04.29.2019 By: Frank Grillo

Use Customer Data for the Good of the Customer

Author:  Frank Grillo

In the article “Achieving Customer Experience Excellence at 7 Critical Life-Cycle Points” recently published on MarketingJournal.org, I think authors Ernan Roman and Scott Emmons do an excellent job of describing the fundamental truth of customer data.

Even in an environment of data breaches and lack of transparency on the collection and use of information, there is still an amazingly strong appetite among customers to share information if it results in them receiving the experience they desire.

That is where the problem starts. Brands’ idea of what a great customer experience is, and how close they are to delivering it, are a chasm apart from what customers believe they are receiving. Customers are the arbiters of their own truth, so that chasm is the reality.

Personalization is not knowing my name and birth date. It is using the information I share in the way I intend it to be used. That’s perhaps the hardest concept for marketers to grapple with.   We are accustomed to thinking that the information we collect about customers is ours; and that we have unfettered ability to mine it for our business purposes and benefit.

The new reality is here. Customer data is owned by the customer, it is not ours. And our license to mine and use this data begins and ends with exactly how the customer intends for us to use it. Use it in a way that does not benefit them, let alone in a way that harms them, and they will quickly rescind their data use permission.

Roman and Emmons nailed it when they wrote, “Marketers must shift from today’s transactional focus on products we want to sell, to the personalized focus on the customer and the products she wants to buy.”

Said more bluntly, using my data for your purposes makes you a digital stalker; using my data for my purposes makes you a digital concierge. Marketers chose to act as the former at their own peril.

In retail, the call to use my data to my benefit comes with an even higher bar.  Customers don’t distinguish among shopping channels, physical or digital. Nor do they live in the neat buyer’s journey paths that we imagine. Some start digital and end physical, some are all digital and some bounce back and forth between the two as the customer sees fit. The physical store can fill the role of education, transaction or fulfillment as the customer decides to use it.

The information shared by a shopper during a conversation in a store with a sales associate is perhaps the most valuable interaction a retailer can have. It possesses the attributes of hard data, demographics, preferences, etc. with the added insight into context and intent. Capturing that information that is freely shared with the sales associate and appending it to what we already know about a customer is a gift, for us; and its correct use, a requirement for them.

If a customer shares information they rightly expect us to pay attention and use it. And they don’t differentiate where and how they share it; they expect us to sort it out.

The retailers who will maintain the highest degree of trust and relevance with their customers, and the permission to use data, are those that see customer data as the privilege it is and treat it that way.

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