02/03/2015 09:48 GMT | Updated 28/04/2015 06:59 BST

Personalisation and Privacy: Is There an Ethical Dilemma?

People are understandably protective over their personal information. Most of us like privacy and we don't particularly want companies knowing the ins and outs of our lives. This was backed up by a study of US citizens by TRUSTe that found that the vast majority of people worry about their online privacy.

That's no surprise, but customer data is useful. It gives the insight needed to create more effective marketing campaigns and improve products, leading to increased conversions. Personalising your company website or email marketing campaign are two ways to achieve this.

Businesses are increasingly adopting personalisation to hit both user experience and sales goals, resulting in increased conversions and engagement. One company found that personalisation increased email open rates by 4.5%. These are signs of happy customers, but data needs to be collected to do it.

Luckily a study of 2,000 UK and US citizens from Accenture found that 85% of respondents knew websites tracked their behaviour to offer better deals and that 73% said they preferred companies who used their personal data to tailor their shopping experience. But the key finding here is that 88% want control over their data and how companies use it.

This isn't just about being open about the data you collect and how you use it, it's also about giving customers some say in what you do with it. This is what will ultimately make customers feel comfortable about sharing their information.

Consent is key


Image: Matthias Ripp

Always make it clear to the customer what you're going to be doing with the data they give you. Even if it's filling out a form, point out that the information will be used to personalise your site for them on their return visit. Just because they're handing over information when they're buying something, doesn't mean you can't be clear about what happens with that data afterwards.

It's also worth mentioning that you track a user's journey through a site so you can improve their experience next time. You don't have to plaster this information all over the site, especially as we know many customers assume this already, but even dedicated a section on their site to your data policy with examples of how it's used works well. It offers clarity and gives peace of mind to your users.

Another important part of consent is the ability to rescind it as well. Consent exists for only as long as it's given, so you must give your customers the chance to change their mind about how you use their data. Based on the Accenture study, you're going to make 88% of your customers happier by doing this.

How to collect the data

The best way to get data is to have your customers self-submit it. Not only does this include their consent, but it increases the accuracy of the information itself. This is especially true if you provide a range of services or products but customers tend to want just one or two. They can tailor the information they give you to avoid getting offers for irrelevant products or services.

Another good option is to use social logins to garner data. Again, this involves the customer consenting, while you can make clear what information you'll be accessing by doing this. It can give you a very in-depth profile of the user, meaning you'll be in a good position to personalise the site based on this. As people we struggle to remember all of our interests at one time, so by tapping into a continuously updated database like Facebook, you don't have to worry about missing any opportunities.

It's also worth reconsidering the use of third party data sources. Employ first party data collection techniques to ensure relevancy and to build trust with your customer. Collect yourself and with consent and you'll put yourself in the best position to use that data effectively.