ways to gradually tailor experiences to customers’ preferences over time. This also underscores consumers’ desire to build relationships, taking the time to get to know brands before trusting them. Consumers today are no longer taking a “share it and forget it” approach with their data or brand interactions. Rather, they are looking at data sharing as an investment in companies that they believe in and want to continue supporting.

Data Point No. 4: Consumers are most motivated to share personal data with brands in return for promotional offers.

While consumers can be swayed to exchange data for special offers, brands must make it worth the trade-off. Given the rising value of data and the looming risks that come with sharing it, it’s likely to become more difficult to influence a consumer with a free or limited offer. Even so, if the offering aligns with the request, customers won’t withhold their data. That said, be mindful of how your ask and promotional combination will be received – don’t ask for anything too personal unless you are willing to compensate in kind!

Data Point No. 5: Almost half of respondents are more comfortable giving personal information to brands with a physical store presence.

Despite the ubiquity of the web and the surge in online retailers, there is still a fair measure of distrust associated with online transactions. This presents an added challenge for e-tailers, who must go the extra mile to overcome mistrust of the internet. Ultimately, gaining trust on any digital medium comes down to authentic interactions. In the case of brands that operate solely online, personalized experiences and touchpoints can go a long way toward eradicating the feeling of anonymity inherent in web interactions.

Striking the right balance between privacy and personalization remains a top challenge for today’s businesses. Fortunately, it’s a line that can be successfully walked by brands that are honest and respectful of their customers’ information.

If you have a suggestion for an eWEEK Data Points article, email cpreimesberger@eweek.com.