With whom would you willingly share sensitive personal information, such as your bank account number?
Would you provide it to a mortgage company if you needed a house loan? Probably. How about for a one-on-one payment app on your phone? Maybe, depending on how badly you want to make cashless transactions between friends.
What about a company selling magazine subscriptions? On the surface, many consumers would hesitate to give up financial info in that situation.
However, if the magazine came from a well-known publisher that would give customers a 20% subscription discount if the bill was pulled automatically from their bank accounts each month, some people would agree to that exchange.
There is a wide spectrum of personal data that companies try to grab, and the sensitivity of that data is a factor in whether it is shared. But clearly, there’s another consideration: Customers also judge who wants their personal information and how these parties will use it.
Collectively, personal data and how it’s used is becoming known as the “privacy experience,” and data protection teams and sales reps are increasingly aware of it.
“The establishment of a forward-thinking, business-focused data privacy and compliance team that can enable and support your sales team will only become more important as the privacy landscape continues its rapid global expansion,” wrote Taylor Dronen, director of data practices and data protection officer at ZoomInfo.
Breadth of Data is Defined by Sensitivity—and Comfort Levels
The spectrum of personally identifiable information is like a rainbow stretching over the business landscape, with many layers woven in.
Some information can individually identify someone, such as financial accounts, health records, Social Security numbers, and online passwords.
The spectrum of personally identifiable information is like a rainbow stretching over the business landscape.
Court documents and marriage licenses also contain sensitive info, but are largely considered public records and more easily obtainable.
Less secretive data that could let a party contact a person includes email addresses and mobile phone numbers. Digital behavior—such as websites visits, social media posts, or online purchases—fall into the less sensitive area of the spectrum.
In 2018, 1,000 consumers were asked about their data privacy by Akamai, a vendor that sells cloud security and content delivery platforms. Among personal data categories that respondents were most concerned about protecting, 44% said financial information and 26% indicated account passwords.
Akamai’s survey didn’t address what might be among the least sensitive data: professional information about individuals, such as job title or corporate email address. Business-to-business vendors can cull this info from LinkedIn profiles, email signature lines, and traditional business cards.
This spectrum of data lays the foundation for the privacy experience, but such personal information has layered views. While the Akamai results predictably put financial data at the top of the sensitivity heap, there were some surprises, too. For example, most of the respondents didn’t prioritize safeguarding mobile numbers, even though robocalling has become a nuisance for anyone who owns a smartphone.
Clear Messages About Personal Data Use Enhance the Privacy Experience
Robocalls—those annoying recorded calls peddling a service that come randomly from an unknown number—offer insight into the second aspect of the privacy experience. How a company uses the data a customer shares plays a huge role in whether a person has a positive experience.
Few, if any, consumers would offer up their mobile number if they knew a company was going to either robocall them or sell their numbers to an automated call vendor. And let’s face it, there aren’t many vendors that would openly cop to that activity anyway.
However, if a company said up front that it collects mobile numbers to text customers about special offers that would interest them, more people would be apt to share their numbers.
An approach that involves transparency and clearly stating what a company intends to do with personal data enhances the privacy experience, according to Salesforce’s 2018 report, State of the Connected Customer. Salesforce surveyed more than 6,700 consumers and business buyers worldwide.
“Customers are actually fine with companies using their personal information for the stated purpose of meeting their elevated expectations.”
Salesforce, State of the Connected Customer
“Customers are actually fine with companies using their personal information for the stated purpose of meeting their elevated expectations,” Salesforce stated. “Overwhelming majorities are willing to share relevant personal information (or in the case of business buyers, professional information) in exchange for perks like personalized offers, personalized shopping experiences, and consistent omni-channel interactions.”
The Salesforce research uncovered some differences between consumers and business customers. Generally, business buyers seemed more tolerant about the use of their personal data.
The disparities noted above likely come down to one thing: trust.
“A consumer can only truly consent to the collection, use, and the sale of their personal information—including the terms of service and privacy policies they readily click to agree to—if they understand what information is being collected,” said privacy expert Mary Ross Stone in March 2019 during a public forum about the new California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA). Stone co-authored the law.
To her point, the final layer to a positive privacy experience is whether a company is clear, both in language and web design, about what data it collects and how the business uses that information. That’s where chief privacy officers and data protection professionals can see their roles grow outward towards customers.
“Privacy officers know your business top to bottom, and they know the privacy space,” Dronen wrote. “What many organizations are failing to realize, though, is that these same qualities that make their data protection employees so valuable to internal compliance, also makes them a great resource for your go-to-market teams and can help bring more deals across the line—faster.”
Best Practices to Boost the Privacy Experience
Dronen suggested several steps that privacy officers can take to support sales teams, including a few that align with the idea of a better privacy experience for customers. His recommendations included:
- Be up front. Sales reps should ask customers ahead of time what data privacy expectations their leaders have.
- Talk to customers about concerns. Privacy officers can offer to hop on the phone with customers who have specific privacy questions regarding a vendor’s product or service.
- Highlight privacy efforts. Have the marketing team create content that reflects the company’s policies about data privacy.
Further, web page design must present privacy uses and opt-out/opt-in choices in a visually friendly style—or else risk alienating savvy customers, according to an article on AiThority.com in December 2019.
“It is clear to consumers when brands make privacy an afterthought,” AiThority.com wrote. “If, for example, a website or eCommerce store changes nothing about their [user experience] besides adding dull banners alerting customers to a new policy or pop-ups about cookie policies, then they have not designed the user’s experience with privacy in mind.”
“It is clear to consumers when brands make privacy an afterthought.”
The privacy experience may be a new term to many, but it is rooted in customer experience models that sought to deliver on well-stated, easily understood promises to consumers.
Ultimately, customers providing data will react favorably to companies that they trust, and that confidence will be built on how clearly the collection and use of personal data is explained.
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