As you scamper your merry way over the playgrounds of the internet you will accumulate logins to various locations – forums, shopping sites, services – in return the companies that run the sites get your email address and a few bits and bobs about you.
This is like crack to them.
If you manage to toggle the obligatory “tick me if you do want to not get the occasional newsletter” check box correctly at the bottom of the form you may never hear from them again. Well done. But sometimes you DO want to receive their newsletter.
I have no problem with companies I like having my details, I appreciate Firebox emailing me new and shiny things and the day just would not be complete without my Daily Dilbert (tell me I’m not the only one who is convinced Scott Adams hides in the cupboard in my office and then draws what happened yesterday for today?).
But what really frustrates me is when these companies don’t make sensible – or any – use of the data they have on me.
A number of companies have my birth date – but only a small percentage of shopping sites email me congratulations and tempting me with the chance of buying myself a present.
Why? It is NOT hard to use data intelligently and treat it as information.
My day-to-day world revolves around a rather excellent Document Management and Collaboration System (http://www.unit4collaboration.com), I deal with data and information day in and day out and I’m afraid it has become one of my passions – it may help if you imagine me climbing onto my soap box round about now.
Data and information are different things. Data is pointless without context, once you give it a context and actually DO something with it it becomes information, and informaiton is power. What these companies have on us is data, but if they spent even a little time looking at it they could turn it into information that would become extremely powerful. For example, a shopping website knows that you always send a package to a Mr X around the middle of January and you always use express delivery – how many years in a row would you have to do this before they worked out that you always manage to forget your second-cousin’s birthday until the last minute? If that company emailed you to remind you wouldn’t you feel some loyalty towards them, some warmth that for once, this year your Great Aunt Nora wont tut at you for forgetting her beloved darling’s birthday?
Let me put it another way – Information is where the money is. Conversely, mis-use of data, or the lack of translating data into information can cause a company to lose money and/or potential revenue – and even worse, it may even lose it its reputation.
What kicked all of this off? I’m glad you asked… A few days ago I received an email – a ‘special offer’ – from a company that I had signed up with over a year and a half ago. This email made me hopping mad at the complete disregard for the information they held on me. It would have been so simple for them to realise that the mail shot they sent me was wholly inappropriate on many many levels but did they? No, they went ahead and because of this carelessness and lack of attend to the big picture they not only do they made themselves look stupid but damaged the reputation of the company they were promoting.
I received an email from hitched.co.uk offering me £200 off a wedding dress.
Slightly peculiar but innocent enough you may think – no, not when you consider that when signing up for hitched.co.uk they ask you for the prospective date of your wedding – as far as hitched.co.uk are concerned I am already married.
What type of company sends offers for wedding dresses to respectably married woman!?
And if on the off chance – as in my case – the recipient turned out to not be married in the end, wouldn’t you think that sending such an offer – complete with imagery of smiling, supposedly happy brides – to someone who thought they would get married but then didn’t wasn’t entirely tactful?
Companies out there I beg of you, use your data sensibly – is really isn’t hard to prevent issues like this occurring if you just look at the data you have about your customer base and by applying a little bit of logic, turn that into useful information. Information that if used correctly may just save you from losing customers.