By Joanna Causon, CEO of The Institute of Customer Service


In today’s world, customer expectations and shopping habits are evolving at a rapid pace. 
As an increasing number of businesses focus their efforts online, businesses need to recognise the importance of establishing a culture of data integrity and transparency. 
News of data breaches from brands across all sectors is commonplace and customers are increasingly wary of businesses selling their personal data or using it try to sell them more products. 
The institute’s latest research, ‘Upfront and Personal’, reveals the depth of consumer scepticism and highlights the need for change.
Customers now interact with organisations through an array of channels, but this is rarely driven by the customer’s preference. 
The use of a customer’s data is integral for deeper insight and a more personalised relationship with the customer, but organisations need to first build trust for it to be deployed effectively and appropriately.
Trust is the critical factor in any business relationship. How we leverage customer data to deliver a personalised customer experience is a challenge facing most organisations. 
Alarmingly, our recent research found 64 per cent of UK consumers are unable to name a single organisation they trust with their data and 25 per cent of customers won’t share any of their personal information with organisations for fear of what they might do with it. 
This exposes the reality of consumer scepticism towards organisations and the new challenges businesses are facing.
Data utilisation also comes hand in hand with the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) in customer service, emphasising the need to get it right.
AI and new technologies provide an opportunity to unify datasets and make better use of customer information. This heralds a new era, and organisations that harness this whilst continuing to be guided by their purpose, relevance and customer objectives will succeed.
It is vital that businesses implement AI through the lens of the customer. 
Our research found many customers (67.7 per cent) are unsure of their confidence in how AI is being deployed and are significantly more concerned when AI is used secretively. Businesses, therefore, need to be transparent with how they use customers’ data to ensure trust and boost customer satisfaction.
The rise of AI is important to provide customers with a better outcome, but this needs to be part of the blended customer experience of the future. 
Although useful for data and predictive behaviours, AI can’t deliver the same emotional intelligence or empathy that comes from human interaction. 
Boardrooms really need to understand the importance of AI to the customer experience and design their systems and processes around customer delivery and outcome. 
Some successful examples of AI application can be seen in both the insurance and financial sectors. 
Risk monitoring situations, such as fraud prevention/detection technology is used across these sectors and, according to our recent report, 62.1 per cent of UK customers feel comfortable with this type of AI.
Businesses can build trust and sustain success by being open and transparent about the data they collect and thinking hard about what they do with it. It’s about using it responsibly to deliver an enhanced service, not just as another sales opportunity.
Customers want organisations to focus on getting things right the first time and to be transparent about how personal data is used. 
Integrity and transparency in data management is vital and increasingly central to trust and reputation. 
Our Upfront & Personal research sets out seven practical recommendations for businesses to utilise consumer data for a genuinely personal customer experience:
1. Understanding and engaging with customer preferences – Understand how and why customers want to interact with your business and what level of personalisation customers consider to be beneficial
2. Building a culture of integrity and transparency – Develop a culture that values the critical role of data management, not just for meeting legal requirements, but to enable long-term customer trust and commercial objectives
3. Integrating data and systems – Define the key datasets required to enable customer experience and a plan to enable data to be collected, accessed and transferred 
4. Organisational alignment – Ensure there is alignment of purpose and strategy across marketing, customer experience, data and IT teams
5. Maintaining the human touch – Design customer journeys so there is always the opportunity to speak to a person, ensure hand-offs between channels are managed smoothly and invest in developing employees’ empathy, problem-solving and commercial judgement skills
6. Managing the needs of vulnerable customers – Develop expertise in diagnosing the needs of vulnerable customers and tailoring experiences to meet their needs
7. Base your approach on customer needs, rather than being driven by your data and systems – Track linkages and hand-offs between channels in a single customer journey, identify opportunities for personalisation that make experiences easier and set measures that enable a realistic assessment of customer experience and commercial impact.
As more and more organisations suffer the regulatory and public relations consequence of not treating customer data responsibly, UK businesses – small or large – need to understand the privilege of access to this data and how personalisation can make consumers lives easier. 
In turn, they will reap the rewards of consumer trust and loyalty. In a highly competitive world, businesses who breach customers’ trust may lose them forever. 
In establishing a customer-centric approach – something that we help our members achieve -- businesses see the benefits of return custom and ROI.