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By Jo Causon, CEO, The Institute of Customer Service

A recent meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Customer Service concluded that organisations increasingly risk losing customers’ trust because of the way their data is used.

The meeting, which brought together parliamentarians of all parties, a former government minister and shadow minster, the Information Commissioner and businesses, looked at recent high-profile security failures, many of which have increased customer concerns over the use and security of their data. Participants heard that 43 percent of consumers are concerned about cyber-attacks and how research from the Institute reveals, that 84 percent want the Government to impose fines on organisations lacking sufficient safeguards, with 86 percent wanting a review of data protection legislation.

It may be an impulse reaction but, from a strategic perspective, getting the basics right is a pre-requisite for building sustainable relationships with customers and that is why the importance of focusing on the attitudes and concerns of consumers cannot be underestimated. If, as consumers, we don’t believe our information and data is being handled appropriately then we will simply not share it, which in turn means we don’t get the service we need. I thought it interesting that there was general consensus in the meeting about trust as a key driver for consumers that needs to be addressed in a variety of ways. Those in the room agreed that customers will only be trusting of organisations if they feel in control of their data.

This only comes if they have an understanding and have choice over how it is used. Our research shows that customers want a more personalised service. Certainly a multi-channel environment has the potential to offer a faster and more flexible service, but it also requires organisations to think hard about how they collect and protect the data they require in order to deliver a seamless and connected experience, as well as developing new services and products. It’s also not just the private sector that is affected.

In the meeting it was noted that public sector use of data is particularly problematic. All organisations, public and private, have to address the increasing pace of change in use of data and consider how they manage data, both its security and how to share it. However, the customers of public sector organisations cannot choose to go to another provider if they lose trust in the organisation’s ability to look after data, and this can have a particularly damaging effect on public organisations uptake of big data opportunities. Related to this there are a wide range of regulatory and policy issues that government needs to address. In particular many attendees felt the government needs to be much better at communicating what it is intending to do with the data and why. It is clear that consumers increasingly accept the inevitably of cyber-attacks happening. That is why no one present doubted the strategic importance of data management.

All organisations need to have clear policies on data that take a strategic approach to its management rather than just a technical approach to how it is handled. Organisations need to respond by outlining, not only how they plan to secure their customers’ data, but also, how they will be transparent in the event of a breach. There is evidence that in some circumstances a favourable response by a company to a breach has resulted in an enhanced perception of the organisation as customers’ view the organisation’s ability to manage effectively a crisis situation. The fact is that a customer’s experience is determined not just by performance when things go well, but the promise of performance when things go wrong.

Jo Causon

Jo joined The Institute as its CEO in 2009. She has driven membership growth by 150 percent and established the UK Customer Satisfaction Index as the country’s premier indicator of consumer satisfaction, providing organisations with an indicator of the return on their service strategy investment.

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