Fear of inadequate protection of personal data has compelled 50% of consumers in the USA to either avoid or abandon doing business with companies, according to a new Accenture survey of US consumers and businesses.
The survey, which examined consumer and business views about privacy, trust, and access to personal data, revealed a noticeable gap between business and consumers on these topics. This finding may be due in part to another key finding: that businesses and consumers have very different ideas about what engenders, and what undermines, trust.
Who trusts who?
Accenture found that consumers' actions regarding personal data are not always consistent with their stated beliefs about data privacy issues. In general, they trust their employers, banks, and HMO/health insurance providers the most with their private information, while trusting online retailers and supermarkets the least.
Interestingly, consumers overestimated the amount of personal information that companies are permitted to collect about them, while businesses acknowledged collecting some consumer data to which they believe they are not entitled.
"In an age where technology links people, devices, objects, companies and information systems in a global network, there are profound privacy and trust implications," said Accenture chief scientist, Glover Ferguson. "In many cases businesses respond to this kind of rapid change reactively, contributing to this chasm of trust. Companies must take a new approach to privacy, not focusing merely on compliance with privacy laws but also on building trusted relationships with customers."
The trust gap between businesses and consumers was reflected in a number of areas, including the question of what undermines trust. For example, 74% of businesses blamed online security fears for compromising consumer trust, while 67% of consumers cited aggressive marketing as the factor that undermines their trust in a business.
Businesses and consumers also have differing ideas about what engenders trust. Business respondents most frequently (43%) cited positive customer service as most instrumental in positively influencing trust, while nearly two-thirds (62%) of consumers said that trust most often results from either a company's reputation or the length of their relationship with it.
"This discrepancy points to a need for companies to better educate consumers about the kind of information collected, and why," warned Ferguson. "Most consumers said they would be more trusting if companies were more forthcoming about how they use personal data."
Actions louder than words
The survey also highlighted inconsistencies between consumers' beliefs and their actions regarding personal data and trust. For instance, although nearly two-thirds (63%) said they worry that sharing personal information would result in unsolicited e-mail and telephone calls, a greater proportion (69%) said they would be willing to surrender personal information in exchange for rewards such as cash, convenience, or bonus points.
"Companies must address these very legitimate concerns, as the issue of privacy and trust will continue to grow in importance, particularly with the emergence of radio frequency identification (RFID) and other technologies," explained Ferguson. "These technologies have raised concerns among some consumers who think they can be used to eavesdrop."
But, on the other hand, Ferguson also highlights the danger of businesses not maximising the insight gained from customer data and new technologies. "Rather than posing a hurdle to overcome, companies should instead view their customers' privacy needs as an opportunity through which they can differentiate themselves as trust leaders, and increase their financial value."
Accenture conducted the online survey in November 2003. Of the 570 respondents, 347 were consumers and 223 were privacy officers, marketing executives, or customer relationship management (CRM) executives.