All of us have asked ourselves how comfortable we really are with the intrusiveness of today’s technology. Some of us feel that the days of “Big Brother” are upon us, while others revel in technology’s contributions and have no fear, feeling there’s nothing to hide.

For those who lean toward the Big Brother scenario, devices’ ability to track their movements at any given time (whether across the city or across the Internet) tends to be more than a little unnerving.

That said, this same technology has the potential to significantly improve the lives of your customers. So how can we use technology’s precision to enhance the customer experience and make sure customer interactions with your organization are friendly – not frightening?

Respect Customer Privacy

Technology’s ability to gather information about your customers, and then recycle that data into platforms for strategic marketing and customer communication, is growing rapidly. Seeing offers online that are based on past purchases is becoming routine for customers, as is highly personalized and localized messaging on mobile devices.

But there’s a fine line between the delight of a location-specific offer and the feeling that a marketer is stalking the customer wherever she goes. As technology becomes more pervasive for more customers, marketers must walk that fine line very sensitively and define what’s right for each individual customer relationship.

It sounds daunting, but it’s really not. Taking a cue from personal relationships, business and customer relationships must, first and foremost, be respectful ones. And respecting the boundaries of customers is a key first step in winning their respect right back — along with their business.

Rely on Freely Given Data

How does a marketer determine where those boundaries are? First, understand that there are three types of data on which customer communications can be based: data that’s observed, data that’s inferred or data that’s freely given. Which of these three types of data you most heavily rely on to create your personalized strategies can make the difference between a message that’s happily received and one that seems a little bit creepy.

When a customer purchases a particular product at the grocery store and a marketer uses that point-of-sale information to develop messages about the same or similar products, the marketer has used observed data. It’s something most customers are comfortable with, depending on the appropriateness of the message and how, when and where it’s received.

However, if a customer purchases, say, over-age-55-specific vitamins and then begins receiving solicitations to buy walkers or adult diapers, the marketer has (unwisely) used inferred data, and the messages cross into the creepy zone.

Smart marketers will base their customer communication on the third type of data: that which is given out freely by the customer. Freely given data, or small data, in essence means that the customer has granted permission to the marketer to contact him. Loyalty programs, for instance, are a great way to first generate this type of data, then use that customer-granted permission to contact them in the future, preferably with an offer that represents high value.

It’s All About Value

Studies have shown that customers will relinquish personal information only if they receive something of value in return. Savvy marketers will then gather and use that personal data to develop appropriate value-based messages that respect customer boundaries.

Utilizing freely given small data in this way is much less risky than rolling the dice with data that’s observed or inferred. Make sure you ask customers for their permission to contact them, about how often to contact them, and put time into discovering their preferences for location-based offers, emails, texts and phone calls. When you do, you’re receiving clear parameters about your customers’ boundaries, which makes it easy to develop and send the right message, at the right time, in the right way.

When you do that, you’ve maximized the customer experience — and paved the way for even more meaningful and lucrative marketing strategies in the future.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  scragz