25 May 2018: GDPR or the re(birth) of customer relations

Open Forum of Nathalie Schulz, CEO DQE Software

25 May 2018…a date that resonates like an axe for many companies: it’s the day on which the GDPR*, the European legislation on data protection will come into effect.

Brands have the option of adopting two strategies to deal with this deadline. They either “obey and comply”, that is they develop a personal data protection process to comply with the regulation (which is already a huge challenge); or they “see beyond” the legal constraint and consider GDPR as an opportunity to (finally) overhaul the fundamentals of customer relations, to serve their business.

From the richest to the most complex: the paradoxical story of customer relations

In period 0 of customer relations, the situation is simple. The customer and the brand are like two actors in a Molière drama, caught in the same unity of time, place and action. The customer interacts with the merchant at a point of sale. If the merchant is pleasant, the customer returns. Customer relation does exist, but it has not become a tool yet.

In period 1, the merchant becomes conscious that ensuring the customer’s return is good for business, he therefore develops a loyalty programme. He starts with cards that are stamped for each purchase, which give entitlement to discounts or rewards after a specific number of purchases. All interactions continue to take place at the point of sale and the seller initiates and orchestrates the customer relation.

In period 2, driven by the Internet, and the existence of multiple contact points, the customer relation becomes more elaborate. The cards evolve into broader loyalty programmes, which, in addition to rewarding purchases, allow brands to propose multichannel promotional offers, taking into account information gleaned from the customers’ profile and their history with the brand. The interaction with the customer grows richer and is no longer limited to the physical point of sale alone.

But in period 3, with the advent of big data, things become more complicated. On paper, however, with the access to predictive and behavioural models, or even artificial intelligence, brands discover the Holy Grail of customer relations: the ability to chat with your prospective customers anywhere, anytime. Listening to your customers, wherever they may be, and hearing their preferences. Leaving behind mass communication, to build a truly personalized relationship, creator of experience and trust.

It all gets complicated because while most brands embrace this new period of hyper-personalization, a lot of them are happy to work with barely reliable data organized in silos, to build relational programs, which sometimes end up looking like labyrinths. For customers, who have become omni-channel by nature, the customer journey then becomes a genuine obstacle course: endless forms, difficulties in accessing a customer service beyond FAQs, online activation of a loyalty card obtained in the store, etc. …. From striving to become the richest, brands have often contributed, despite their best efforts, to creating highly complex relations.

The GDPR, a unique opportunity to return to the fundamentals of customer relations

By compelling brands to adopt the new standards on customer data collection and management, the GDPR could very well offer them the perfect excuse to say goodbye to the excessive dehumanization of customer relations.

Because the legislation hinges on a basic principle: the obligation of consent. Basically, brands are being asked: ”by the way, has your customer agreed to talk to you?” In this context, finding consent, as soon as possible and at all levels, becomes a strategic goal. And what better opportunity to once again make people the centre of the process, to transform each interaction with the brand into a lever for collecting information, while achieving the consent goal?

This implies setting up a virtuous circle which helps you to enrich customer knowledge and continuously populate this personalized information: clienteling applications equipped with DQM** tools, in order to focus on the entry of value added data; simplified and secure web forms, fun push notification campaigns, proposing an offer to customers while encouraging them to reveal more information about themselves …

Brands will also have to thoroughly review customer data quality to guarantee the reliability of the data: matching cross-channel data (eliminating dual entries and duplicates), auto-completion in real time in forms available to the customer and the customer consultant, real time verification of entered data.

The process therefore involves reinventing a customer journey that can be used to simply and safely collect data while delivering the best experience. A new data collection mechanism in which sales consultants working from an agency, store, call centre customer service, become the vibrant force of an effective customer relationship and key players in the process to restore the magic to the relationship between brands and their customers.

While 90% of French people today say they are concerned by the use of their personal data***, the GPDR is offering brands the opportunity to begin the latest period in customer relations. A period where data is at the service of human beings, to create a relationship built on trust. A period in which digital technology is the catalyst for a personalized customer experience.

*GPDR – General Data Protection Regulations

**Data Quality Management

***CSA - “Les français et la protection de leurs données personnelles” (The French and the protection of their personal data) September 2017