How businesses can meet needs of privacy-conscious customers

Given a choice, digitally aware consumers would gladly settle for a company that has data privacy as one of its core value offerings and does not monetize their online data trail.
Data privacy
Data privacy
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By Praval Singh, VP - Marketing, Zoho Corp

Last year, India was ranked as the third worst country in the world for its data protection and privacy standards. The global study by Comparitech, which assessed strategies of various nations for protecting citizens' privacy and scrutinized surveillance practices, stated that India's low score was due to a 'systemic failure to maintain safeguards'. The study also noted that the new Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill was yet to take effect in India, as of October 2019. The law is still not active today, and people are becoming restless.

Recently, Airtel was taken to task on social media for its ambiguously worded privacy policy, which mentioned that the telecom mogul and its authorized third parties could collect sensitive personal information such as genetic data, political beliefs, and health info, among others. What's more frightening is that a quick online search will turn up a horde of similar corporate privacy policies that permit sharing of consumer information with third parties and subsequent reuse of the data for targeted adverts.

Mandated by the law or not, the onus is on companies to protect their customers' data

The way things are now, technology vendors continue to collect enormous amounts of customer data from a safe 'grey space', where there's no legal obligation yet, and the ultimate responsibility falls on the consumers to protect their data. But the times are changing. In fact, 73% of Indian consumers who participated in PwC's global Trusted Tech survey 2020 say that "sharing my personal information with companies is a necessary evil in today's modern economy," while 80% wish "there were more companies I could trust with my data."

Given a choice, today's digitally aware consumers would gladly settle for a company that has data privacy as one of its core value offerings and importantly, does not monetize their online data trail. It's no secret that customer choices shape business reality in the future. Companies that spearhead the global privacy campaign in the age of digital transformation and become vocal and transparent about how they handle personal data will maintain a competitive edge.

How to let your customers know that you're pro-privacy?

Making data privacy an implicit guarantee for customers has a lot to do with choosing a business model. Here are a few things that your business strategy should incorporate to assure consumers that their data is in safe hands:

Invest in data center security and encryption: Privacy begins with robust data protection during storage and transit. Implementing end-to-end encryption for data servers using strong algorithms like AES-256 and using a secure channel for business communications are essential for fostering a security-first culture.

'Ask' for only what is needed: Try minimizing the amount of data that you collect from your customers. At the very least, first-level business transactions on digital platforms can effectively happen over a simple email exchange. When additional information is required, put your customers through a tiered consent system that allows them to be in control of what they share. Reword your privacy policies using elementary language that clearly tells them what you do with the data gathered.

Think twice before running ads within your offerings: Businesses that rely on ad-supported revenue models will face flak down the line as more and more customers realize that 'nothing is free on the Internet.' Online advertising and data privacy are mutually exclusive. Moreover, no customer wants to use a 'free' product or service that's littered with intrusive advertisements. Nowhere is this truer than in the Big Tech realm, where the data-hungry, ad-based models are slowly turning unreliable in the eyes of customers and is most likely to cause a loyalty shift.

Free your customer touchpoints from third-party trackers: Customers have today become more mindful of their privacy every time they visit your website, use your mobile app, or chat with your representatives or make a purchase. Tracking user data and activity across these touchpoints has turned into a full-on surveillance today. Ensure that your third-party vendors do not have data trackers embedded in their services. Even if you use a different email service provider, a hosted website, or an on-demand helpdesk, it's still your reputation on the line.

In the end, customers need to explicitly know that you are on their side even when there's no legal necessity. Putting their data on sale to 'maximize' revenue is not the way to do it.

Views expressed are author’s own. Praval Singh leads the marketing initiatives for Zoho and has been instrumental in launching several products, led marketing teams, developed go-to-market strategies for various regions, and fostered partnerships, with over 12 years of experience in the industry.  

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