The $756B Wake-Up Call: It’s Time To Give Shoppers Control Of Their Data

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For a lot of shoppers, sharing data is like writing a Christmas list that’s poorly understood. You provide details of what you want most (virtual reality headset!), drop a few added hints (I love VR!) and then wait with excitement for the gift to arrive — only to unwrap a DVR.

Photographer: Shiho Fukada/Bloomberg

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This disappointment cost companies $756 billion in 2016, as 41% of consumers switched brands due to poor personalization efforts and lack of trust, according to recent research by Accenture Strategy. Nearly half the respondents of the survey, which explored sentiment about technology-driven experiences, are bothered about data privacy when using intelligent services such as digital assistants. Two-thirds wish companies were more transparent about how their information is used.

Accenture advises that to regain trust, companies could give their customers complete control of their data. This is not a new concept, and it hasn’t gone completely unanswered. For a number of years, startups have emerged, to varying degrees of success, with the goal of giving consumers greater control of their information, even monetizing it.

However, control alone won’t necessarily put right the lack of understanding that results in poor personalization efforts. Rather, it takes a dialogue.

3 Firms That Empower(ed) People

That being said, offering control is a start, and it’s a gift consumers would likely reciprocate. A 2013 survey by LoyaltyOne revealed 72% of consumers would willingly provide more information if they had control over it.

The challenge is providing shoppers the tools necessary to make the most of that data. This extends beyond managing it — shoppers should also be encouraged to lay out their expectations and gain feedback so all parties are wise to what the shared information could accomplish.

This is evidenced in the firms created to give consumers more control:

Enliken: Founded in 2013, this visionary startup launched a transparency platform for data collectors that gave consumers power over how their personal data was used. In return for sharing they gained points that could be exchanged for digital content. Enliken folded in 2014, possibly because consumers were still uncomfortable with the prospect of online surveillance.

Digi.me: This UK-based personal data collection company, founded in 2009, empowers consumers to choose with whom to share their data and how. Users download Digi.me to their devices, choose a personal cloud to store their information and the service instantly organizes the data stream. The user can then decide whether to share her data with different apps.

Telefónica: The German telecommunications firm in the spring entered a partnership with U.K.’s People.io to launch an app, called 02 Get, which lets users manage and benefit from some of their data. This is a big deal because mobile service providers collect massive, nearly constant, amounts of data. 02 Get stores profile information based on users’ answers to survey questions and other interactions. For this and other activities the users are paid in credits that can be exchanged for gift cards.  Users may, for example, choose to allow location data tracking, to interact with ads or to sync their email accounts with the app.

Time to Share: 2 Necessities for Shared Personalization

A few years ago such companies may have been ahead of their time, but as artificial intelligence and machine learning assume a greater role in the shopper experience, that time is soon coming to pass.

According to the Accenture research, 43% of consumers worry that intelligent services, such as reordering technology like Alexa, will get to know them too well. This is despite the fact that 36% use such digital assistants.

“Customer concerns will inevitably rise, so it’s critical that companies have strong data security and privacy measures in place, they give customers full control over their data, and are transparent with how they use it,” Kevin Quiring, Accenture Strategy managing director and lead of advanced customer strategy, North America, said in a statement.

Giving consumers full control of their data is just a starting point. The follow-through is of more crucial importance if a brand’s aim is to deliver effective personalized experiences and gain trust. Accomplishing this requires two key elements:

Conversation: There is a role for consumers in the data-transparency process, and that is to provide their consistent, open feedback. Retailers can spark up the conversation by asking shoppers, “Hey, did we get it right?” In short, transparency works best when all parties participate, and it only serves the customer well if the customer has an active and understood role.

Flexibility: Retailers should consider in advance, based on past shopping behaviors or by surveys, what kinds of information their target customers will share, how they would want it handled and what benefits they expect in exchange for it. With this expectation, retailers could answer the question: Can we comply? If not, they should look at what they can offer.

Consumers have pretty much gained control of the purchase experience; it’s reasonable they will want control of the data-sharing relationship as well. Retailers that anticipate their customers’ expectations, and what they want in exchange for their data, will be in a better position to gain their trust. That in itself is a gift whose value all parties could appreciate.

This article originally appeared in Forbes. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter for more on retail, loyalty and the customer experience. 

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