Scaring Customers

I talked with a grocery chain employee who shared a taste of how much data the company tracked on shoppers. Her words were a recipe for making me want to pay cash at her store except there is a surcharge for not showing your frequent shopper card.

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Her chain offers a choice. My telephone company and cable company don’t offer those choices. Neither does my ISP, which will bundle my surfing data along in a neat advertising package.

Services like Gist, Blippy, Google and the ever-ubiquitous Facebook means that you probably know a lot about your customers. And if you run a small business, your client base may be segmented fine enough where a small number of clients mean big bucks.

Monitoring them online has never been easier.

Before a friend went on a job interview, I used our competitive intelligence template to put together a dossier for her on the folks she was interviewing with. She had everything from Amazon wish lists to pictures of their homes (thanks, Google Street View) to political contributions and more.

Now, picture yourself interviewing this woman who misspeaks and shares some of this information. Wouldn’t you feel a bit violated?

But her having that information was not only easy to accomplish, but well worth her time because she could familiarize herself with things of interest to interviewers. Played smartly, that’s a great strategic advantage when competing against other job applicants.

And you can create the same advantage when talking with your clients or prospecting for new clients. Bear in mind, though, that our world has far too much information available free with little effort.

Genealogy is one of my hobbies (yes, you’re shocked that a search engine marketer likes to search history too…) and the explosion of new sites and databases has made personal privacy available to the consumer market for little or no cost. Clicking a button last week brought my brother-in-law’s birth certificate from the 1960s to my computer along with information about his parents. A few more clicks brought their information, including marriage and birth records, to me as well.

This information has long been available, but it’s only been the last few years that the data is available to everyone without qualification. And by saying the wrong thing, you could easily spook someone who wonders why you’re studying them so closely.

Your takeaway as a small business leader is to think about the information you compile and how you use that data. Sure, knowing a spouse or child’s name is great. By all mean talk about favorite sports or television shows. But tread carefully when you apply the information you’ve learned online to your conversation.

While you’re doing that, consider this wonderful video about what future privacy could look like. (Hat tip to Bill over at WinPatrol–a great security system— for posting the video and raising the questions again. And no, I won’t tell you how I know him)

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