Convenience over Privacy? Paying Attention to Consumer Trends

I remember sitting with Mercedes-Benz executives a number of years ago to engage in a discussion of something I thought was revolutionary at the time.

By way of background, Mercedes-Benz USA owned and operated a dealership in Manhattan, which leaders used as a “test and learn” lab for customer experience innovation. The discussion I am referencing centered around whether to place RFID chips in vehicles being serviced at the dealership.

As you likely know, RFID stands for radio-frequency identification, and RFID chips are passive tags that pick-up electromagnetic energy from an RFID reader, which can send a signal about 1500 feet away.

The issue for our discussion was whether or not to place these chips in vehicles without the prior permission of the owner. Here were the arguments in support of the placement:

  • The chip wouldn’t track an owner’s vehicle beyond 1500 feet of the dealership (unlike the GPS already built into most cars)
  • The chip would alert the dealership that an owner was approaching the dealership, which could trigger the following actions:
    • An alert to the service concierge so they could meet the vehicle owner as they drove into the service lane
    • A digital and personal welcome on a signboard as the customer approached (e.g., “Welcome Ms. Jones”)
    • The ability to track the vehicle at all times in the dealership during the service visit

The obvious downside involved privacy concerns and customer perceptions that their vehicle was being tracked without pre-authorization. Suffice it to say the trial went forward and the benefits exceeded any of the concerns expressed during the discussions.

Fast forward to the present and I continue to be amazed at how eager customers are to trade privacy/information control for convenience. There is a caveat, of course. Company leaders must respectfully and thoughtfully protect the customer data and leverage it to enhance their experience, not simply use it to aggressively market to them.

Let me give you a sense of how far customers are willing to be tracked in the name of personalization and convenience. Granted, my example comes from Sweden, but I sense it is a harbinger of things to come on a global basis.

I have been watching this “Swedish phenomenon” for a while, but a recent NPR story articulates the issue well:

Technology continues to get closer and closer to our bodies, from the phones in our pockets to the smartwatches on our wrists. Now, for some people, it’s getting under their skin.

In Sweden, a country rich with technological advancement, thousands have had microchips inserted into their hands.

The chips are designed to speed up users’ daily routines and make their lives more convenient — accessing their homes, offices, and gyms is as easy as swiping their hands against digital readers.

Before you conclude this is “the mark of the beast” or “it will never happen here,” let’s look at why 4,000 Swedes have already turned to a company named Biohax International to have a largely consumer-oriented chip placed into their bodies. The chip allows those who implant it to have ease of access, ease of purchase (at vending machines and retailers), ease in transportation (no need for a bus pass when you have something in your hand that links to your bank account) and ease of identity verification (in lieu of other biometric markers or legal document). Imagine a future state where you no longer need to carry cash, credit cards, car or house keys, a driver’s license, a passport, etc.

From my perspective, this technology currently has a creepy big brother quality. However, I am certain we are moving closer and closer to a world where these types of technologies will become more commonplace. In my book recent book about Airbnb (titled The Airbnb Way), I take on the topic of convenience and the importance of delivering a technology-aided, human-powered experience. Biohax International has just taken that mindset a step further by driving the technology literally under human skin.

I would love to talk to you about how you are addressing the balance between personalization/convenience and customer privacy. Simply reach out to me here and we will set-up a time to talk.

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Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.

Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

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