Delivering the best service is often about understanding what makes your customers tick – recognising them, knowing their likes/dislikes, what channels they prefer to be contacted by, and even on a basic level whether they prefer to be addressed formally or informally.
In theory the huge amount of personal information now freely available online provides companies with the chance to deliver that personalised service. However at the same time as demanding improved service consumers are increasingly worried about the privacy of their online information and how it is used.
Balancing these two conflicting areas is difficult, as British Airways is currently finding. Last week the airline launched its “Know Me” system, which allows customer service representatives to access data about clients from BA’s systems, as well as information including photographs from the web. This is used at check in and by flight attendants with iPads to help identify travellers and deliver a personalised service to frequent flyers.
However it has flown into a storm, with privacy campaigners claiming that BA may be breaching the Data Protection Act by using web information in this way. The airline has hit back strongly, declaring that it is fully compliant with the law and is only using the information to improve service.
BA’s system seems to be a genuine attempt to use the resources around it to provide improved service, but the fierce criticism shows how difficult the whole area of using personal information is in the internet age. Companies need to be very sure that not only what they are doing is legal, but that it is something that customers are happy with – and if possible, have given their informed consent for. And, of course, that the improvement in customer service that it delivers is both real and long-lasting. Consequently customer service departments in companies in all sectors will be watching BA’s progress with great interest and seeing what lessons they can learn moving forward.