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How to build customer trust online

For most brands, customer data and consents are their most treasured assets. Data fuels innovations in products and services and enables the level of personalized experience that many channel managers view as necessary for maximizing consumer loyalty. However, mishandled and stolen data have led to marked degradation in the level of trust that many consumers have in online services, commerce and marketing. Developing and implementing a data strategy that fosters customer trust is essential for growing your online brand.

Overcoming consumer skepticism

Consumers are increasingly wary of brands that take an underhanded approach to consent and privacy. Wave after wave of breaches have made the general public aware of how much of their personally identifiable data is out there and how vulnerable it is.

Looking at the other side of the coin, a recent survey of retail CMOs found that 25% want to use consumer data to create new products, with 44% wanting to use data to craft more personal shopping experiences. The most common use of customer data is tied to loyalty programs -- 60% of retail CMOs recognizing better data would result in more effective programs. Without customers sharing their data, however, these business drivers are dead in the water.

So what is the key element in overcoming the skeptical consumer? In a word: Trust.

88% of consumers say that the extent of their willingness to share personal information is dependent on how much they trust a brand. Unfortunately, some of the most data-reliant industries -- food & beverage, online retail, automotive, airlines, media & entertainment -- suffer from consumer trust rates below 15%. Brands within these industries will have to consistently demonstrate that their handling of consumer data is designed to breed trust. As Tom Champion, Senior Analyst at Forrester Research, said during a What It Means podcast, "Any interaction is a chance to build trust, to sustain it, or delude it."

A data strategy that builds consumer trust

Your brand's data strategy should be engineered with customer trust as its primary goal. To achieve trust, it should be a purpose-specific and transparent mutual agreement between you and your customer.

  • Purpose-specific: Each data point your company collects should have a designed purpose behind it. There are data points you may need in order to provide the service that your customer wants -- obvious examples for a clothing brand could include shirt size and mailing address. Other data points may be legal requirements, say age or date of birth for travel & hospitality or alcohol brands. Data such as social media likes, gender and other non-demographic details may be important in creating a rich and personal user experience on your site or app. A customer's phone number may be required for multi-factor authentication or password recovery, or it may be something your sales team wants to have. The main point here is that for each point of personal data you are collecting be able to identify a specific purpose for that data. If you can't identify a specific purpose for a type of data, your brand should probably not be collecting it.
  • Transparent: Communicate clearly to your customers the specific purposes for each data point. This is typically accomplished through a terms and conditions (T&C) document. But T&Cs are not the only -- nor necessarily the best -- means to this end. Evaluate your T&Cs for discoverability, clarity and readability. Are your T&Cs easy to find from within your site or application or are they only readily seen as a link on your registration form? Is the information regarding data usage easily found within the documents? Are they written in a way that an average middle school student could understand? With 71% of consumers saying that they find companies' privacy rules difficult to understand, the answer to these questions is most likely "no."
  • Mutual agreement: And, of course, customer consent is something that must be freely given. But rather than thinking of it as a one-way dynamic, consider it an agreement between your brand and your customers. You both agree to share and use data in a way that is mutually beneficial. The burden on your brand is to demonstrate the benefits -- both so that your customers will agree to share their information with you and so that they will log-in on return visits to continue to reap those benefits. In addition, the means to retract consent, limit what data is shared and how it is used, and the ability to be forgotten should be placed in the hands of your customers.

Prioritizing consumer data security and privacy -- and acting on a data strategy that is purpose-specific, clear and mutually agreed to -- is central to growing your customers' trust. To learn more about best practices in managing consumer data, read about Akamai Identity Cloud.