Data Protection: Developing a Data Management Strategy

In the age of data protection laws, the need to develop a robust data management strategy is stronger than ever before. We reveal how your business can meet its data protection obligations.

Hotels deal in personal customer information – it’s the lifeblood of the hotel industry because it allows hoteliers to track preferences and tailor guest experiences.

In fact, data has become so important that it can now be considered a business asset in its own right and therefore has a financial value attached to it.

Unsurprisingly, this has attracted criminals increasing the need to protect customer data.

Confusing Data Protection

In the days when customer data was recorded on paper, the data protection strategy was simple: don’t let the ledger fall into the wrong hands and lock the filing cabinet!

However, data is stored electronically – often in multiple locations. For hoteliers utilising a cloud-based system, the data that must be protected will not even be housed on premises, but rather in another town, country or continent.

“A key consideration is that a data centre which is being used for cloud based services may well be holding data relating to multiple organisations which makes it a natural target for a hack attack,” explained Fladgate LLP partner, Anthony Lee, in a recent interview with hotel-industry.co.uk.

“That said, any data centre worth its salt will ensure that it has in place state-of-the-art technologies and robust processes to protect itself against security threats and hack attacks.”

“As to whether or not any environment can ever be regarded as truly secure, this is a relative term. For example, you can never rule out the possibility of malicious code being developed which is able to penetrate a firewall … all you can do is ensure that sensible precautions are taken.”

Low Consumer Trust

This has led to a crisis in consumer confidence regarding the security of their personal data when handing it over to hotel businesses – and many other organisations.

A recent Pitney Bowes research project revealed 31% of British consumers are unwilling to share personal data, such as age and address, with any third party at all and only four in ten (42%) say they trust their doctor/health service with their private information.

Pitney Bowes’ marketing director Phil Hutchison, warned that this may be in response to businesses deluging customers with data requests and adopting an over-familiar tone in communications; “Statistics show that even the most basic form of personalisation substantially increases response rates, it’s not surprising that marketers are hungry for more and more personal data. There is an opportunity, but only for those companies which get communication right.”

Hoteliers need to be sensitive to the level of consumer willingness – and unwillingness – to share personal information.

A one-size fits-all approach to data management is unlikely to work in the current climate.

Personal Vs Private

The Pitney Bowes survey shows there is a clear line between what is seen as personal data and what is ‘private information’. It is the minority of respondents who are unwilling to give basic transactional data details, such as date of birth (10%), postal address (13%) or email (14%). However, the trust line is crossed when these consumers are asked about private issues such as their sexual preference, (45%) religion (71%) or political persuasion (76%).

“Customers are likely to be wary of agreeing to information requests that they don’t understand. If a loyalty scheme starts asking you for your height and weight, or a bank asks about your family structure you can only wonder why!”

Developing a Data Management Strategy

Pitney Bowes recommends the following six steps:

  1. Ensure compliance with current data legislation, one slip can undermine or seriously damage your reputation
  2. Get the basics right (name, address etc) before trying to develop the relationship further
  3. Be clear about your intention. Say whey you’d like to know more and explain the benefit to your customer
  4. Understand the limits of your brand. Do customers come to you because you do a simple service well? If so, don’t attempt to create a bigger ‘customer experience’’ where it is not necessary or valued
  5. Don’t let data defeat you. Technology and support exists at every business level
  6. Close the loop on communications. Use what comes back from customers to fuel further conversations and provide payback to customers who have given you their data.
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