The Superior Customer Service/Personalization Trade-Off: A Decision Based on Trust

Ken Landoline
Ken Landoline

Summary Bullets:

  • An in-depth understanding of the customer, on the part of the enterprise, has the potential to provide a superior customer service experience and establish the groundwork for a high level of customer satisfaction, loyalty and longevity, assuming the enterprise makes appropriate use of the information.
  • Many customers are still reluctant to share personal information with a customer service provider because there remains a strong distrust regarding whether or not the information will be used appropriately and contained within the boundaries of the enterprise to which it was entrusted.

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the ITEXPO Conference in Miami Beach and act as moderator for two breakout panel sessions focused on the topics of “customer personalization” and “creating a consistent and quality customer experience” during customer service interactions. The three panelists on the stage with me at each session represented companies that develop, sell or use technologies designed to improve customer service interactions. The companies included InAppCare, Nuance/VirtuOz,, TSG Global and VHT. Oddly enough, both sessions gravitated to an audience-prompted discussion regarding trading private and personal information for the potential of getting better service from the enterprise. While many argued that they thought customer care solutions were far from successful in meeting their expectations and needed improvement, it was implied that they were not willing to trade their privacy to improve the situation, at least not yet.

I took the opportunity to poll each audience to gauge their willingness to provide the companies with which they interact with more personal information (e.g., geographic location, income level, marital status, birth dates, purchase histories, etc.) in order to improve the service they received. The vote was consistent across the two audiences which totaled a sample size of approximately 70. When asked if they were willing to give up personal information to get better service, approximately 45 to 50% of the respondents in each session said “yes”. Of course, the implication was that 50% or more of the remaining attendees would not be willing to make the better-service-for-personal-information trade. I probed a little further into the question by asking what would be required to change the ”no” responses to “yes” responses, and the answer proved to be consistent among the “no’s”. They would have to establish a high level of trust between the company and themselves over time. More specifically, trust that the enterprise would not share the personal information with others, that it would truly be used to improve the interactions and that the company was genuinely interested in providing better service based on the additional information supplied. The “yes” respondents confirmed this reaction saying that that was implied in their responding “yes” in the first place.

My conclusions after these sessions are that most consumers would be willing to trade some privacy for better customer care. However, only companies building a trusted relationship over time will be enabled to take advantage of their customers’ willingness to make this trade. It should not be assumed that customers are open to providing incremental private information, or that you are a trusted provider of services. This is a status that must be earned and tested over time. Clearly companies providing customer services should know if and when they reach this status with their customers, simply because it has been shown that customer service personalization can lead to increased sales in terms of up-sell and cross-sell opportunities. One way to find out if you are a trusted business partner is to ask, and if you are not, you should be working with your customers to fix this problem.

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