Socially distanced or closer than ever before?

It seems that social distancing is here to stay for the foreseeable, despite lockdown restrictions gradually being lifted.

Although we now have more opportunities to see friends and family outside our homes, many are experiencing trepidation at the thought of hopping on public transport or getting a drink at a pub; a form of isolation not known before. However, despite the pandemic forcing us to stay at home, we are more connected and linked to each other than ever before.

With the rise of remote working, video conferencing apps and online shopping, the time we spend online has never been higher, and with that, the online social distance between each user is shortening. In fact, research from Facebook found that any two random Facebook users, out of its pool of 1.6 million, can be connected socially on average in three and a half steps, much smaller than the six degrees famously conceptualised as the ‘Kevin Bacon’ number in its associated parlour game.

A cause of concern?

Despite the obvious benefits that increased connectivity brings – making our world smaller and easier to share – it also brings a lack of anonymity, raising many concerns over the privacy and protection of our most valuable asset: data. Business leaders need to be aware of this unease and remain mindful that marketing tactics that come across as overly intrusive or creepy should be avoided or risk turning the customer away.

Greg Hanson, VP EMEA and LATAM, Informatica

Yet, according to a recent IDC survey, 87% of chief experience officers state that their top priority is to become a more intelligent enterprise by 2025. While it is encouraging to see so many organisations recognising the importance of using data insights to deliver good customer experience initiatives, it is important that they also recognise their role as custodians of customer data, not the owners of it. As such, businesses need to demonstrate to customers that they will keep their data safe and use it only for purposes that the customer has explicitly consented to.

This is not to suggest that companies shouldn’t personalise customer experiences using information from data trails such as clickstreams and social posts which can provide insight into interests, sentiment and purchase history. In fact, it can serve as a positive force, offering products and services relevant to the individual, which can help to shape a more well-rounded view of the company, and provide a better customer experience.

Achieving the right level of social distancing

Where customers find that personalisation can overstep the mark is when a company interacts with them in a way that seems to evidence an invasion of personal space. Due to the shrinking distance between individuals – their families and friends online – companies can easily build up a picture of a customer’s web of personal contacts, which can present itself as invasive. This means that the offer of an item from a company which is related to your latest online browsing, be it based on a recent holiday to Spain, the health of a pet, or a film recently watched, whilst potentially helpful, can also be disturbing and creepy.

Although to some, it may seem obvious that marketing tactics such as those aforementioned could be overstepping the mark, companies should also be cautious about neglecting the customer, especially one that has been loyal for a substantial amount of time. An example here could be an insurer that offers pet cover to a customer of some ten years standing, without recognising that the customer not only has home insurance with the company, but also another pet already covered by an existing policy. This risks leaving the customer feeling underappreciated.

In what is already being referred to as a post-COVID world, tactical and responsible custodianship of customer data can be the difference between one organisation retaining its reputation and sales volume as lockdowns ease and those that will lose loyalty and standing in what will become a tough time in the context of an advancing recession. Those that want to retain customers and attract new ones should:

Understand where personal sensitive data is stored: As digital transformation initiatives accelerate; many companies have data scattered across a mix of legacy on-premise systems and in the cloud. An AI-data discovery tool should be implemented across the hybrid cloud to identify and collect data and record individualised customer profiles.

Impart a stringent data governance strategy: Worryingly, a recently conducted IDC Survey found that 53% of organisations surveyed are not using privacy and protection tools, despite 65% citing data privacy and protection as a top KPI. In recognising that customers are always the owner of their personal data, it is imperative for organisations to protect data to ensure that it can only be viewed by those with authority and consent to do so. Those outside of this position should only see anonymised data.

Quality over quantity: The provision of an outstanding customer-360 experience can only be achieved if it is rooted in high quality data assets. This can be accomplished through AI technology applying data quality rules in order to display useful and relevant data, enabling the user to take away useful insights and implement accordingly.

As lockdowns continue to ease and shopping habits are redefined, it is clear that companies should maintain social distancing with data to an extent that customers feel safe yet appreciated.

Those that fail to do so will find that customers will take their business in the same direction that the much-overused video quiz is heading… a lockdown memory not best revisited.


Greg Hanson

VP EMEA and LATAM, Informatica


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