Don’t beat people over the head with their own customer data

The best use of your valuable customer data is not to beat them over the head with it until they cry. Try using it to improve their customer experience.
by Ted Taylor

B. F. Skinner was talking about all of us when he said: “The real problem is not whether machines think but whether men do.”

Many of us have had an instance when a lapse in concentration resulted in at best an uncomfortable situation or at its worst a loss of time, energy or business. Here’s how I was recently reminded of the value of the user experience.

I got locked out of my internet banking account. It was one of those facepalm moments that I rather not explain in detail; partly because of the time it would take, but largely because I’d rather not embarrass myself any further. The real point of the story, however, is how it was handled by my banker.

They, of course, needed to verify that I was who I said I was, and to do that meant that I had to go through their security questions.

Now I was fully prepared for this. My security questions were all tied to personality defining moments and I had selected them precisely because there was only one possible answer to each of them. Essentially this is one test I could never fail. With that in mind, I was sure that we would have this sorted out in short order. Gina, I think it’s her real name,  put me on hold, pulled up my account and we were off.

Name on the account: [sooo easy, next question please]

Mailing address: [fewer than ten seconds in and I had doubled my correct answers]

Date of Birth: [thanks for bringing age into this Gina]

Email address: [paused for a second, which one, oh yeah, got it]

Telephone number: [another easy one; it’s the one I requested be changed three years ago, but I’m past that now]

… pieces of cake, I went through those questions so quickly I could hear her head spinning on the other end of the line.

… and then, to my chagrin, all three security questions.

After the first two questions I thought to myself this is going well, surely she’s convinced by now. Who else but me would know all of this stuff about me? Even so, when she asked the last security question I was not entirely surprised. And in any event, I was so invested in the transaction by then that part of me would probably have been disappointed if we didn’t see things through to the end.

So there we were, at the end; or so I thought.

I was leaning my torso towards the cradle of the phone to cut down on the distance my hand would have to travel to hang it up and my brain was almost fully engaged in my next task when she asked it. “And can you tell me the current balance on the account?”

Now I guess it was possible that she thought I was being forced to reset my password against my will. This line of questioning might be a good way for me communicate my distress to her. Perhaps with a safe word; maybe it was ATM, but how could I work that into this conversation. In any event I couldn’t  see how she would be able to use this to foil my captors. Even if I could tell her that I was in imminent danger, locking my account might deny the villains access to my funds and a decadent twenty eighty seconds at the three dollar store, but it could also make them a little peeved at me.

So this misadventure got me thinking, and this it where it led.

In your pursuit of systems that secure and streamline your business, manage your employees and procedures, or protect your customers and their personal information, please remember one thing.

Consider how these measures also act as obstacles to business.

Think about how they can frustrate the customers who don’t have the time to fill in a form that asks for their mailing and email addresses, as well as their home, work and mobile telephone numbers. That’s a lot of information for a chance to win a 10% discount for a purchase under $20.00.

Instead, ask yourself:

  • What information do I absolutely need from this person right now?
  • Can I follow up with them later to get more info and maybe enlist them into my programme at a time that fits their schedule rather than mine?
  • Do I have a real and practical plan for how I will use this information and will this plan help my customers and or my business?

Gina finally had a temporary password sent to me and I was online banking like a pro again, but not before she asked one last question; “Can you tell me the total of your most recent transaction?”

Face meets palm.

Look out for “Extorting customer data and prompting burying it alive in an unmarked grave.”