Saturday, September 04, 2004

Explain the value of personalization and the customer will share their info

I was thinking a bit more about an article I referred to a little while ago (see: Article: The Privacy Dilemma)). The article is from Computerworld, a great source of timely articles related to privacy and security. It includes a quote from a Gartner analyst:

According to Gartner Inc. analyst Adam Sarner, privacy legislation can actually be a boon to personalization initiatives -- at least in the case of "explicit" personalization, in which a company collects data with the customer's permission, with the promise that it will use the data to only make relevant contact.

"Every company should have user profiles that allow customers to set preferences: when they want to be contacted, how often and about what. That's explicit personalization, and it can be extremely powerful," says Sarner. While the sit-down nature of the Web offers the best interface for creating user profiles, the data should be populated across databases that touch every relevant contact point, whether it be through e-mail or call center or at point of sale. "The trick is not just leave it on the Web but make it part of the complete user profile," Sarner says.

In my experience, if you clearly explain the benefits of personalization, they'll share their personal information and allow you to provide them with better service. When I teach about privacy law, there's an example that I often use. About a year ago, I had to travel to Ottawa and the regular hotel I stay at was booked up. So I called another hotel, where I had stayed a long while before. I made my reservation and asked if they wanted my credit card number to hold the reservation. The clerk responded "Oh, Mr. Fraser, we'll hold your room with the credit card we have on file." I hadn't stayed there for ages and they still had my credit card number on file. How many reservation clerks had access to it? Where was it stored? They thought they were giving great service, but I weirded me out. It weirds out just about everyone I tell the story to (except hotelliers). I had stayed there once and didn't expect to stay there again. Interestingly, the other hotel where I usually stay has my credit card on file and it doesn't bother me. Why? Because they asked me for it and explained the benefits. I signed up for their frequent guest program, a perk of which is they keep your preferences on file and use it to serve you better. I could have said no. But the value was there: My reservations take a second, I always get the right kind of room and they know what side of the building I like. The value is readily apparent, I have the choice and I trust them.

Most times a customer fills out a form, I think they do a little crude calculus: how much am I giving up and how much am I getting in return. Companies that aren't proactive about privacy aren't explaining the value to their customers at this critical moment. If the customer doesn't know what you want to do with it, they get suspicious. And they give you junk information, limited information or they walk away.

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