EY warns that the “Golden Age” of unlimited access to customer data by business could end in 2018

By Steve Wilkinson

Business executives are unprepared for the “Golden Age” of anytime, anywhere, free-for-all access to customer data coming to an end as soon as 2018, according to a recent EY online survey. While nearly half (49%) of responding consumers appear willing to restrict the amount of personal information they share with businesses over the next five year, the majority (71per cent) of executives are not preparing for a future where access to customer data is no longer free to be captured and leveraged for commercial purposes.

The online EY survey of just over 2,000 consumers and 748 senior business decision makers looks at the shift of consumers’ attitudes towards personal data sharing and the action businesses need to take to adapt their customer insight programmes accordingly. The research reveals that 48 per cent of senior decision makers are currently reliant on consumer generated data interaction that could include data, through interaction such as social media, web browsing behaviour, previous purchases and ad-clicks, to boost brand advocacy and grow revenues. Despite this, few organisations are preparing for a future where consumers start to restrict access to their personal data.

The importance of free data

Both businesses and consumers recognise the monetary value of customer insight programmes. Of those businesses that use customer insight programmes, 79 per cent believe that it boosts revenue and 25 per cent of senior decision makers surveyed think that it increases revenue a ‘fair amount’ or more. Consumers share a similar view, with 78 per cent agreeing their data enables companies to make more money. As a result, consumers are becoming increasingly selective about who they are willing to share data with. In total, nearly half (49 per cent) of consumers admit that they will be less willing to share personal information in the next five years.

Today’s customers know the information that brands are collecting. Everything from web browsing behaviour to social media and interactions with the brand can be used to improve business processes, decisions, customer experiences, and identify competitive differentiators. However, many customers have recognised that businesses are using their personal information to help grow revenues, and are starting to withdraw access to their private data.

Preparing for the Big Data backlash

Regardless of the increasing number of consumers who are less willing to share information, just a fifth (20 per cent) of business executives are concerned that customers will start to restrict the use of their personal information by companies in the next five years time. A further 28 per cent of business executives don’t think that the amount of free information that customers are willing to share will change, whilst 29 per cent admit to not knowing whether more or less of the personal data sourced from customers will be provided for free.

Companies are at odds with consumer attitudes when it comes to the collection and use of personal data. This appears to be a laissez faire attitude among business executives when it comes to how they might collect and use customer’s personal data in just a few years’ time. Instead, companies need to realise that a backlash is building among consumers who are no longer willing to share their personal data and starting to restrict the information they provide to companies.

Incentivising customers to share private information

As customers start to restrict access to their personal data, 41 per cent of senior business decision makers admit that it would present a risk to their existing business model and revenues. Despite the importance of customer insights to a business and its operations, 76 per cent of senior business decision makers still say that their business would not be prepared to incentivise or pay customers for direct access to their personal data. This highlights the stark contrast in the way that businesses and consumers view private data sharing, four-in-10 consumers agree that they would be more willing to share personal data with companies if incentivised to do so.

Business executives acknowledge the risk that a shift in consumer attitudes to private data sharing could have for their company. In spite of this, there is a reluctance to adopt incentives that encourage consumers to part with personal data. Given the high volumes of businesses that rely on customer insights, organisations need to rethink how they can engage with customers and develop new ways to capture their data in a competitive market.

The future of customer insight

When asked whether they collect, deploy and interpret customer information that allows them to acquire, develop and retain their customers, more than six-in-10 businesses (62 per cent) say they use “customer insight” programmes. However the longevity of such schemes could be at risk, with just two per cent of consumers believing they will be more willing to share personal data in five years’ time and a quarter of senior decision makers admitting they do not even know what is likely to be the main source for their business to obtain consumers’ personal data from in 10.

Many of today’s businesses are reliant on customer-generated information as an important source of data for customer insight programmes. With companies investing large sums in developing their capabilities to gather customer information as part of Big Data strategies, organisations need to start reviewing existing schemes to future-proof investments after the “Golden Age” of free information comes to an end.

About the survey

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,010 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 15th – 17th October 2013. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+). Total sample of B2B decision makers was 748. Fieldwork was undertaken between 21st – 25th October 2013. Both surveys were conducted online.

About the author

Steve Wilkinson is EY’s Managing Partner for UK & Ireland markets.

EY is a global leader in assurance, tax, transaction and advisory services. The insights and quality services we deliver help build trust and confidence in the capital markets and in economies the world over. We develop outstanding leaders who team to deliver on our promises to all of our stakeholders. In so doing, we play a critical role in building a better working world for our people, for our clients and for our communities.

EY refers to the global organisation and may refer to one or more of the member firms of Ernst & Young Global Limited, each of which is a separate legal entity. Ernst & Young Global Limited, a UK company limited by guarantee, does not provide services to clients.

For more information about our organisation, please visit www.ey.com .


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