What do ordinary companies have what big techs don’t? What qualities are the envy of the likes of Google, Facebook or Amazon? The answer is pure and simple: trust.
Standing out among competitors by being exceptionally open in customer relationships is not that difficult, as this is still fairly unusual and a novelty. What’s harder is to find a company that has combined data processing, customer interaction and customer engagement into their corporate social responsibility (CSR) work. CSR is now starting to gain a whole new dimension from data, as all the bytes of data collected on customers raises questions and sentiments everywhere. Part of the reason for this situation is the inaccessibility and facelessness of the top digital service providers from the individual perspective.
The key ingredient in the recipe for building trust is customer interaction, the importance of which can’t be overstated when it comes to digital services. Traditional SMEs and large established companies have so far failed to fully capitalise on their best asset: the trust of their customers that it has taken years to build as a natural outcome of consistent activity and investments. Besides making a company special, it also provides competitive edge. This is why it should be an integral and prominent part of corporate social responsibility work, customer strategy and in formulating customer experience goals.
Customers as protagonists in company value creation
When a company is genuinely human-driven, it shows in practice and not just in words. This requires a paradigm shift: are you looking at the customer journey on behalf of the customer, through the eyes of your business or genuinely from the customer’s point of view, in terms of the individual?
A human-driven approach dictates that the customers are a conspicuous and, on their own terms, influential feature of a company’s activities.
The development and commitment to certain data practices should be included in every company’s CSR policies. The monitoring of these policies should be documented in CSR reports. Data itself should be seen as an element of CSR in its own right, not only as background material for emissions or savings indicators. CSR is especially important with respect to personal data as it brings us into an area where we are dealing with fundamentals such as a person’s right to privacy. By giving customers an insight into and tools to manage their own data we will not only ensure individual autonomy but also trust.
Making practical examples work
Sitra’s publication Corporate social responsibility encompasses data (2020) introduced a number of methods for businesses to promote the responsible and fair use of data. It listed customer interaction as one of the key means of promoting human-driven and fair use of data. But how to improve data responsibility practices interactively with consumer-customers? These were some of the questions explored by the workshops we organised for businesses in early 2021, the results of which will be published later this spring.
Human-driven thinking does not come automatically. We more often focus on the technological and regulatory framework of service and product development. Or we might talk about data-driven thinking but forget all the things we should consider before data can be accessed and used. Do people in my company know why our customers are willing to share data with us and do they know what the benefits are to themselves? Are we communicating clearly and sufficiently about these issues?
There’s an obvious need to think about how we acknowledge the individual customer or consumer’s perspective in our organisations’ data policies. This is a demanding exercise requiring dialogue across organisational boundaries, a genuine interest in the topic and the right tools.
Customer interaction as a building block of a responsible data policy offers new insights into an organisation’s data practices. More information and a summary of the workshop materials are available on the project website. We will publish an article on the outcomes of our work in May.