Data & Empathy: How Your Organization Can Have Both

Profit versus social consciousness... logic versus emotion. It’s a well-established dichotomy in the business world. Either you’re a ruthless money-hungry predator or you’re a soft-hearted pushover, so the generalization goes. Nothing’s ever that simple, of course — and as younger generations have become more attuned to the broader issues that face the world, they’ve helped spur a movement towards ethical compromises.

Central to this new way of doing things is being responsible with data. Customer data is one of the most valuable things a business can collect, making it possible to identify new business opportunities, exploit patterns to sell more and provide personalized experiences — but there have been enough problems with data being misused or leaked to produce a backlash.

Today, a business must use all available resources to thrive, but never lose sight of the wider implications of its actions. In short, it must possess data and empathy. Challenging? Perhaps. Impossible? Far from it. Here’s how you can manage it:

Use the data to help your customers

The best possible result of having access to useful data from your customers is that you achieve mutual benefit. You make money, and they get value in the form of personalized experiences — a business exchange works best when everyone involved views it as a net positive. But some companies prefer to use data exclusively behind the scenes, never telling anyone how exactly it’s affecting anything.

Don’t take that approach, whatever you do. The long-term perception of your company relies on you clearly using the data you collect to make your customer experience better. When you make a change to how you operate or start using a particular piece of information to customize something, inform everyone very clearly. Experimentation is fine, as long as it’s justified. Consequently, they should have fewer reservations about providing more details in the future.

Think about how effectively Amazon uses purchase data to provide shoppers with personalized recommendations. People don’t object to it because it’s useful and appropriate — if it weren’t, they might well be somewhat more concerned. It’s difficult to get the balance right, and easy to make a giant mistake (I tend to think about Target’s teenage pregnancy fiasco from years back), but you can do it if you give it some clear thought.

Openly gather detailed feedback

There’s no reason why the collection of customer data needs to be some kind of clandestine operation relying on fragmented context-free metrics. If you want to know what your customers think, and what they care about, you can simply ask them. A mixture of surveys and social media conversations can provide you with a great overview.

What’s particularly great about this approach is that it allows your customers to feel that you care enough about what they have to say to want the full story. Piecing together snippets of analytical data is closer to rummaging through someone’s bins, hunting for clues about what they’ve been eating and where they’ve been shopping.

It’s also a great lead-in to UGC, or user-generated content. When you encounter a customer who’s particularly happy with their customer experience, you can note down their feedback, then parlay it into asking them if they’d be willing to write a post about their experiences, or even be featured in a case study.

There are fewer things more effective at communicating both “we care about analytics” and “we care about people” than comprehensive customer case studies: they relay the core metrics of success and the greater personal consequences from the perspective of the beneficiary. Start working them into your content strategy and you’ll see positive results.

Adhere to the letter and spirit of GDPR

GDPR, or the General Data Protection Regulation, came into effect in the EU on May 25th 2018, but has majorly changed how data protection is perceived around the globe. It strongly restricts how much data a business can store, how it can store it and what it can do with it — the intention was to stop companies from gathering massive quantities of data in secret.

Since that day, companies everywhere have scrambled to follow the new requirements, even when they’re not legally required to (they apply to EU companies, as well as companies storing data concerning citizens of EU countries). The reason for this is that the commotion around GDPR pushed data protection into mainstream awareness, and the average American is just as worried about their data being abused as the average European.

Ensure that you comply with GDPR, using whatever resources you need: there are plenty of tools around that can help you implement it on your CMS. The MonsterInsights plugin brings GDPR compliance to WordPress analytics, for instance, while operators of Shopify storefronts can use the Easy GDPR + Cookie Bar or any other well-reviewed add-on (suitable even for enterprise-level selling). A cursory search will offer everything you need.

That said, there’s a difference between meeting GDPR criteria and actually caring about data protection. If you want to prove that you understand why your customers are concerned about their information, you need to change the way you approach data collection to an extent that goes beyond your legal (or perceived) obligations. Talk about data protection, explain why it matters and detail your long-term investment in it.

The fundamental mechanisms of business may not have changed, but the everyday priorities certainly have. More than ever before, it’s possible to combine smart analytical insights with an ethical approach to customer service. You just need to approach it in the right way. These tips should help — see how you fare.

Kayleigh Alexandra is a writer and campaign designer for MicroStartups, a website focused on the charity world, and microbusinesses. With years of experience in the sustainability, marketing, and creative industries, Kayleigh has an in-depth knowledge of how to grow a business from scratch. Visit her blog for your latest dose of startup, entrepreneur, and charity insights from around the globe @getmicrostarted.

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