To build trust with customers, companies need to be clear regarding what data they are collecting, where they are sending the data and why they are using it.

Customers are developing a new understanding of how their personal data is shared due to the multitude of data breaches that have become news headlines in recent months. If you deal with data in an unfair or hidden way, you will be exposed and, very likely, lose customers.

A statement made in 2012 by Austrian lawyer Max Schrems still rings true today: "Information about people is power over people." During the Europe versus Facebook case, Schrems exercised his right as a European Union (EU) citizen to access all data that Facebook held on him since the company's European headquarters is located in Dublin, Ireland. Under the EU Data Protection Directive, citizens have a "right to access," meaning at any time they are entitled to know exactly what data a company headquartered in the EU has on them.

The case put a spotlight on data protection and data privacy rights—rights that we often forget we have, or should have, with the companies we frequent.

Though the EU has recognized this and is continuously reforming its laws to fit in with the changing digital economy, other countries such as the United States and Canada need to keep up with the new privacy requirements. That is especially true given that a brand's reputation can now be ruined overnight in the age of the Internet. Large companies might weather these storms, but most companies are much more sensitive to brand mishaps.

To raise brand loyalty and put customers back in the driver's seat in managing their data, consider these tips.

1. Provide privacy options for customers

For many business leaders, it seems counterintuitive to allow customers to delete their information whenever they choose. For instance, what is the point of having digital marketing tools that track customers if you are constantly losing their information? How is this sustainable in terms of building a customer base?

Despite popular belief, digital marketing tools and data privacy can go hand in hand. If the service you offer is beneficial enough and the pricing is right, consumers will support your brand and remain loyal.

The problem arises when customer data is used without your customers' knowledge. Such a situation can be really scary for your customer.

Imagine walking into a store and having a sales representative greet you by your first name and list several items to look at based on your recent purchase history. You'd find that highly uncomfortable.

However, if you opt into a service and know exactly what to expect when you enter a physical store or website, you will likely value that kind of transparency. It changes the perception from being creepy to useful.

For example, Ghostery provides a free browser add-on and mobile app to help consumers control how they are tracked by businesses online. The aim is to make consumers comfortable by gathering information through responsible and transparent data collection practices.

Having the ability to control what data a business collects builds trust and sets expectations around what a business's service will entail, so consumers are not blindsided.

2. Anonymize customer data

Anonymizing customer data is a strong tactic for many companies looking to improve their offers. However, get the customer’s buy-in prior to collecting it.

Marketers, for instance, can use personification to anonymize the data while still delivering targeted digital campaigns. Doing so helps ensure that sensitive information is kept out of harm's way and potentially out of the hands of malicious hackers.

The key element is to save only information valuable for both your business and the customer. For example, if there is no value in storing a customer's home address, don't do it. As a business leader, your job includes being protective of your customers' data.

Once you and your customer decide what information you are going to store, it is important to continuously work with them to determine what you can and cannot do with their data. The goal is to provide so much value that your customer wants to share their data by choice. At the end of the day, customers want to know that they alone own their personal data.

3. Delete customer data in an appropriate timeframe

When customers ask for their data to be deleted from your databases, do it quickly. It is their right to have their data removed.

Facebook, for example, asks for up to 90 days to permanently delete an account from all backup systems. On the company's website, it clearly states, "Some of the things you do on Facebook aren't stored in your account. For example, a friend may still have messages from you even after you delete your account. That information remains after you delete your account."

Though that might not be ideal to all users, Facebook is listening to customers and taking steps to be more transparent around what exactly gets deleted and what remains.

For most users, a 90-day wait is acceptable, but there are circumstances where that might not be fast enough. For example, faster action is necessary when there's online bullying or any other scenario where someone gets hurt. In those sensitive circumstances, there should be an emergency delete option to resolve issues as quickly as possible, provided that there are no legitimate legal grounds for keeping it, such as EU or Member State laws.

Recognize that you cannot moderate everything every user is doing at every moment. You need to educate your user community on how members can take charge of moderating themselves. In return, by allowing customers to delete information about themselves freely, you will collect higher-quality information about them.

Sharing data cross-borders can also be highly complicated. So can be adhering to local laws around the globe. Situations like the recent Brexit decision only add to the strain. However, there are tools to help. For example, privacy and cookie policy generator Iubenda helps global companies comply with local laws. For example, if you integrate Marketo and Google Analytics into your offering, Iubenda's software can add them into your privacy policy with the single click of a button.

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Put customers back into the heart of what you do and respect their decisions around their own personal data. Customers may not have asked questions before because they did not see the risk. Now, with data breaches happening daily, customers are more knowledgeable and on alert about data protection and data privacy. To build brand loyalty, give customers control over their data.

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image of Elie Auvray

Elie Auvray is CEO and co-founder of Jahia, an Open Source Software vendor serving clients across a wide range of industries.

LinkedIn: Elie Auvray