As brands turn to automated intelligence to meet expectations for great customer experiences, new restrictions are being placed on the data collected to inform those experiences. On Jan. 1, California enacted the nation’s strictest data privacy law, following on the heels of Vermont, which has been regulating online data brokers since January 2019. In Europe, the first wave of enforcement actions of the GDPR have been making headlines. While the particulars of these laws vary, they all require companies to request consumer consent prior to collecting data, and to provide the tools for retracting the agreement as a whole as well as individual pieces of information.
On the surface, privacy legislation would seem to be at odds with consumers willingness to share information. Plenty of headlines tout shoppers’ preferences for personalized products and offers, which they acknowledge can only be relevant if they share information. For example, Accenture found that a whopping 91 percent of consumers are more likely to shop with brands that recognize and remember them.
But even as they expect relevant products and offers, shoppers are leery of experiences that cross the line from “cool” to “creepy.” The same Accenture survey found that more than a third of customers found it “creepy” when brands display social media ads for items they browsed earlier on the e-commerce site — an extremely common remarketing tactic. And when Forrester drilled down to discover what, precisely, consumers are willing to share in exchange for personalized products and offers, the range of information turned out to be limited. The only data type the majority of consumers said they would be willing to share was “products I like,” at 60 percent; just over 35 percent said they would be willing to share other shopping information, such as prior purchases and style and color preferences. By contrast, personal data such as social media information, online activities, and friend networks all ranked in the single digits.
In this fraught privacy landscape, customer service is an arena of opportunity. Brands engaging in helpful exchanges with consumers are building on a record of past interactions with online and offline content; if they demonstrate responsiveness and relevance by addressing shoppers’ questions, they can earn precious behavioral insights.
Customer service offers merchants a valuable road map to navigating the tricky terrain surrounding consumer privacy. Even as they comply with evolving legislation, sellers that engage in one-to-one opt-in conversations with shoppers have an opportunity to form lasting connections that open the door to sharing more information in the future. To walk the line, brands should consider the following:
Work with vendors to ensure compliance with relevant laws.
Artificial intelligence-based personalization and customer service tools should provide enough visibility and control of data records to enable control of data points within individual profiles. Additionally, to “future-proof” the solutions, merchants should quiz vendors closely about their plans for keeping abreast and ahead of new data privacy legislation that may appear on the horizon.
Prominently and plainly explain practices … and repeat often.
Merchants should parse the legalese in their privacy policies into plain English and develop a succinct version that can be used in a pop-up box or even on-page to quickly summarize their company’s data collection practices and obtain consent. The emphasis on privacy should extend to live chat and social messaging, with links to privacy policies and controls, such as making transcript downloads always accessible.
Develop comprehensive preference centers.
Leading merchants have always offered shoppers the ability to throttle email messaging cadence and content via self-service personalization forms, through which subscribers could check and uncheck email types of interest and indicate which frequency best suited their needs. Now sellers can apply the same concept to a broad set of data preferences, from email and SMS subscriptions to stored style profiles and browsing history data. Access to these controls should be easy from any touchpoint, whether through a “STOP” command sent via text message or a prominent link in email campaigns.
Prepare for worst-case scenarios — before they happen.
Consumers are hesitant about sharing data in part over security concerns; fully 60 percent of shoppers say that current security is inadequate to protect their information on e-commerce websites, Forrester found. To address these concerns, merchants should highlight data security alongside privacy information. Legislation now requires companies to communicate with customers in the event of a data breach. Therefore, merchants should have a response plan at the ready that spells out not only the nature and extent of the breach, but what steps the brand will take to repair security in the future as well as what services will be offered to data theft victims.
In 2020, establishing two-way communication that puts consumers in control of the conversation will be more important than ever for building the trust that leads to sharing information and driving relevance. Brands that prioritize the customer experience will emerge as winners. With the right tools, merchants can deliver on growing expectations for responsiveness, speed and privacy across touchpoints, earning customer trust and loyalty.
Fang Cheng is the CEO and co-founder of Linc Global, a customer care automation platform that helps brands differentiate themselves with automated services and experiences across the channels shoppers prefer.
Fang Cheng is the CEO and co-founder of Linc Global, a customer care automation platform that helps brands differentiate themselves with automated services and experiences across the channels shoppers prefer. Linc Global has served over 15 percent of U.S. shoppers, creating a competitive advantage, reducing customer service costs, and turning service interactions into new engagement and revenue. Linc Global's clients include Carter’s, eBags, Stein Mart, Lamps Plus, JustFab.com, Tarte, Hugo Boss, Vineyard Vines, and P&G Shop.
With a passion and relentlessness for improving the customer experience, Fang brought together a seasoned team of technologists and product-minded people to empower brands with the ability to serve and engage shoppers and to drive profitable growth in the face of rising competition and customer expectations. With a Ph.D. in bioinformatics from NYU, Fang previously co-founded a business acquired by Amazon, and prior to that, she worked as a hedge fund manager.