High tech and the high street have been forced to integrate at an unprecedented pace – one of the many direct changes coming out of an unpredictable 2020.

In fact, according to a recent McKinsey Digital survey, UK consumers have embraced online shopping across grocery and entertainment categories, with many respondents intending to continue shopping online at the end of the crisis. eCommerce is becoming undeniably more competitive, but, with that, comes an increased concern around privacy. 

The age-old debate of privacy vs personalisation is nothing new. But, how brands and customers interact is changing, and this has been accelerated by COVID-19. At the moment, customers are getting limited face-to-face interaction time with brands. Instead, it’s all about the online experience. In order for brands to provide each and every single one of us with a unique and personalised service, they need to be collecting and analysing data to learn more about our online habits. In times gone by, consumers have been reluctant to give away their data, but still expect personalised service. Has lockdown spearheaded a change in our view of data? And are we more willing to give it away in order to receive more efficient service, or even one with personalised discounts in return? 

Increasingly, the answer is yes. 

Consumers are more open to sharing their data

According to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2020, we’re becoming more welcoming to the concept of personalisation and there’s now more of an opportunity for brands as a result. The research analyses how businesses can drive customer loyalty, what matters most to people when they engage with businesses, and what differentiates leading companies from their competitors. It found that the number of people who wanted companies to have ‘as little data as possible’ on them has fallen year on year, even prior to the current lockdown. And personalisation is valued, particularly among younger customers. 

Let’s look at the figures. In 2019, 32 percent of those surveyed in the UK over the age of 55 said they were only willing to provide companies with a minimal amount of their personal data. However, in 2020, that number is now 10 percent – a 69 percent year on year change.

So why are people willing to give brands more access to their data? Some of the high-profile examples of data misuse such as the early 2018 case of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica aren’t ringing as loudly in the ears of consumers as they once were. And although privacy will always be a key consideration for the foreseeable future, consumers expect more than ever to receive high levels of customer service – which includes personalisation, for which data is key.

Building and maintaining trust 

Now that data sharing is top of mind, brands need to be smart and think about how they build trusted relationships with customers. Trust can be lost overnight, so it’s important to be transparent with how you plan to use that data, and what value it is going to provide the customer with. 

First, ensure your customer experience is informed by customer data. Service agents speak to customers every day, and each interaction contains a wealth of data – be it the problem the customer is trying to address, the channel the customer is choosing to use, or the content of conversation. This data can be leveraged and analysed to create a cumulative voice of the customer that can inform organisational improvements, or to create self-service capabilities to answer some of the most frequently asked questions in service conversations.

Secondly, you need to help consumers to feel empowered by their own data. Customers expect brands to be transparent about how they are using data, or they’ll simply go elsewhere. Today, we’re seeing more brands showcase their commitment to talking to customers about how the data they collect will be used, with the proactive option to ‘opt out’ rather than making it difficult for them. 

If you ask consumers for personalisation preferences, make sure you use and respect that. If you ask for preferred language then ensure you communicate in that language. If you can’t use that information, it’s probably best not to ask for it to maintain your customers’ trust. 

So, once you’ve built up this trust, how do you reap the benefits of this data? 

Use it or lose it

If consumers are more willing to offer data, companies need to use that data effectively. According to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2020 we found that companies are now collecting three times the amount of CX data than they were five years ago. What’s more, those collecting data are the ones performing better. In short, they resolve tickets faster, are more operationally efficient, and create better customer experiences. 

Collecting customer data in isolation is not enough. Businesses need to be adopting the right tools and technologies to better manage that data, whilst at the same time showing customers that it’s being managed safely and sensitively.  

It’s important to have a clear plan about how you want to use the data you are capturing. Quite simply, it’s not ok to collect data for the sake of it. One way that companies are using this data is to double down on personalisation when it comes to messaging and engagement channels to ensure that customers feel like individuals, rather than one of many faceless consumers. Other strategies include using this data to segment your customers and connect them to the right customer service agent who has the skills to best serve them. Companies are also empowering customer service teams with both context on who the customer they’re interacting with is, and the knowledge they need to handle requests efficiently and with empathy. This is increasingly important at this time, when most customer interactions are happening online.

Companies are also building out their internal capabilities to analyse, automate and take action based on the insight that can be gained from having this data on all customers. Building out teams of data analysts and scientists together with the technical teams to automate and integrate an online experience.  We are seeing organisations start to become more tech-savvy with some of the highest performers now using APIs, custom apps, web widgets and mobile SDKs to automate and integrate customer service into their online experience – our research found that 16 percent of CX organisations now have dedicated developer resources. So that – just like in store – if you’re stuck, you can ask for help. 

Right now, consumers are looking to brands to show them that they have their backs. During challenging times like these, customers will remember the companies who went the extra mile, who remembered it was their birthday (providing they consented to sharing that data), and who made every customer interaction a positive one. Trusted relationships have to be managed online right now. The best way to do this is by delivering on your promise, and using data safely to make a positive change. 

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