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GUEST COMMENT Crossing the line…

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Increasingly today’s customers are of a new breed – connected, informed and demanding. They come armed with knowledge about the products they are interested in and the ability to compare each retailer’s offering instantly via their smartphone or tablet. They demand a seamless transaction and conversation with retailers regardless of which channel they are utilising. This has changed the way people shop and consequently the ways in which retailers approach the customer conversation.

For all the knowledge the consumer has at their fingertips on stores and their competitors, the retailer often has much more information on the individual shopper. How to use this data in a way that is valuable and appropriate, for both retailer and consumer, without intruding on personal privacy is a question all retailers need to seriously consider. For today’s customer shopping has to be on their terms. Many are often open to being alerted to new products and offers but they have to be relevant to them, being bombarded with irrelevant information is an unwelcome intrusion.

There is a very real need for retailers to find a balance in how they use their data. There can be a fine line between enabling an ongoing conversation to serve customers better and making customers uncomfortable with the amount an organisation knows about them. It is understandable that retailers often have a level of trepidation surrounding how they use their customer data. If on the one hand bombarding customers with irrelevant offers will turn them off, showing customers you know too much can be equally off-putting. The famous example of a large well-known retailer using its data research and algorithms to predict customer pregnancies, resulting in a girl being sent vouchers relating to maternity products before her family knew she was expecting, shows there is a fine line between clever personalisation of offers and unexpected, unwelcome intrusion.

Increasingly consumers are becoming aware of the breadth of information organisations hold on them. They are demanding to know what data is held about them and want greater control over their personal data and how it is shared. New platforms such as Powr of You and CitizenMe have sprung up to fill this demand, allowing consumers to understand their data footprints and start to take back control of who can access this data. This increasing demand for data privacy does not necessarily indicate an unwillingness to share data at all, rather a desire to have a say in when and how their data is shared. Customers understand that their data is a commodity and of value to organisations and this is leading to the idea that if their personal data is to be sold, then they as the creators should also be able to profit from it. Unsurprisingly however, attitudes vary between age groups, with 40% of older (55-64 year old) people questioned by the DMA unwilling to exchange personal information regardless of any service enhancements they would receive in return, whereas 60% of under 25’s would exchange personal information for better services.

Recent research from MEC highlights the mixed feelings consumers demonstrate regarding data privacy and how organisations make use of their personal data. Their survey revealed that 75% are concerned about their data being used inappropriately and 71% worry that there isn’t enough consumer protection around data collection and privacy. Conversely, many see the advantages of data collection when there is something in it for them, with 44% of respondents open to relevant messages from a retailer they had previously shopped with. The onus now is on retailers to strike the balance between providing their customers with what they want while taking into account their concerns relating to data privacy and intrusion.

To open up the conversation between customer and retailer, organisations need to ensure they are engaging with them in a personalised but not intrusive way. Ways to do this include:

Be even more transparent

In order to receive that ‘opt in’ permission to use customers’ name and details, be transparent about what the data is for and what the advantages will be for the consumer. Knowing the advantages that relate to them personally reduces the chance of a negative response.

Ask don’t just assume

Ask the consumer what rewards they want in return for their data! Don’t just make assumptions based on algorithms and clever data manipulation. If retailers truly want a conversation with their customers across all touch points, they must listen to what their customers are telling them.

Educate the customer

Explain to the customer why you have their data, what data is needed and what it is needed for. By illustrating by example, retailers can show customers that giving x gets them y.

Once you have permission and buy in from customers to have a conversation, you need to ‘integrate’ to create the customer-centric approach that ensures it remains meaningful and mutually advantageous. Key to achieving this personalised conversation is integrating the information gained on one channel with another. If the customer opts out of permission on email, then making sure the retailer doesn’t approach them with the same thing via a catalogue in the post. However, they may not mind a text when they are near the store! Being aware of this personal preference from each customer and then consistently getting it right is the ultimate state of personalised communication that doesn’t cross the line.

This is a tough call to achieve. But imagine, if through listening and having that joined up omnichannel conversation a retailer could pinpoint what each customer wants at any point in time, think how personal and relevant the conversation and offers could be. If requests made in local stores (too often just written in a black book) could be stored and accessed centrally, then it gives the retailer a real opportunity to communicate at a time when the consumer is open to hear more and engage.

Going deeper, the use of information architecture enables retailers to have a thorough understanding of not only where they currently engage but crucially where they should engage with their customers: twitter, facebook or comments to store assistants. This gives them the data to understand the best way to communicate without crossing the line. Retailers will then have current knowledge of what their customers want as well as knowledge of their preferred way of engaging.

Consumers need to be more trusting of how retailers are treating their personal data. By building this trust through consistency and ongoing conversations there is a high chance that individuals will allow retailers more leeway with their personal data and the line of intrusion will be pushed further away.

Daren Ward is partner at Glue Reply

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