Living in the age of big data, you’re likely familiar (as a leader and a consumer in your own right) with the importance of customer information. Large and small companies alike have sought out how to better cater to their customers’ needs for generations, and the analytical potential of emergent technology has given them all-new ways to understand and respond to those needs.
In response, organizations have gotten creative about collecting, interpreting, and leveraging customer data. With the wide variety of data collection tools available, companies have greater insight into customers’ day-to-day lives and expectations than ever before. They can use that insight to tailor their offerings, predict ebbs and flows in demand, and even secure repeat purchases by building loyalty.
However, with that power comes a great deal of responsibility, as data misuse can have serious consequences. High-profile cases like Facebook/Cambridge Analytica’s misuse of data to influence elections, Morgan Stanley’s data breach, and Uber’s controversial “God view” tool have cost organizations millions. Moreover, these incidents awakened customers to the importance of data privacy — and inspired them to fight ferociously to defend it.
To remain competitive in your space, you’ll still want to be able to collect, analyze, and deploy insights from customer data. Yet, you want to differentiate yourself as a good steward; to paint your organization as a business customers can trust. But how can you do that when there are so, so many ways data usage can go wrong?
Read on to find out.
Obtain Informed Consent
Building a culture of protected privacy starts with transparency. Whether they’re filling out an online form, submitting payment details to your website, or engaging with your company on social media, they want to know what’s being collected and how it’s going to be used.
Informed consent is when a company divulges who will have access to their data and why, and then presents choices to the customer to limit any unnecessary data sharing. Most consumers understand that key information will have to be submitted to and processed by the company to fulfill their order. That doesn’t mean they’re okay with companies mismanaging data by sharing a comprehensive customer profile with a third party, using their social media posts to tailor advertisements, or distributing their contact information with other sellers in your network.
Consider instituting any of the following measures:
- Allowing customers to opt out of tracking, giving them the option to decline unnecessary cookies or refuse to be tracked across applications.
- Notify the customer when third parties will need to have access to their information to complete their request, and offer them the option to decline.
- Creating a portal where customers can view and alter collected data, easily accessible from your company website.
- Purchasing a consent management platform, which will help keep customer data secure and ensure alignment with regulatory policies.
Customers have a right to access their data at any given time — a right they have too often been denied. Giving your customers some control over how their data is stored, accessed, and used goes a long way toward building trust.
Protect User Rights
Next to company mismanagement of data, data breaches are one of your customers’ primary concerns. When you entrust sensitive information like bank account numbers, where you live, or even key identifiers like your Social Security number, you want the organization that’s collecting that information to have measures in place to protect it.
Fortunately, there are a wide variety of low-tech security strategies that you can utilize to insulate yourself against attack — without spending a ton on security software. These include:
- Making regular offline backups to protect against data wipes.
- Protecting critical communications and ensuring that vital information stays in-office.
- Preserving power to core operations in the event of a systemic outage.
- Questioning suppliers and partners about security concerns.
If a breach should occur, communicate with full transparency to all affected parties. Get law enforcement involved, and conduct a security audit to see where your defenses failed. Doing all of this publicly may be a touch humiliating, but will show customers that you are taking active steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again — a boost to your reputation that will allow you to recover a degree of confidence.
Train Your Employees to be Network-savvy
You may also want to consider investing in employee network skills training, giving your employees the basic set of tools required to protect company systems. Without having that knowledge, it’s much more likely that an employee will accidentally allow a cybercriminal access to your systems; or that they won’t know, once a breach occurs, how to defend them.
A few of the most valuable network security skills to impart are:
- Familiarity with security systems and tools
- Threat identification and response strategies
- Clear reporting on cybersecurity systems and breaches
- Software development and firewall installation
You can also hire a managed services provider to provide an extra layer of security if you wish. Managed services providers take the burden of IT off of your employees’ hands, enlisting professionals to maintain and protect your company systems.
Adhere to Ethical Practices
Finally, we come to the crux of the matter, which is this: when considering whether your usage of customer data is ethical or not, ask yourself these questions.
- How much does the customer know about what information I’m collecting? How much do they know about how it’s being used and stored?
- Has the customer been given the option to opt-out, and if not, why?
- Is the place where I’m storing data vulnerable to attack? How can I better insulate my systems against common cybersecurity threats?
- Is this use of data considered typical in my industry? If not, what advantage over my competitors do I gain by trying it? Is the customer aware of the ‘whys’ behind our data collection?
To sum up
Following these simple guidelines will help you walk the tightrope between embracing innovation and respecting your customers’ right to privacy.