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Do Your Customers Hide Their Data?

Martin Doyle April 28th, 2015 Data Governance, Data Migration/Integration, Data Quality
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Personal data has an image problem. People are increasingly wary of handing over their details to websites – particularly when they have no intention to engage long term. Many marketers set out to obtain email addresses, yet do very little to ensure the email addresses they get are valid. This is the beginning of a vicious circle for the business they’re working for.

Why? Trust has broken down. If customers don’t trust you, they will hide their data from view.

Official advice from tech-savvy gurus is to hide your real personal data from the prying eyes of advertisers, by entering false dates and other booby traps. In 2012, this advice was even given by the UK government as a way to protect security and stay safe online.

This is a dirty data nightmare for small businesses, and it will only serve to compound the considerable problems we already face with bad data.

Where We Are Now

According to the Telegraph newspaper, half of British consumers think their data is at risk. They cite data loss, theft and surveillance – all key issues that have hit the news. Paranoia? Not necessarily. Consumers are not merely influenced by media reporting. They have first hand experience of data abuse:

  • 59 per cent said they have experienced a data protection issue
  • 53 per cent of people avoid posting personal data online
  • 33 per cent type in fake data

The figures quoted are from Symantec’s 2015 State of Privacy report – a reliable industry source.

How Did We Get Here?

In some respects, less ethical marketers only have themselves to blame. They have pushed the boundaries of personal data collection, harvesting information for marketing purposes when the customer was unaware, and using phone numbers and addresses to sign people up to mailing lists they never wanted to join.

One key reason for this is the sheer number of agreements we sign up to online. In truth, none of us has time to pore over every single privacy policy, or pick over the contents of every Terms and Conditions pop-up that we’re asked to review. Sometimes, we skip over the detail. We place trust in companies that perhaps do not deserve it. And our data is left wide open for abuse.

In fact, according to the same Symantec report, 80 per cent of surveyed users do not read terms and conditions. These may well describe how data is stored and used, but we’d never even know.

Social networking sites have come in for their fair share of controversy too, thanks to some liberties taken with advertising tracking – the Facebook Beacon being one of the first. High-profile hacks at companies like Sony and LinkedIn also serve to make people nervous.

What Happens Now?

This worry about personal data hasn’t stopped people from using the internet or engaging with businesses on some level. They have simply adapted their behaviour to protect themselves.

Over time, Symantec believes that customers will vote with their feet. They will find businesses that manage data properly; businesses they deem to be safe. Customers will then develop new spending habits, and simply migrate their custom on that basis.

Not only is bad data costing you money, but it could force customers to your competitors.

What Do We Do Next?

The key take-away is that people are still handing over data to businesses. But the balance of trust has shifted

Because of hacking, or unethical marketing, or poor management of data, consumers have started to mask personal information.

In the future, we will see two different changes. On the one hand, businesses will have more data to sift through and organise, and there will be bigger penalties for its misuse, compounding the cost of poor data management. On the other, customers will start to consider price, quality and data management when making a buying decision.

In order to be profitable going forward, a business will not be able to be the best or cheapest. There has to be a third factor: responsibility to manage data properly.

This means:

  • Transparency in the way data is managed – no hidden terms and long agreements to read
  • Quality of data, so that customers know they will be contacted at appropriate points in the relationship
  • Accuracy of data, so that customers know their data is being cared for, not corrupted and left to decay

Data quality is a barrier to efficiency and accuracy. If you are harvesting email addresses in return for an incentive, and those email addresses are being deliberately obfuscated because trust has broken down, this can cause a ripple effect in terms of wasted effort, wasted materials and a dreadful ROI.

This is not a theoretical problem. It’s something that third party resources already face. Integrate analysed more than 775,000 leads generated for marketers working in the B2B sector, and they found that 40 per cent did not meet the client’s requirements in terms of quality or accuracy.

If your customers are deliberately making it difficult to obtain good quality leads, this kind of data quality shortfall is only going to become more expensive.

Finding a Way Forward

In some ways, it’s positive that consumers care about data. And it’s interesting that they recognise its value as an asset. (Many businesses would benefit from realising this, too.)

More than half believe their personal data is worth more than €1,000.

Indeed, when it’s accurate, and well-managed, personal data could be worth ten times more. It all depends on what the business does with it, and how effectively it’s used in automation, segmentation and reporting. And it depends on how well it’s cared for, or whether it’s left to go stale and wither away.

But without validation, and that critical element of trust, the data in a business’ CRM system may as well be the data from a five year old telephone directory. It simply won’t serve its purpose, and it could have negative consequences for customers and profits alike.


Written by Martin Doyle

Martin is CEO and founder of DQ Global, a Data Quality Software company based in the UK. With an engineering background, Martin previously ran a CRM Software business. He has gained a wealth of knowledge and experience over the years and has established himself as a Data Quality Improvement Evangelist and an industry expert.