As customer data mounts, so too does the responsibility of companies to use it well. But amid the abstract complexities of digitization, how do we keep our customers’ trust? Technology can’t always win it and laws can’t always protect it. Only respecting customers as more than the sum of their data will earn their confidence – and only that confidence can secure a bright future for the digital age.
A lot is said about data. When amazing potential and serious risk combine in one issue, it gets attention. Nothing inspires concern like the threat of change, and it isn’t long before talk of good and evil begins.
But data is neither good nor evil. It is merely a tool. Like a hammer, its helpful potential can be easily misused. But what a mistake it would have been to toss the hammer away after a few sore thumbs. Data is a tool of equally revolutionary proportions, and we all today hold its fate in our hands.
Business holds perhaps the strongest hand of all. It is we who collect and use data, and therefore we who bear the most responsibility for shaping future-oriented, sustainable processes. Over the previous decades, the economy has reformed in the image of digitization. Companies are more likely than customers to have a realistic sense of the depths to which data permeates. Users spend hours a day interacting with various screens without having much concept of the massive exchange of data enabling the experience of connectivity they have grown accustomed to – and reliant on. A few minutes on a tablet sends hundreds of apps processing and exporting to who knows what ends. The results and effects of collective data are not often our concern.
Until they become it. As major leaks and hacks have shown, companies are just as vulnerable to the threat of data insecurity as their customers. Yet companies, from behind all those screens, understand data better than the public. We can see the added value data analysis returns to customers, and work to construct sophisticated systems that personally complement them. But in the process, companies risk forgetting that customers are more than the data they create. The public, already wary, can feel forgotten – even used.
Algorithms do not replace relationships
How much can we rely on the public to make good business models? Should we simply extract the information that we want with the self-assurance that we know what’s best?
Too many companies trust their data more than their customers. A nervous public, plagued with stories of corporate abuse, will only pull further away from customer relationships, setting up a digital age of mistrust and isolation. Companies must not abandon customers to interpret the complexity of cyber trust themselves. No side has all the answers to this great societal shift, and we all share the vulnerability.
This complexity hints at why digitization has always come with a democratic and political dimension. The recent European General Data Protection Regulation is one such step toward creating a harmonized market with standardized rules. The regulation goes a long way in supporting increased company transparency and improving the scalability of our business models.
Companies have nothing to lose and everything to gain from transparency. No matter the tool, the method remains the same: trust is the only way to secure customer relationships through digitization and beyond. Transparency tells customers the relationship is mutual. Both sides benefit from safe, strong data.
Nowadays everyone has accessible personal profiles. Data affects our lives even if only through the social network news feed showing us only what it feels we want to see. When relationships don’t go beyond data, we live in bubbles without perspective. When mistrust minimizes data, we hinder the experience of plurality necessary for a balanced life and proper integration in society.
The deeper the trust, the higher the quality of data. An open company invites an open customer, and the digital transformation hinges on this openness. Where compliance matters to the law, trust matters to the customer – when people feel secure dealing with a company, they rely on it to do the right thing. Only a reliable relationship is sustainable, and that’s one thing digitization won’t change.