What does ‘good customer service’ mean to you in 2021? A friendly greeting when you enter a shop? Quickly fixing any issues with deliveries? Or, perhaps the company you entrust with your data maintaining strong security and privacy practices?
It’s been a long time since digital technology was a special interest topic. Product launches, business deals, and new innovations were once reported on only in industry magazines – now, you’d be hard pressed to find a mainstream newspaper that doesn’t have some kind of technology section. We’ve quickly become used to the fact that when the tech giants talk, everybody listens.
More recently, however, it’s become clear that the internet has taken another step towards the centre of the public conversation. While new devices and technological advancements are still (mostly) kept in separate sections of the media or tagged on to the end of the TV news, problems with technology often land straight on the front page.
Outside observers have spent decades treating hacks and attacks as something arcane, as a distant problem that only the technologists can understand and only they have to deal with. Consumers, meanwhile, were left to hope that any issue would soon be fixed – whether that’s waiting for access to their files to be restored or trying again the next day to get into a website.
Cybersecurity is now everything-security
A few recent stories have underlined that those days are, or should be, behind us. In just the last two months, ransomware attacks have interrupted the operations of pipelines, food producers and the health sector. For many, this has been followed as a story about the international nature of cybercrime and claims that cryptocurrencies are enabling new types of attack.
For those communities reliant on the targeted organisations, however, these cyber-attacks can mean higher costs when fueling their cars to get to work, or product shortages in their weekly shop. We know that there’s a lot of technical interest in analysing ransomware such as DarkSide, or the many other groups attacking sectors like manufacturing, oil and gas, and healthcare. We always need to remember, however, that the focus is not just how these attacks work, but how we can prevent the real-world impacts they have on people’s daily lives.
These are extreme examples: they are incredibly high-value targets, which criminal groups will go to extraordinary lengths in order to disrupt, and which have national consequences when they are affected. Services like online retail and customer support can be disrupted in just the same way. From the perspective of the people who use these services, however, the fact that these were ransomware attacks doesn’t matter. Whether it’s due to attacks, accidents, or mismanagement, what matters is the betrayal of trust and the knock-on effects of service loss.
Customer experience means more than a nice interface
Examples like this are why I believe that we should see cybersecurity as a much wider foundation than we do, underpinning not just a business’s IT infrastructure, but its reputation, its revenue and, yes, its customer experience.
In crowded markets, customer experience is often the key differentiator between competing businesses. A lot of the disruption that we’ve seen in many sectors thanks to the growth of digital and online approaches has come down to a better, more premium customer experience. Whole industries have arisen around easier ways to order taxis, listen to music, and buy food.
As consumers continue to seek better, simpler experiences, they will (and, I think, should) also start paying close attention to how businesses respond to such incidents and maximise service levels. Key things that shoppers might want to look for when weighing up their choices include:
- Does the company meet (or even exceed) data privacy standards, and is this detailed in a simple manner that is understandable to its customers?
- Is the company transparent about who they share your data with, and why, before asking for it?
- Has the company been open when it has experienced a security incident?
Businesses, meanwhile, should be looking at how the efforts they take around cybersecurity can form part of the way they build customer confidence. By communicating clearly about the defensive measures we take – and, vitally, framing them in terms of the outcomes they have on people’s lives, not just the technical details – we can all help to make the public savvier about how they can make sure they truly rely on the services they rely on.