2020 has been full of challenges for businesses of all sizes, and for every business function, all over the globe. But marketers in California faced a double whammy — starting the year with the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) going into effect, and almost immediately after getting whacked by the global turmoil caused by the coronavirus pandemic. While it might have taken marketers 12–18 months in normal circumstances to fully adapt to the challenges posed by CCPA, that’s almost been pushed into the background with the “burning platform” that is the Covid-19 pandemic. But, as all of us know, ignoring regulation doesn’t make it go away — CCPA is very much an issue that needs to be dealt with, even as the pandemic puts additional pressure on your customer contact centers — both on inbound and outbound customer contacts — during these times of extended lockdowns (many businesses in California are now in their fifth month of lockdown impact).
One thing you can rely on in life is that when it rains, it pours. The other thing — there is always a useful Winston Churchill quote when you need one!
Yes indeed, never let a good crisis go to waste. Covid-19 is a reset for business expectations. We are never going back to the old ways, and while we are calling what we see today as the “New Normal,” in all humility this is just the interim normal. The New Normal is yet to come, and companies that are Digital and Agile will adapt and write the rules for that new standard, while others will struggle to keep up.
So how do you turn compliance and regulatory burden related to consumer privacy on one hand, and the need to do more with remote interactions with customers (at a time when in-person interactions are almost impossible) into an opportunity for a more enhanced, sustainable customer engagement model that is also more satisfying to the customers by an order of magnitude?
Well, you start by throwing away the old playbook and assumptions and starting afresh. Case in point — Apple!
When other technology giants have gotten into trouble with both customers going up in arms against perceived exploitation of their data, and policy makers in DC getting under the hood to understand how they use customer data, Apple has built a business around its promise to protect their customers’ privacy. And the market has noticed and rewarded that handsomely!
Duck Duck Go — a relative newcomer in internet search market, and virtually unknown a few years ago, has catapulted itself into a possible contender for an Apple acquisition. They made a name for themselves going against conventional wisdom that the only way to monetize internet search was by leveraging customer data for targeted advertising.
Once you have decided on pushing the reset button on customer privacy, here are some practical areas you should focus on to accelerate your efforts and get the first mover advantage or competitive differentiation that you seek in your market.
1. Customer-first culture across all touch points in the organization.
A recent survey by PwC shows that 85% of customers wish there were more companies they could trust with their data. Yet, companies seem to have a false belief that they are doing better — leading to a widening gap. Clearly, this indicates companies need to radically step up their game when it comes to protecting customers’ data. This has two sides to it: (a) Changing company culture where employees inherently buy into the philosophy of treating customer information as sacrosanct at all points, and (b) conveying the cultural shift to your customers by means of an appropriate outreach effort.
The company culture part is tough — like any other characteristic that defines a company’s culture, you can’t do it overnight. And, it starts from the top — leading by example from the C-Suite. The outreach to customers is not easy either, but can be planned as a series of initiatives to build trust, including:
A clear public message from the C-Suite on how the company is committed to protecting customers’ data privacy
Clear cut policies and improving/simplifying terms and conditions that outline how you will use and protect customer data
Compliance with not only existing regulatory requirements, but participating in industry-wide initiatives that are forward-looking
2. Improved processes and technologies — especially ones that impact touch points with customers.
No matter how hard your employees try to protect customers’ privacy, if the business processes and the underlying technologies are not supportive, it will be very difficult to put your vision and good intentions into practice.
Companies that are leading with customer privacy protection are building privacy into their customer facing processes, channels and applications — be it in-person interactions, over phone, or over digital channels (social, chat, messaging, AI Virtual Assistant). Security and privacy are no longer factors that we need to balance against a pleasing user experience, instead they have to be the very basis of a satisfying customer experience.
The processes and applications also have to ensure transparency — and simplicity of explaining what data are you collecting, why you are collecting it, how you intend to use it and secure it, is absolutely critical.
A key technology enabler for this is the emerging concept of Customer Data Platform. Gartner defines Customer Data Platform as “A marketing system that unifies a company’s customer data from marketing and other channels to enable customer modeling, and optimize the timing and targeting of messages and offers.” Marketers today are finding it increasingly challenging to design, orchestrate and measure multichannel campaigns. A Customer Data Platform can help by centralizing data collection, unifying customer profiles from disparate sources, creating and managing segments, and activating those segments across channels — traditional and digital.
Contact Center technology plays a key role in how companies interact with their customers, and in the absence of a physical, in-person channel of interaction (retail store, branch office, etc.), contact centers have become the lifeblood of organizations. One of the major issues contact centers have faced in terms of customer privacy revolves around leveraging data for targeted outbound campaigns — voice, email, direct mail. This is the area that has come under most scrutiny by regulators and multiple rules and regulations impact this. While so far most companies have been playing a whack-a-mole game here, the time is right for playing with a coherent strategy going forward— taking the high ground to establish best practices for your business that take the strongest of the legislation (CCPA, GDPR, etc.) into account and establish a customer-centric game plan — that is transparent and has accountability.
Outbound processes require significant technology inputs — and a robust solution for Proactive Engagement is a must. A best-in-class suite provides a full set of tools to the marketers and customer services professionals and leverages Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning models for real-time and proactive customer segmentation and prioritization, Right Party Connect, Best Time To Call, etc. Compliance is a key requirement — addressing TCPA, Ofcom, GDPR, CCPA, DNC and other regulation and guidelines. The suite should addresse all channels and offers bi-directional conversational engagement, leveraging powerful AI and Natural Language Processing capabilities. Tight integration with all the leading Contact Center technology vendors and partners in AI, Marketing Automation space ensures quicker deployments and integrated, “single pane of glass” operational efficiency.
The other big technology and infrastructure area to improve is cyber security. Not a day goes by where you don’t hear about some brand or the other acknowledging a data breach. These data breaches are hugely expensive — from the effort to cover any losses customers may have suffered, to regulatory fines, to the immense marketing and outreach expense in an effort to regain customers’ trust. A solution to this obviously involve all three areas — people, as in better training; processes, to ensure accountability and traceability; and technology to prevent cyber attacks.
As businesses go about addressing the above, Covid-19 has put a new wrinkle in this whole effort. When the Covid-19 pandemic led to shutdowns this March this year, companies were forced to move their employees to a work-from-home environment, including a large portion (if not all) of its customer service staff. Maintaining customer data privacy at the point of contact between customers and the company has always been challenging, but having the customer service agents working from home, in an environment that companies can not control and regulate has been both a nightmare and a learning opportunity. Fortunately, the technology vendors were well prepared for such a situation and have helped companies rapidly deploy solutions that address data privacy in a remote agent world.
In the coming weeks and months, as more of the businesses return to capacity in the New Normal, the ones who lead will be the ones that adapt quickest and set the new rules of customer engagement — ones based on respect for protecting customers’ data and privacy, ethical business practices built on nurturing a diverse and inclusive workforce, in hopefully what will be a more societally and environmentally friendly world.
I look forward to sharing notes and comments with fellow customer experience professionals and helping companies achieve their vision for a more customer-centric culture.