Privacy perils in personalised service

Graeme Wood, the founder of one of Australia's most successful online businesses, made a very salient point yesterday about the challenges associated with delivering personalised online services.Wood, who runs hotel booking Web site Wotif.

Graeme Wood, the founder of one of Australia's most successful online businesses, made a very salient point yesterday about the challenges associated with delivering personalised online services.

Wood, who runs hotel booking Web site Wotif.com, generally rubbished customer relationship management (CRM) software, but nailed the problem of acquiring customer data to customise online services.

"People want privacy, but they also want personal service," he told a Teradata conference.

"So, I want you to know enough about me to give me relevant service, but I don't want to tell you anything about me. Now that's a big challenge moving forward," he said.

It's one that will affect many businesses, and not just dotcoms. Many businesses rave about online service delivery and how they'll use the Web as a marketing tool, but I wonder how many are actually extracting new customer data from the Web? And for offline businesses, how many are using existing customer data to personalise customers' Web services?

I'm reminded of the controversy Google faced when it launched its e-mail service, Gmail.

Part of its pitch to advertisers was that Gmail users would see only relevant advertising, based on the matching of ad words to those in the Gmail user's messages.

Instantly there was an outcry from privacy advocates. While it took a strong PR campaign for Google to persuade users it wasn't spying, the issue will become more prevalent in the future.

A lot of Web users won't accept cookies, many are paranoid about where personal information will end up if they submit it electronically, and they detest opportunistic advertising e-mails.

So how do you personalise your services without looking like you're sifting through customers' details? Are traditional off-line methods (telemarketing, surveys etc) the only safe way of gaining this? And how can those details be used without sparking a public outcry?

IT Operations Manager -- CRM skills not required
We noticed on Seek that Wotif.com is looking for a new IT Operations Manager.

The advert says the company is looking for someone with: 10 years IT experience, Minimum 4 years people management experience, Excellent knowledge of all aspects or networking and web-based technologies.

We assume it was just an oversight that they forgot to add: "Anyone with expertise in CRM need not apply."

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