Here’s the conundrum of customer experience and digital transformation. On the one hand, consumers, rocked by high-profile data-privacy scandals, are increasingly leery of sharing their personal information. On the other, those same consumers expect brands to know who they are and to deliver relevant experiences.
In an exclusive study we conducted at Acquia, 78 percent of consumers are loyal to brands that understand what they want, but over half don’t think brands use their data thoughtfully. When personalization demands data, what’s a brand to do?
Recent privacy incidents have one thing in common: a lack of transparency. To avoid an embarrassing scandal, brands must clearly communicate data practices with consumers and be specific about how they use data. A mutual agreement or “handshake” between brands and consumers provides certainty about which data can be used and how.
In this agreement, brands can rewrite the rules of personal engagement and win back consumers’ trust. There are three steps to creating agreements that work:
1. Create clear policies
GDPR and other upcoming regulations like the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) call for clear disclosures around personal data collection. Many consumers are now familiar with the pop-ups required for website visitors. Brands should treat these pop-ups and their privacy policies as the initial part of the personalization handshake instead of as regulatory agreements. They need to use simple language and clearly explain how much data will be used and for what purposes. Few brands take advantage of the fact that they can offer consumers options in the way their data is used and customize their site’s personalization features to reflect these preferences.
For example, some customers might not want to share their email to receive discounts, but they might wish to see personalized recommendations during their site visit. To meet these needs, a policy must make it easy to opt into distinct interactions. If consumers feel like they have agency over the little things, they’ll feel more in control and likely to trust the brand.
2. Avoid storing personally identifiable data
By 2020, personal data backup and archiving will represent the largest privacy risk for 70 percent of organizations, according to research from Gartner. That’s a 10 percent jump from 2018. The larger issue is that many brands hold data they don’t need for effective personalization experiences. A general rule of thumb: If you don’t need it, don’t ask for it (let alone store it).
In particular, brands might not need to request names, addresses or other specifics right away. Asking for too much information up front can feel invasive to the site visitor, and often this level of detail isn’t needed for effective personalization.
Instead, brands should create generalized, anonymous customer segments that are based on the customer’s behavior, known facts and preferences. As trust builds over time, customers are more likely to provide additional information for further customization.
For example, consumer X, let’s call her Melissa, is going on an adventure trip and looking for a good sea kayak. She’s been researching her options and has returned to an outdoor store’s website multiple times to browse. Useful forms of personalization could include serving kayak results upfront when she returns, offering her content on choosing the right kayak or offering her a personalized discount.
None of these executions would require the use of personally identifiable information. Data such as IP address can still be stored, but in a shortened, anonymized form. After she purchases a kayak, she might join a loyalty program or opt-in to receiving personalized emails about the best places for ocean kayaking near her. At that point, she is receiving actual value in a fair exchange for her PII.
3. Be human
Above all else, brands should treat personalization as an opportunity to be more human with customers. More than half of consumers surveyed by Acquia agreed that brands are behind the times with how they interact with customers, both online and offline. Too few companies recognize the opportunity for personalization to drive human interactions and make customers feel heard.
Take for example the experience a consumer named Andre had. He called a customer service line after interacting with a brand online, only to start at square one with the rep on the phone. Imagine a scenario where Andre had opted into providing his online information to the rep and avoided the frustration of having to explain himself all over again. With effective personalization tools, brands can create the types of cross-channel experiences that leave customers feeling satisfied rather than frustrated with their interactions.
No brand wants to fall behind the times. To avoid this perception, you shouldn’t be afraid to embrace personalization to create better customer experiences. But like all good relationships, personalization should be based on a foundation of trust. Brands have an obligation to create a new playbook on responsible data use, or they could risk losing customers permanently.
As Acquia’s CMO, Lynne Capozzi oversees all global marketing functions including digital marketing, demand generation, operations, regional and field marketing, customer and partner marketing, events, vertical strategy, analyst relations, content and corporate communications. Lynne is one of Acquia’s boomerang stories, first serving as CMO in 2009, leaving in 2011 to pursue nonprofit work full-time, and returning in 2016 to lead the marketing organization into its next stage of growth.