The Risky Business of Customer Profiles

Big Brother is Watching YouGuess who showed up in our market report on scientists’ satisfaction with life science suppliers’ customer service and technical support?

Big Brother.

Yes. That’s right. The omnipresent dictator of the ruling party that presided over the fictitious state of Oceania in George Orwell’s oddly prescient book, 1984.

He’s everywhere, now, isn’t he?

We asked the respondents in our latest market report to tell us what they thought about suppliers that are considering adopting the use of a “universal customer history record,” which is the idea of tracking customer communications over traditional (website, phone, email etc.) and social channels (e.g., Facebook and Twitter).

Here’s what some of them said (and I quote):

Bad idea. It looks like big brother stuff.

And: Reeks of Big Brother. Completely against.

And: I don’t like to be tracked online. It’s like big brother.

And here’s a good one: Big economical brother is watching you. I prefer to explain my special problem to the technical support without being under control. (Ever wondered what Big Brother’s middle name was? Now you know.)

The ACLU has an interesting (and entertaining) take on this:



But seriously, folks. As a supplier, you are most likely straddling that ill-defined boundary between invading your customers’ privacy and storing data that supports a consistent customer experience, personalized service and swift problem resolution.

It’s a fine balance. Not everyone is threatened by companies that store extensive customer profiles. Here’s how some other respondents in the survey weighed in on the idea of companies maintaining a universal customer record:

I’m all for tracking common themes and problems in my work, I’d do it myself if I had more time. As scientists we apply this very approach to our work, why not do so in support of our work?

I don’t want to waste time on simple background issues like what products we have every time I contact them. I would never tell them anything that would be too personal for them to store in a database so I see no disadvantages.

I think that keeping detailed records is ideal because you don’t have to keep repeating your problem over and over. Most of the time in the laboratory, the same equipment will break for the same reason and if more companies kept detailed records, problems would be solved much quicker.

And here is a particularly interesting one:

Whatever they need to do to answer my questions I want them to do. If it’s using social channels to gather more information to help, then do it.

Could this response be reflective of a society that is getting used to sharing private information? What about TV reality shows, which have become the norm? And have you ever heard of the Streisand effect? When Barbara Streisand sued to have a an aerial photo of her palatial home removed from the Internet, not only did she lose, but the picture of her house generated 420,000 visits to the site in the month following the brouhaha.

Maybe Big Brother isn’t the government, the corporation or the thought police. Maybe Big Brother is us.

Tell us what you think! What are your thoughts about customer data and privacy issues?