Survey: Consumers willing to share personal data for deals, better customer service

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Consumer surveys have repeatedly shown the public’s ambivalence about digital privacy. When there’s a clear value exchange or concrete reason for information sharing, consumers will do it — but typically not without some hesitation.

A new survey by YouGov, conducted for [24]7 in March, asked more than 1,000 US adults about their feelings on a range of customer-experience issues tied to personalization and privacy. The survey data can be spun either as a win for personalization or as a partial repudiation of it.

Personalization was broadly defined in the survey as any of the following: “e-mail, age, location, browsing history, preferences, previous purchases, etc.” There was a clear hierarchy of reasons for sharing information. The top three responses were deals, customer service improvements and self-checkout (payments). A small minority (15 percent) were interested in targeted ads.

Reasons for sharing personal data

Just under half (47 percent) of survey respondents agreed with the statement, “The more personal information I share with a company, the higher my expectations are for a better customer experience.” They gave mostly positive grades to the following industries regarding personal data use and the overall experience:

  • Insurance (e.g., healthcare, home, auto) — 50 percent
  • Financial services (e.g., banking, loans, investing) — 48 percent
  • Travel and hospitality — 43 percent
  • Retail/e-commerce — 42 percent
  • Utilities (e.g., water, electricity, gas, waste) — 40 percent
  • Telecommunications (e.g., cable, phone, internet) — 38 percent

Only in the case of Telecom were negative scores higher than positive ones. Between 18 and 26 percent of respondents in each of these categories said “don’t know.” Retail and Telecom had the highest strong-negative scores, each with 23 percent saying personal data were being used “not very well.”

A sizable group (31 percent) said they were unwilling to share personal data for any reason. And many of the survey respondents had negative feelings about personalization overall. Just under 30 percent said “I don’t like it when companies have my information when I don’t explicitly provide it.”

Overall feelings about personal data sharing

Here are the main reasons that people were bothered by personalized messages or promotions:

  • It felt like an invasion of privacy — 32 percent
  • It was not relevant to my interests — 29 percent
  • I felt the company didn’t understand my wants and needs — 11 percent
  • The timing was off, the message came when it was not relevant to me — 8 percent

The survey findings are kind of like an ink blot: you’ll see what you want to see. Based on this survey and others like it, it’s clear that consumers will share data for tangible benefits, especially if asked for permission to use their data. In many cases, they also appreciate personalization for the associated efficiencies (e.g., better customer service, faster checkout).

However, it’s at least equally true that companies often get personalization wrong, and it feels creepy and invasive to consumers — especially when they haven’t opted in to share information.

About The Author

Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog, Screenwerk, about connecting the dots between digital media and real-world consumer behavior. He is also VP of Strategy and Insights for the Local Search Association. Follow him on Twitter or find him at Google+.


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