June 08, 2020

Customer Service and Data Privacy

Customer Service and Data Privacy

Will the global pandemic change the way consumers feel about data privacy?

Privacy confusion

According to a 2019 study from Pew Research, 70% of Americans feel that their personal data is less secure than it was five years prior. While most people understand that their personal information is being collected from everyday activities including web searches, buying habits, job applications and government websites, few people understand how their information is being used. The Pew study found that 79% of respondents were concerned about the information that companies collect from them, while only 6% are confident that they understand how that data is used. Similarly, 64% were greatly concerned about how the government uses their information, while only 4% understand how it is used.

CGS recently surveyed over 2,000 consumers in the U.S. and U.K. to gain insight related to customer service and data privacy during the pandemic. The 2020 CGS Customer Services Preferences in Times of Distress Survey reveals insights about the pandemic and data privacy in a digital world.  When looking back on their customer service interactions in the past year, most consumers in the U.S. and the U.K. don’t feel confident in the safety of their data. In early 2020, at the same time consumers were turning in greater numbers to virtual healthcare visits and digital customer services resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, cyber criminals were taking advantage of the mass digital migration. Bitdefender reported a 60% month-on-month increase in hospital cyberattacks in March and info security reported that cyberattacks on U.K. businesses were up 30% in the first quarter of 2020. In addition, more and more lawsuits are being filed against popular application and technology companies for perceived violations in collecting and/or sharing private user information without proper consent.

Emerging Data Privacy Laws

Sharing data online makes business more efficient but increases consumer uncertainty. Once people start to browse the web or hit the ENTER button, they’ve lost control of their private information. The CGS survey found that 30.7% of U.S. consumers think companies need more government oversight to protect data privacy compared with a whopping 61.2% of U.K. consumers. So, what is being done to improve the balance between “easy to do business with” and “data security and privacy”?

Recognizing that people need control over how their data is used, the State of California passed the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in 2018, which went into effect on January 1, 2020. This act provides consumers with the right to know how their information is being used and the right to prevent their information from being shared. Initially targeted at large companies with over $25 million in revenue who do business in California, firms jumped into action to ensure that CCPA covered California residents and often extended coverage to residents of other states as well. Companies earning less than $25 million in revenue will also be required to provide CCPA protections in the coming years.

Mirroring the European Union’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), CCPA aims to give consumers more control, and therefore more certainty, over how and when their data is used. While providing more protection for consumers, did it resolve their uncertainty in operating in today’s online world? Do consumers feel more confident about the security and privacy of their information?

Will Personal Information Sharing be the “New Normal” Post COVID-19?

The COVID-19 outbreak could now result in more, not less, personal information to be shared.  Personal information, especially health and location data, is being collected to track the virus. From location data on smartphones to symptom surveys on Facebook, digital thermometer readings, iPhone and Android phone contact tracing, DNA data, and Google search trends, more data than ever before is being collected.

In the wake of recent events, have consumers become more concerned about their data privacy?  A recent post-outbreak Harris poll found that 81% of Americans approve of large tech companies sharing data of people who contracted COVID-19 or came into contact with the virus.  If personal data helps in a public health emergency, consumers seem to be willing to participate.

To protect consumers and patient health information, the Senate introduced COVID-19 Consumer Data Protection Act of 2020 to improve data privacy and provide protections. Congress introduced The Public Health Emergency Privacy Act, requiring those who collect information to delete it after 60 days if it is not used for public health reasons. Both bills are targeted at protecting consumers while quickly reacting to a public health emergency.

Balancing customer service with immediate needs during a crisis

During a pandemic as more consumers are relying on digital services, is data privacy consumers’ primary concern, or do they have more pressing needs? What is their preferred method of contact? And most importantly, do companies alleviate the uncertainty that prompted the customer service interaction?

Need #1: I prefer to use the telephone.

During the current pandemic, consumers are overwhelmingly seeking more of a human touch, wanting to speak with another human. The survey found that consumers have immediate questions and need prompt answers. In fact, 51.4% of U.S. respondents and 57% of U.K. respondents prefer to use the telephone, distantly followed by chat and direct messaging with 10% of U.S. and U.K. consumers specifying that channel.

During the pandemic, consumers may need to relinquish data, but they also want to use their communication channel of choice, whether for familiarity or comfort during stressful times.

Need #2:  Tell me how I can talk to a person.

The preference for using a telephone for customer service inquiries indicates human contact can help alleviate concerns.  Respondents agreed that having the “opportunity to speak to a human agent” is one of the top three requirements for ensuring they leave a customer service interaction happy.

However, companies can make it difficult to reach a human agent.  For U.S. and U.K. consumers, 44% of respondents wished that brands would be more transparent about “how to get help from a human.” The cost to brands not offering these directions to access a human agent leaves consumers disappointed, as stated by 28.1% of U.S. and 26.3% of U.K. respondents.

Need #3:  Get me the information I need – quickly.

While nearly half of respondents in both the U.S. and U.K. preferred to use the telephone to speak directly with a human agent, they are also willing to use other channels when they want immediate information.  Our survey showed that only 17% of respondents were disappointed in the ability of chatbots to answer their questions, making this an effective channel to communicate frequently asked questions.  Nearly one-quarter of U.S. and U.K. consumers responded that they want their issues resolved faster.

Need #4:  Let me speak with a friendly agent.

Once consumers reach human agents, they not only want the agents to provide the needed information, but also be congenial.  Our consumer survey revealed that 37.5% of U.S. consumers and 30.3% of U.K. consumers cite “working with a friendly agent” as another important factor in leaving a customer service interaction happy.

Why is it important to have “friendly agents”? Consumers have been significantly disappointed in customer service over the past year, with 52.9% of U.S. and 43.8% of U.K. respondents registering their disappointment. If nearly half of a company’s consumer interactions are disappointing, that company will have a difficulty in maintaining brand trust for the long term.

Need #5:  Protect my data.

Despite GDPR, CCPA and a host of other data privacy regulations, consumers are still not confident that companies are protecting their personal information. In our survey, more than one-quarter (25.8% of U.S. and 26% of U.K.) of respondents acknowledged wanting more transparency regarding how companies use their personal information.

While providing resources to help consumers protect their personal information by offering tools to opt-out, stop tracking and “forgetting” – all cornerstones of compliance with GDPR and CCPA – companies may not be making it transparent or easy enough for the average consumer. Providing easy access for customers to review their data privacy settings and data histories as well as concise and clear language, instead of legalese, for opting out could aid in the transparency that customers seek.

Data security is critical to retaining customers

Keeping data secure while providing responsive customer service is a challenging feat. Companies can build trust by providing their customers with clear options for requesting their data and instructions on what they can opt out of and how. Let them know what you are doing to protect their information. Train customer service agents on how to ease concerns that may come up during a phone or digital interaction. If you need to collect personal information through automated technology, let customers know upfront what is safe to share and what you will never ask them to transmit via an unsecured channel. Then reward the customers by letting them know what they’ll receive from sharing their information whether it is personal recommendations for purchases or better customer care.

Access our survey, 2020 CGS Customer Services Preferences in Times of Distress, to understand the rapidly evolving needs of your customers during a crisis as well as the current pandemic.


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