Customer information (continued): If we build it, will they come?

One of the questions that keeps popping up when people discuss “giving the customer’s information back to the customer” is:

Is the customer ready for this?

This is not a trivial point. The social and cultural aspects of such a move need to be thought out and prepared for, one of the reasons why this hasn’t happened as yet. So let’s take a look at what has been happening, but perhaps with a slightly sideways perspective.

One. We have started the process of giving the customer control of transaction execution. Any purchase/fulfilment on the web, even checking in for a flight. We have started the process of providing the customer transparency of the transaction’s status. Fedex. UPS. Amazon. eBay. Everyone’s got it. We have started the process of providing the customer transparency of information held about the customer, in terms of Freedom of Information or Data Protection or whatever. Now all we are talking about is transferring the responsibility of looking after the customer’s own relatively static information to the customer. How different is this from my being in control of my preferences for Amazon or eBay or the Wall Street Journal online. Establish who I am. Indicate what I am interested in, and not interested in. Go through some process of validating my financial status formally; an example would be getting “verified” status on PayPal. And bingo, there I am.

From a consumerisation perspective we have already taken step one of “giving the customer’s information back to the customer”. What consumer product/service providers have not yet done is step two, allowing the customer to share information about vendor A-related activity with vendor B. And this will happen. Despite the wholly predictable pushback from the product/service vendors, who lose a layer of lock-in as a result.
From an institutional perspective there is much to do, given where we are now. The vendor-lock-in argument is even more compelling here, with institutions largely unable to accept or sometimes even comprehend the implications of such a move, that of allowing the customer to share “your” activity information with a competitor. But it will happen. Only a matter of time.

Before we even go into the nature of the technology underpinning all this, in terms of identity formats and microformats, public and private keys, the nature of the encryption, the federated versus centralised models, how trust is conferred and authenticated, what kind of 1000lb gorillas are needed, the role of biometrics, the need for multifactor authentication processes, transaction guarantees and the process involved in guaranteeing, privacy protection, appropriateness of solutions for anti-money-laundering and identity theft protection and the economics of large scale provision of related infrastructure, we need to get the first question answered. Is the customer ready for this?

I can only speak for myself. Would I like to share my eBay activity with Christies or Bonhams or Sothebys? Would I like to share my British Airways activity with Lufthansa and United and Virgin? My hotel and car activity? My books and music activity? Yes yes yes.

I get to control my core “static” information. Who else knows this as well as I do? I get it verified by an independent arbiter, much like I need a birth certificate to get a passport. I choose whom I share what with.

I choose. I look after. I am the beneficiary.

That’s the key.

Then I can get all the downstream benefits of collaborative filtering and recommendations. Then my marketplaces get all the benefits of democratised reputation and rating and profiling and prediction.

A lot has to change. And will change. Provided the plan is: I choose. I look after. I am the beneficiary.

2 thoughts on “Customer information (continued): If we build it, will they come?”

  1. Interesting point and yes, I think the customer is ready to take back control of their data. By giving control back to the customer, businesses will benefit from better quality and up-to-date data. They will also spend less time in managing outdated data etc.

    A UK based company, iamdentity Ltd, has taken this to practice. They have created a unique service whereby an individual has a single online identity managed safely in one place. This is not only safe and convenient, but also pratical.

    If you move, you only update your data in once place and whenever you log into an iamdentity enabled website, your details are automatically updated. You also have complete control over who gets what data from you.

    It’s time that people feel safe on the Internet again. Have a look at and decide for yourself.

  2. I don’t think it is a question of whether the customer is ready to take control, it is getting to a point where the customer will start to assist companies to give them this ability. It is an interesting point Philip made – or rather, the concept of iamdentity. If I take myself for example, the number of places I have registered and all the versions of my personal detail out there – how will companies force me to take control if there is not a central registration point? I honestly do not have time to manually go to every site storing my detail and making sure it is up to date. I have multiple accounts with most of the big players – simply because I cant remember what email I used, what my username or password was and it take too long to figure it all out. If however, companies can give me the ability to manage a single profile, that will be possible, as seem is what iamdentity is doing – enabling companies to give the control back to the customer.

Let me know what you think