Using customer data to benefit and not abuse them

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Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

Customer data. Companies collect it at the time of purchase or during product registration. Some companies offer online portals where customers can maintain their personal information, view product purchase history, and otherwise “stay in touch.” Today, most companies would maintain it’s the most valuable commodity they own, and many studies and articles would back that claim.



The data itself isn’t where the value lies, though; it’s how the data can be used. Value can be derived for future product development, cross-sales to complementary products, up-sales to better and new products, and more.

With such significance associated with it, one would think that companies would guard their customer data closely and limit how it can be used. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. We’ve seen the “customers” of social media have their personal information misused as well as brokered out. And companies have not done a great job protecting that information from breaches, as that number continues to rise, because hackers are now interested in stealing any information–not just credit card details–and selling millions of stolen records to the highest bidder due to the value of personal information.

It comes as no surprise that governments have taken notice and are working to protect their citizens. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) went into effect for European Union citizen in mid-2018 and the effects of non-compliance are beginning to be felt by the technology industry as the first cases come to court. Despite the challenges it creates, leaders in technology advocate that GDPR-style protection should be in place in the United States, and though similar legislation has failed to materialize, it has been considered. Not willing to wait around for the federal government, many states have moved ahead on their own. In addition, some companies have voluntarily chosen to offer a subset or all GDPR protections even to their non-European Union customers.

The fact that legislation had to be created shows both the extent of the problem and that customers are fed up with the abuse–and rightfully so. Their personal data should be protected from theft. It should not be used to manipulate them. Until territory-specific laws go into effect, customer-centric companies are doing right by their customers to universally apply GDPR regardless of their customers’ citizenship.

Clearly, businesses want to hold on to customer data do for the benefits it has to offer. But what advantage does that offer the customer? Companies should use customer data to enhance their customer service in two ways while demonstrating good stewardship of their customers’ data.

Simplify service requests 

Beyond simple demographic information, customer data collected typically includes the products and services a customer has purchased. In the case of connected services or devices connected to the internet, additional information such as how, when, and where the device is used may also be collected. Those seemingly disparate pieces of information can be used to help simplify service interactions when a customer encounters issues.



When customers have problems, they typically go online first. In the company’s customer service section of their website, a knowledge base is a common repository of solutions. By tapping into their customer information and their product purchase and use history from their online account, knowledge base searches can promote more likely solutions and demote or even hide those that wouldn’t apply based upon what the company knows about its customers. This added filtering in conjunction with the customer’s search terms will significantly increase the likelihood of them finding the correct solution to their problem and provide a better service experience. Similarly, a chatbot’s queries and responses could be tailored only to those that would apply to the products and services the customer is known to possess. These are only two examples of techniques that are possible to personalize the experience using customer information to ensure a higher likelihood of customer success.

Deliver proactive service

By knowing how to get in touch with a customer (and their preferred contact channel) as well as the products and services they use, it is possible to “flip the customer service script.” Rather than waiting for customers to contact customer service about known issues, customers can be preemptively notified of problems they are likely to encounter and when a solution becomes available.

The intent is not to warn every customer about all the issues they might encounter. Start by evaluating the level of impact the problem will have on the customer experience and whether or not it should be communicated: is it a minor annoyance or are they likely to encounter breakage, an outage, or other disturbance? Then, determine the characteristics of the customers most likely to face the issue–is it all customers or a subset, such as those in a particular geography? This creates a group of customers who require proactive assistance.

When contacting them using their preferred contact channel, clearly communicate the problem and the timeframe for resolution, if known. As the situation unfolds, keep customers updated as pertinent information becomes available. No one likes it when things don’t just work, but proactive service is still not commonly practiced and pleasantly surprises customers, defusing the situation. It has the added benefit of taking some of the heat off of customer service since those customers won’t reach out independently for a solution.

Put the data to good use



Customer loyalty goes beyond selling quality goods at fair prices. If customers don’t trust a company due to mismanaging their information, there is little chance for recovery.

That doesn’t mean companies should stop collecting information about their customers. They must ensure every protection is in place to guarantee its security. They should abide by legislation where applicable and willingly offer similar safeguards to customers where it does not. With these protections in place, companies can cement trust from their customers by employing their data to provide better service.

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