It pays to be honest about thefts of data

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When Ashley Stockwell – the subject of Marketing Week’s cover story this week – was at Virgin Media, he told me that it was getting to the point where none of the broadband providers could promise perfect, uninterrupted, faultless and fast broadband all the time. He reckoned the battle in that sector over the next few years would be played out in the customer service space.

Sony’s operations and customer data, we find this week, have been hacked into twice. The first thing we knew, (a week too late going by the sentiment of many of the 77 million customers whose personal data was compromised), was that hackers had been able to access customer information across the Sony PlayStation network. We now learn that a similar breach of Sony Online Entertainment’s security took place a month ago.

In the light of how long it took Sony to admit the PlayStation security violation, there may be scepticism surrounding Sony’s claim that it only learned of this new intrusion last Monday.

Other brands have suffered a similar fate, with Marks & Spencer, Play.com and TripAdvisor all admitting to recent thefts of customer data.

Even though it is similar to being burgled when your data is compromised, it would be daft to assume these security breaches are going to go away.

Brands are doing ever more to give their customers the sort of products and offers they desire. The aim is also to make such transactions and communications as seamless and convenient to the end user as possible. Customers want to shop online, have their groceries delivered, receive offers by text and to experience great, personalised service and content from their favourite brands across all platforms.

To do this, data platforms and the use of them need to evolve. With all this new data being crunched and ever newer ways to access services, goods and content, there will always be a few clever people who find the flaws in such systems before anybody else and expose them through criminal activity.

When such flaws are identified and fixed, the hackers will move on and find another hole we didn’t know about where they can do their work.

What will separate the brands that remain trusted from those that lose brand reputation will be how fast and well these flaws and data thefts are communicated.

Don’t promise your customers that it will not happen to your brand. Instead, be swift to fix problems and over-communicate at all times. Your focus on providing great service and commitment to the customer when things go wrong could be your legacy.

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