A few years ago, while I was in the agency side handling social media mandates for clients, there was one client for whom we had set-up a comprehensive social media monitoring and response system.
The client was not willing to spend money on tools, so it was a hands-on manual system with a fairly sound process.
In one customer interaction instance where the customer was asking about some details of a product, we saw the opportunity to go beyond what is usually expected. We did a background check on him – his location, to be specific – and offered the contact number of the manager a showroom (of the product) closest to him without mentioning that it was the closest to him.
Needless to add, the customer (prospect) was floored and wrote back to us that our assistance (via Facebook) was extremely helpful and pointed.
In another instance, with another customer and another client, he was interested in a particular kind of product from our client. We went one step ahead – compared to the above example – dug up his location (to help him with the retail outlet closest to him), took a copy of his pic from LinkedIn (it was open to all, anyway) and shared it with the retail outlet’s manager. We asked him to greet the customer by name (since he has the photo) as he enters the showroom and start talking about the two specific queries the customer had, about the product in question.
Since we planned this to perfection, everything worked like clockwork – the customer was amazed by the experience and placed his order to buy the product then and there! Not just that, he even blogged about the experience.
I assume most organizations mature enough to use social media well have figured a way to add context to any customer interaction by using freely available information about them, online. This is not a privacy violation – or, will not be seen as one… or as creepy, as long as the information is used within context and to further any customer interaction.
Dailymail reports, ‘Staff at the airline are carrying iPads giving them instant access to customer data, including passengersâ€™ travel history, meal requests and details of any previous complaints. They will also use Google Images to search for pictures to link with passenger profiles, helping staff to identify them next time they fly. British Airways says the â€˜Know Meâ€™ scheme will improve customer service by making it more personalised‘.
Telegraph adds, ‘The system also identifies data on passengers who may have encountered problems in the past so that they can “go the extra mile” for them’.
Both publications also raise privacy related concerns around this plan.
Nick Pickles, director of privacy group Big Brother Watch, is quoted in Dailymail, saying, ‘Fundamentally British Airways have not asked their passengersâ€™ permission to search Google to find their picture or any other information’. That’s an interesting argument, but I’m not sure if it holds.
Should passengers explicitly give permission to British Airways… or any organization or individual to search information about them? Isn’t what they do with such information ideally the one falling under privacy laws? Or is even the mere act of searching such information – when it is publicly available, archived and searchable – unlawful under privacy laws?
Taking this argument one level above – what can an organization do with such information? If a customer tweets – with or without the brand’s handle – about some complaint about the brand, why can’t they address it offline, on an email or a phone call? It may not be seen as a privacy intrusion given the customer has bothered enough to tweet about it and make his grouse public.
The news of British Airways new process has been covered in CNET as well and they take it to new extremes. CNET’s Chris Matyszczyk adds a situation:
However, would I find it disturbing if, on checking in with an airline, the member of staff said: “Loved your post yesterday about men who code naked.”
This, in my opinion, is out of context chit-chat that adds no value whatsoever to the customer interaction process. And is also obviously inappropriate, if I may add.
If, for instance, the staff said, ‘Aisle seat, Sir. As you prefer’, based on a tweet of the customer who mentioned that he always prefers aisle seat by default, may not be seen as a creepy intrusion. It is in the interest of the customer and enhances the relationship by being personalized.
So, I’m not entirely sure if the privacy bells can start ringing right away – it is not in the fact that information is being dug out – from public sources no less – but about what is being done with that information.
If privacy watchdogs are making correlation between the mere fact of digging up information and its eventual misuse or improper use (due to inadequate training), that may be jumping the gun too soon. If, however, there is history of organizations using such public information inappropriately, then I guess they do have a case.
Photo courtesy – Truste.com