A question of trust
Editorial

A question of trust

When consumers trust an organisation, they are more likely to share personal data. What are the best ways to foster that trust?

Why would you want to share personal data with an organisation you don’t trust? Regular corporate data breaches and cyber-security scares – such as the headline-grabbing Ashley Madison scandal – continue to fuel consumers’ concerns about the dangers of revealing too much online. But on a broader level, consumer trust is not simply about external cyber-threats to the organisation with which they’re sharing personal data – there are also fundamental issues about privacy, what personal data is being used for, and the potential sharing of that information with third parties, that serve to undermine confidence and trust.

Clearly, the more consumers trust an organisation, the more likely they are to share their personal data. The development of big data analytics has brought opportunities to use that personal data for deep intelligence about consumers – to get insights into past behaviour, anticipate and understand trends and predict future behaviour – making rich data increasingly valuable. For consumers, too, there can be transactional benefits to be gained from sharing data with certain organisations, whether that’s via enhanced experiences and services or through free products or other extras.

As such, establishing trust is increasingly about the opportunity for organisations to gain competitive advantage, rather than just compliance with privacy and security obligations.

Willing to share

In the UK, a recent report commissioned by the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) and Acxiom (an enterprise data services company) suggests that three quarters of Britons are comfortable to share data with businesses they trust, and that 55% are happy with providing personal information in return for free products. Trust was ranked by far the most important consideration when sharing information, with 39% backing this view.

Nonetheless, research commissioned by the UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has shown that 85% of people in the UK are concerned about how their personal information is passed on or sold to other organisations. The research also revealed that 77% of people are worried about organisations not keeping their personal details secure.

DMA group CEO, Chris Combemale, states: “Without trust, brands will not grow. They must look at the way they deal with consumers and their data, and take their privacy concerns seriously.”

In a recent article for Harvard Business ReviewTimothy Morey, Vice President of Innovation Strategy at global product strategy and design firm Frog, said: “Firms that behave in ways to gain our trust for access to these rich new streams of data, and are transparent in how that data is captured and utilised, will have a tremendous competitive advantage. They will be able to not only do good business, but also do more good for consumers.

“If companies understand the worth consumers put on their personal information, they can offer value in exchange for it. But more importantly, making the exchange transparent will help build trust, allowing firms to build more interesting products and services with it.”

Clear and simple

Ensuring the elements of trust are in place is fundamental to success. Jason Nathan, Group Managing Director for Data at customer science company Dunnhumby, explains: “Trust between the consumer and organisations asking for their personal data is a function of three things: security, transparency and activity.”

It is essential for organisations to establish and maintain the highest levels of cyber-security to deal with advanced cyber-threats and to take a proactive approach. High profile incidents like the Target data breach undermine public confidence in how companies handle data.

As well as ensuring the highest level of personal data security, communicating how that data will be used is vital: “Transparency is a topic where fostering trust is the holy grail, and there are two ways in which an organisation can seek to achieve this,” says Nathan from Dunnhumby. “Firstly, there are the actual data terms and conditions; these will mostly be articulated at a moment of sign-up to a scheme or a service, and latterly may be reviewed. Keeping these simple and clear is key: the technology industry has become infamous for byzantine explanations and impenetrable terminology – these erode trust as consumers assume there must be something ‘hidden’.”

Organisations also need to engage in deeper explanations and marketing of their usage of data and – more importantly – the value it delivers. “For instance: ‘your data may be shared with third parties’ is less of a positive message than ‘by using your data with third parties, we are able to pass on savings to you and offer X service for less’,” Nathan says.

Anthony Bagshaw, Managing Director of marketing services company Gecko, concurs: “Once the data hygiene factors are out of the way, it falls to the organisation to demonstrate that data will be used to improve the consumer’s experience. Consumers are increasingly savvy as to the value of their personal data and won’t part with it unless they see a benefit. Make it clear that the consumer is providing information that will help you better tailor your services, product offering and promotions to their needs and they’ll happily share.”

Organisations should be aware of the perception of their use of personal data and the impact this has on trust. Bagshaw says: “If a consumer has invested the time to input their data, they’ll want to see something from you, and that something will need to be relevant. Take the time to plan your comms strategy and then implement your data collection to match – after all, figures indicate that consumers are seven to 10 times more likely to respond to well-targeted and relevant communications.”

According to Nathan, this activity can be the hardest element to execute well. “Trust is eroded when the data is patently being used to sell aggressively to a customer – people react by thinking: ‘That’s not what I signed up for.’ Spamming email inboxes, Facebook feeds, Notifications and SMS is sure to erode trust. The key is an organisation that’s tightly bound around the data asset held on customers, and firmly restrained and controlled as to how that asset is used.

“It’s not enough to just send fewer emails; those communications need to be personalised in tone, content, frequency and channel. Appropriate interactions with customers is central to fostering trust in the long term.”

Phil Lattimore CPL Freelance Journalist
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