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Adopting customer-centricity as a route to privacy success

This week, privacy is once again making headlines as governments around the world investigate the use of apps for contact tracing to tackle the spread of coronavirus. These headlines are focusing on the need to ensure that government apps’ purpose, transparency and security are scrutinised appropriately. It’s a good time for us all to remember that these key privacy principles should also be front of our minds when we are serving and talking to our target markets.

Getting privacy right means more than just ensuring compliance with regulations. Your success in communicating with customers can lead to greater loyalty and advocacy - but only if customers are at the heart of your business’s privacy strategy.

With data protection and privacy on consumers’ minds, there’s never been a better time to revamp how you communicate on the subject with your target audience. GDPR has been in force since May 2018, but regulatory guidance is continuing to develop and so too is enforcement action, so there is probably room to improve. Marketing is after all built on effective communication with customers – if we can’t tell people how we are looking after their data and why we are targeting them, who can?

Key principles of customer-centric privacy

Your key principles for your brand’s privacy policies should be based around customer-centricity – with the individual customer’s best interests at the heart of the privacy strategy/solution, rather than business objectives coming first. This can be quite a shift for some organisations, as at first glance privacy can seem dry and legal and not something that is communicated beyond lengthy t’s and c’s documents. However, customer-centric privacy is already demanded by legislation around the world and I can only see this increasing as we progress through the 2020s. For instance, respecting user privacy – so-called user-centric design – is one of the seven principles of privacy-by-design, referenced as ‘data protection by design’ in GDPR’s Article 25.

For both regulatory and customer experience reasons, you should therefore make your first privacy principle a rule to always consider the customer first. Put yourself in their shoes and use your own experience as a customer coupled with user research (if needed) to shape both how your company makes privacy decisions and how these are then relayed to your target audience at appropriate moments.

Your second principle should be transparency, also one of the principles of privacy-by-design as referred to earlier. Your audience should understand why they are being communicated with and how they have been selected for offers. This info shouldn’t be hard for an individual customer to understand, either; present it in an easily digestible and comprehensible format. If you need more space, adopt a layered approach: provide the key information up front and reveal more or provide links to additional information as required.

That leads me on to my third principle – customer choice and privacy-friendly default settings. By demonstrating your brand’s accountability you can develop trust with your customers. They will in turn choose to return, choose to engage more frequently and choose greater personalisation. Explain how you’ll protect this data – and then do so. This all builds trust, leading to a greater likelihood that customers will share more with you in the future. You need to build a virtuous circle where you clearly evidence your trustworthiness, appropriately use shared data to shape experiences, receive more permissioned data from satisfied customers, continue to evidence trustworthiness with said data, shape further well-personalised offers and experiences and so on.

The wins of customer-centric privacy

The wins of implementing these three principles at the heart of your marketing are potentially enormous. Getting privacy right isn’t simply about alleviating the risk of negative headlines or avoiding being fined large sums for non-compliance. By getting privacy right for every single one of your customers and prospects, you build consumer engagement and trust. You also gain the ability to collect more data as people trust you, so that you build a first-party data relationship. This provides an alternative to sourcing data from third parties (thus putting your brand more firmly in control of the end-to-end process and ensuring it is collected in line with your expectations).

Looking to the future, privacy will only become more of a concern, not only for customers but for regulators too. Just look at the new direct marketing code from the ICO in the UK, or the increasing number of US laws pertaining to data collection and usage. Privacy is not going away as a priority for anyone; it’s worth stealing a march on your competition and getting customer-centricity implemented or optimised as soon as possible.

Of course, new technology for customer communications is constantly emerging, be it in audience management, new means of interacting with brands such as Alexa, or data linkage. However, the principles at the heart of global privacy legislation will not change (as they have broadly not changed for the past three decades). Data protection should be tech agnostic, and so should be your approach to privacy.

Inaction is not an option

To conclude, placing customers at the heart of your privacy strategies is no longer merely optional. To get privacy right means understanding consumers’ priorities and needs at every step of every journey and being able to communicate decisions (even or indeed especially automated ones) effectively. Customer-centric privacy will allow you not only to avoid fines and reputational damage from getting compliance wrong – it will engender trust, loyalty and advocacy.

Your privacy teams have an absolute key role in driving your business objectives – but they can only succeed in this by focusing on customer requirements as their primary goal.

If you’d like to read more about how to engage your customers around privacy, you can download Merkle’s most recent Customer Engagement Report here. Or contact us directly if you would like to learn more:

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