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How do you stop your business from looking like a digital "creep"?

22nd Jul 2014
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If Facebook’s recent social manipulation study proves anything, it’s that the public will tolerate having their digital footprint meddled with, up to a certain point. But push the boundaries beyond what’s deemed acceptable, and more often than not there’s a public backlash.

On this basis, Forrester’s most recent report ‘Digital creepiness: How not to spook your customers’ couldn’t be more pertinent. How does a business toe the line between offering a personalised digital experience and not intruding too far into its customer’s private life?

Forrester suggests there are six steps that designers, developers and marketers of digital experiences should follow, in order to stay balanced on this ever-precarious scale:

Comply with privacy laws
This may seem obvious, but protecting vast amounts of customer data can be a “herculean task” for many organisations. Failure to do so can create privacy infringements, and, in the digital space, it’s more important than ever that companies are aware of the data protection guidelines across different countries.  

Protect customer data with a zero trust policy.
With hacked customer data such a common occurrence among large and small organisations of all types, you wonder whether it’s possible to guarantee security to customers when they sign up to your products. But Forrester states firms “must implement a zero trust policy where the data is no longer considered “secure” just because it is behind a firewall”, if they are ever to get close to protecting customer data sufficiently.   

Implement a multidimensional customer data management platform.
With a multitude of sources for data, ranging from social media to mobile and IoT sensors, is it acceptable to have the traditional 360-degree view of the customer? Forrester thinks not, suggesting that firms must “capture, store, analyze, and use a plethora of data from new sources to create a multidimensional view of customer”, if they want to offer a more believable personalised experience.

Develop granular preference controls.
‘Preference panels’ are playing an increasingly important part of the mobile app and website experience, as customers demand a more customisable experience from brands. Forrester suggests this will only increase, as the option gives a more transparent and trusting element to a business, as customers  can choose at a granular level how much personalization they are comfortable with.

A/B test your designs.
It makes sense to determine whether customers are comfortable with the features of your digital experience by setting up controlled experiments to measure how frequently real customers are engaged. A/B testing is often the common denominator, however Forrester warns of “individual customers may rate differently on the creepiness scale”; suggesting that finding out what the scales of personalisation are before implementing something can be priceless.   

Match versions to predicted creepiness tolerance.
In some circumstances, it might make sense to make multiple versions of a digital experience, be it an app or a website, to cater for the different tolerance levels of your customers. Forrester suggests predictive analytics tools, stating that “predictive analytics can be used to predict individual creepiness ratings for each of your customers. Once you have scores, you can use them to automatically adjust the experience”.

Forrester’s report also warns brands about the importance of seeing “creep tolerance” on an individual basis, as opposed to trying to place them as a statistic:

“Don’t oversimplify the issue of digital creepiness. It’s not as simple as saying that younger people are less concerned with it than older generations. That may be true in the aggregate, but it is not true on an individual basis. In fact, age may have nothing to do with it. There may be as many factors as there are people. For example, only 33% of online consumers would stop shopping at an online retailer if they knew the retailer was tracking their behavior.”

The analyst firm also provides this useful graph to segment the 4 different ways people might react to a personalised experience online (including the extremely scientific term, ‘the willies’):

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