Factors and Challenges Opposing Customer Service Personalization

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“Market research indicates that data privacy concerns are at an all-time high. An estimated 92% of US internet users worry about their online privacy,” – Gartner.com

Various streams of human endeavour have powered human history down the ages. Politics, warfare, conflict, scientific discovery, technology, and economic activity are some of the defining motifs of human history. In the modern age, economic liberalization accompanied by an explosion in consumer electronic technologies have occupied centre stage. Customer service personalization represents one of the strategies that have gained momentum in recent times. Brands and businesses have deployed such strategies to capture customer dollars, gain a competitive edge over other market players, and impose their writ on commercial activities. However, certain challenges have emerged in reaction to the personalization trends in modern consumer markets. We intend to examine some of these in the paragraphs below.

Customer data privacy or the protection of personal information is a major issue that has emerged in modern commercial paradigms. This has emerged primarily as a reaction to intrusive information practices that underlie customer service personalization techniques. We note that the mass proliferation of information technologies such as websites, social media, marketing emails, web browsing, text messages, etc. have generated humongous amounts of unstructured digital information. Brands and businesses have created strategies to collect, monitor, aggregate, and analyse such information for commercial purposes. However, modern customers may not be willing to share personal information in the interests of safeguarding their privacy. This trend conflicts directly with customer service personalization and therefore, commercial organizations must consider these objections seriously.

Business strategists and brand managers must consider consumers and customers as empowered entities that may not act in consonance with the will of the market. Businesses should not force consumers to disclose their personal information. In addition, business operators must respect the consumer’s right to information privacy and put in place policies that uphold such rights. Further, customer service personalization strategies should be tweaked to include safeguards that protect customer information. For instance, marketing emails are a common device that pitch products and services to consumers. These instances of attractively packaged commercial communication attract consumer attention and may result in future transactions. We note that these instances of legitimate brand communications must have built-in safeguards such as ‘deregister’ buttons that enable consumers to disengage from future brand communications. This represents an instance of responsible marketing practices that incorporates customer service personalization and safeguards the individual’s right to privacy.

Market regulators are a fact of life in most modern industries. These have been instituted by governments to ensure a level playing ground and to safeguard the rights of various stakeholders such as consumers. Regulators must take the lead in constructing frameworks that block intrusive marketing practices. For instance, financial market regulators have ample scope to ensure that consumers of financial products are shielded from aggressive marketing practices that hawk products consumers may not need. We note that the financial services industry takes recourse to customer service personalization in a bid to sell financial products that may not necessarily align with the customer’s best interests. Data-driven personalization must therefore be limited keeping in view the legitimate rights of the consumer. This assumes significance in light of the fact that appropriate service frameworks help to arrest any leakages of the customer’s private information, thereby blocking any scope for future malfeasance.

A multiplicity of market operators such as Internet service providers, commercial cellular service operators, the designers of web browsers, the architects of mobile apps, anti-virus software manufacturers, and electronic point of sale operators must come together to arrest the potential leakage of consumers’ electronic footprints. We note that all the above entities operate at the intersection of significant scope of data leakage and major commercial imperatives. In point of fact, modern customer service personalization strategies take root and proceed from the said intersection. Therefore, these entities should be advised to observe strict protocols that reduce the unintended and unauthorised data streams that essentially underlie online malfeasance. That said, we note that modern consumers should also be educated to adopt information best practices designed to arrest the indiscriminate creation of electronic footprints.

Brands and businesses must take the initiative to promote responsible business practices. This must form an integral part of the corporate mandate because they help to consolidate customer trust and to boost consumer goodwill. These are intangible but priceless business assets that can enable a business enterprise to succeed in the long-term. Therefore, modern businesses should view customer service personalization through the prism of serving the customer over an extended period of time and not for the purpose of securing quick commercial gains. We note that a change in mind-sets should help businesses to achieve a certain degree of self-regulation and empower them to achieve this critical mandate.

The various online activities of modern consumers represent the data fountains that generate electronic information. These streams of information are instrumental in the creation of customer service personalization strategies. Consequently, market regulators and think tanks should help to educate consumers about the requirement to secure chat histories, IP addresses, web-surfing behaviour, online search histories, social network activities, and location data. New paradigms can be created that regulate commercial access to such information and block illegal attempts to tap such data. Market regulators and government bodies can be tasked to create such frameworks in the interests of safeguarding customer data. The alternative scenario lies in a mindless dystopia that underlies a reckless use of personal information to serve the crass interests of hard line commercial operations.

Unregulated third parties that obtain customer data through illicit means pose an interesting challenge to customer service personalization techniques. The Internet lists many instances wherein large troves of customers’ electronic data were illegally acquired by shadowy entities for sale in the information ‘black market’. Major Internet brands have faced and succumbed to such attacks and have publicly acknowledged these as such. These examples point to the dangers of compiling and storing personal information through electronic means. Therefore, brands and businesses must join forces to defeat such illegal activities because these can put at risk personal information to the detriment of legitimate customers and bona fide members of the public.

Certain aspects of customer behaviour can be moulded or corrected with a view to defeat standard customer service personalization techniques. For instance, customers can be educated to exercise discretion in their online behaviour and activities. Modern consumers must be discourage online conversations with chat bots that are routinely deployed on the Internet in a bid to extract customer information. These customers may demand to speak to a human customer service representative in a bid to defeat information harnessing mechanisms. These tactics can reach a critical mass and thereby choke the indiscriminate generation and retention of personal information by commercial entities. These techniques validate the logic enshrined in the old adage ‘prevention is better than cure’.

In the preceding paragraphs, we have examined some of the techniques and tactics that pose challenges to customer service personalization. Every brand and business should acknowledge the fact that self-regulation is a worthy long-term strategy that will serve the interests of a business enterprise well into the future. These businesses should also repose faith in the sanctity of personal information and construct paradigms that respect the customers’ right to privacy.

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