When 'Engagement' Leads to Alarm Bells, not Wedding Bells
Most people would tell you that they love being recognised and they love having their loyalty rewarded, but when does engagement start to border on 'creepy'?
Online retailers, service providers and social media sites all have access to a lot of our personal information. This ranges from what we buy, what we search for and our general preferences, and gives these sites the ability to customise the experience and make suggestions based on previous trends and interests. When analysed and utilised correctly, this provides valuable customer/user insight. This has been the norm for several years, getting ever more advanced and interconnected.
But recently revelations such as those regarding the US mass electronic surveillance programme PRISM (and the extent to which it has infiltrated Europe), has thrown into sharp focus the extent to which we don't always have as much control of our personal information as we might like. Coupled with the development of the EU Data Protection Act – it's clear that users and regulators alike are keen to have much more control over what information is available, and the extent to which it is shared. You only need to look at the various changes the likes of Facebook has made to its privacy settings over the years (and the subsequent responses) to get a clear view of how user expectations have evolved.
Squaring this circle is going to be a tough challenge for almost every online organisation in the coming months and years. There's going to be an increasing expectation for smarter sites and services, ones that anticipate our needs and desires more accurately. At the same time, people are becoming increasingly reluctant to hand over personal information. And once the EU's 'right to erasure' comes into force, any person can simply demand that every bit of information about them is removed, which could have major consequences for any business.
Ultimately it becomes a question of trust – will your customers trust you enough with their information? Achieving trust requires respect and transparency. You have to avoid being creepy with Big Data. Organisations are going to have to make sure they respect the information they are being given and they are transparent with what they do with that data.
Offering this transparency requires that kind of data clarity within the organisation. After all, if a business wants to be clear about what it's doing with the information it has on each user, across every department – it needs to be able to find and correlate that data. On the front end, customer facing analytics enables the user to examine the relationship from their perspective, and put their mind at ease.
The best part is that once a company can do this, not only does that help build loyalty and trust, but it helps maintain data quality too.
Each subsequent generation is going to be more tech savvy and more cognisant of the fact that personal information has value. As such, those sites, stores and service providers that want to use customer data, will need to make sure they are perfectly open about what they're doing with that information, and how it benefits the user. Therein lies the balance between trust and engagement and can ultimately lead to a long-standing and mutually beneficial relationship.