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Are You Easy or Sleazy in the Digital World of Business?

During a recent conversation with colleagues, the topic of digital ethics came up. One person noted that getting ethics right in the digital era can mean the difference between being viewed as “easy or sleazy” to do business with. In other words, are you using customer information in a way that helps better meet customer needs or are you being intrusive?

Navigating ethics in the digital world

Avanade recently conducted research to better understand the impact of digital ethics in the coming years. We asked 500 executives how ready they were to address some of the ethical issues that loom on the horizon of the digital world. More than 90 percent believe companies will need to establish and adhere to digital ethics guidelines to be successful.

However, 78 percent say their organization has not given enough thought to the workplace ethical dilemmas created by developments such as smart technologies like intelligent automation and digital assistants. Yet those technologies are already here and growing rapidly.

In fact, the enterprises that succeed over the next decade will be those that can most effectively connect these smart technologies, people and insights to deliver a more personalized experience to customers. As the voice of the customer, marketing is ideally positioned to drive consistency across all touchpoints. However, there is a fine balance between delivering value to customers from data they share and breaching their ethical expectations by becoming too intrusive or using the information for unintended purposes.

This challenge will increase as smart technologies move into the customer experience and sales side of the business – and squarely into marketing’s domain. In our survey, 61 percent of respondents say they expect smart machines to play a role in supporting the customer experience in the coming years.

To maintain customer trust in this changing environment, organizations must do more than just fulfill compliance and security obligations; instead they will need to move towards implementing a digital ethics framework that formalizes ongoing consideration of what is morally acceptable for the customer. Marketing will need to be actively involved in that process.

Marketing’s role in the ethics effort

While everyone in the company is responsible in some way for the customer experience, marketing is well positioned to help drive the ethics agenda given our closeness to clients and the market. After all, we have been addressing ethical questions for some time now due to our growing use of marketing automation and personalization.

We know that understanding the context in which customers interact with a brand is critical. We understand the importance of a permission-based approach. We know it’s essential to remember customer preferences and act on those preferences at each touchpoint. And we know that different cultural norms and privacy rules impact how businesses should interact with customers in different countries.

In short, we’ve learned that just because you know many things about your customers doesn’t mean you should use all that information. This is an important lesson marketing can teach the broader organization to ensure that you’re viewed as easy (not sleazy) to do business with.

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