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Search no further: turn data into commercial insights without sacrificing customer privacy

The most crucial customer insights come from the search bar

By Matt Riley, General Manager of Enterprise Search at Elastic

Our personal devices have become incredibly skilled at tracking our activity. They know what we binge on Netflix, our shoe size, and even the name of our first pet.

That's because the more your tech knows about you, the easier it is to surface relevant search results. That is how companies like Google have grown into the behemoths they are today-by getting to know their users' behaviors and preferences intimately and helping them find exactly what they want, when they want it. 

With the rise of companies like Doordash, Uber Eats and Eaze, consumers expect more convenience, findability and instant gratification, but they don't want to give up their privacy to get it. The search bar can be a highly effective tool. By analyzing how users are engaging with the search bar, organizations can get insight into their tastes, preferences, and expectations anonymously and securely without compromising their data privacy. 

But when does this convenience tip toward controversy? And how can companies optimize consumer experiences in a privacy-preserving manner?

Here are three ways companies can deliver great search experiences while protecting their users' privacy:

Customer data is essential; collecting and using it responsibly doesn't have to be difficult.

Analyzing something as simple as your customers' search data allows companies to discern where consumers are on the path to purchase and what information they need to move forward. The search bar on your website or mobile app can be one of your most effective and ethical data-gathering tools. Search results give savvy marketers real-time data on trends and transactions that can't be gathered through any other channel because they reveal exactly what a customer wants or needs at any given moment. 

Seasonality, customer churn, and new product trends are three areas e-commerce sites should consider when tracking this data over time. For example, a successful retailer can make new product licensing decisions from its own search data. Instead of paying a third party to give them murky trend casts, companies can forecast from their own search data and insights - converting what could be considered ‘digital exhaust' into digital gold by stocking its catalog with products that show measurable demand. 

Don't just listen to your customers-understand what they're saying

While customer service consistently ranks among the top three factors that impact a customer's level of trust in a brand, the past 18 months have showcased a parade of disappointing customer experiences across companies of all types and sizes. From retail, to travel, to healthcare - customer reviews reflect a recurring theme of disappointment and frustration.

Getting caught up in the exercise of addressing and mitigating customer concerns, many brands forget that customer feedback - especially negative feedback - provides a wealth of data to be acted upon. Helpdesk data can help you understand wait time trends, staffing problems, poor customer service performance, and other important product and service issues. And again - the source of that insight usually starts with a search query, where customers are providing direct feedback and data that companies should leverage to improve the customer experience.

Turn data into commercial insights while preserving your customers' privacy

Most companies collect large amounts of customer data in various systems - CRM, marketing automation, social media, website, customer engagement systems and in mobile apps. Odds are, you already have this data stored in technology silos across your organization. 

Companies that can capture and unify that data and convert it into commercial insights that enable sales, marketing, and customer service have a competitive advantage over those that don't. For example, after Apple changed its privacy policy requiring apps to ask user permission before tracking data in the background, the AdTech market feared that it would upend the $100B market. These fears were confirmed for companies that rely on tracking user's mobile habits. However, companies like Google have been able to withstand this change thanks to their roots in search. According to Google Chief Business Officer Philipp Schindler, Google sees the future of digital advertising "being built on advances in privacy-preserving on-device technologies which support the free and open internet and obviously a robust ads ecosystem."

Enriching customer experiences require companies to take a step back and look at the different types of data they have, and determine what data they really need. Your customers' tastes, preferences, and expectations can be discovered from years of search data, while ensuring anonymity and security. As Google and others have demonstrated, there is no need to compromise consumer privacy through obfuscatory tracking mechanisms when customers have already told you exactly what they need-and it starts with your search bar.



matt riley 

Matt Riley is the General Manager of Enterprise Search at Elastic. He is the former co-founder and CEO of Swiftype, which joined forces with Elastic in October 2017.

Published Thursday, January 06, 2022 7:32 AM by David Marshall
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