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Top 10 customer data privacy best practices

To ensure customer data remains secure and inaccessible to bad actors, organizations should implement best practices such as frequent data audits and employee trainings.

To protect customer data, customer service agents should be able to understand and employ several data privacy best practices.

Every employee within an organization is responsible for ensuring customer data remains secure and for maintaining trust. Whether cybersecurity teams employ role-based access to data or CX teams place limits on the amount and types of data they collect, every department can do their part. Frequent privacy training for employees can also help maintain customer data privacy within organizations.

Explore 10 key best practices to manage, maintain and secure customer data.

1. Adopt a data governance strategy

Data governance strategies can help organizations manage information across departments. This strategy should align with the organization's overarching objectives and growth plans, so leadership teams must approve it before implementation. Further, data governance provides guidance and removes the guesswork for customer data management.

2. Establish and implement cybersecurity policies

In addition to a data governance strategy, organizations should have cybersecurity policies in place. Security teams should be able to enforce these policies for internal and external users.

With third-party vendor relationships, security teams should understand and manage the security expectations set in service-level agreements. Teams can break down these agreements into small steps to ensure everyone -- including employees, leadership teams and service providers -- understands and can meet expectations.

3. Limit access to data

Employees should have access to customer information based on their roles and connection to the data. Organizations can base these permissions on each role's intended purpose. For example, marketing teams may need demographic data, while customer service teams may need customers' account information.

This approach also means that as team members' needs change -- for example, if someone switches to a role with different access requirements -- their permissions should change to what is necessary for the job.

Different types of permissions include the following:

  • Full control. The user can take ownership of the data, including storage, access, modifications, data deletion and assigning permissions.
  • Modify. The user can access, modify and delete data.
  • Access. The user can access data but cannot modify or delete it.
  • Access and modify. The user can access and modify data but cannot delete it.

4. Only collect necessary data

Less information helps decrease the threat of data breaches, so organizations should only collect data necessary to accomplish tasks. For example, organizations don't need to collect a customer's full date of birth and could use a month and date or a month and year instead.

Organizations could also adopt compliance verification, such as a know your customer (KYC) framework, which helps decrease the amount of data that organizations store. KYC uses third-party sources to check users' input, verify the information and confirm their identities, then stores minimal or no actual data after.

5. Conduct a data audit

In addition to limiting access to data, organizations must determine what types of data to collect, how to store the data -- if not centrally located -- and how to use that information.

A data audit can help organizations discard unnecessary data. This process can help evaluate how safely they store data, help purge old files and improve privacy best practices in the event of cyber attacks.

6. Encrypt data and implement password protections

Organizations should use password protection, such as multifactor authentication and password managers, to secure confidential emails and data. Additionally, encryption -- such as file-level encryption -- can help protect data on computer hard drives, and 256-key bit length encryption can secure emails.

Also, services that detect repeat passwords can help eliminate reuse and mitigate the risk of data breaches related to password theft.

7. Stay on top of software updates

Data breaches, such as the 2017 Equifax data breach, occur primarily due to a failure to update a third-party software's patches.

Software patches are ways for developers to quickly fix issues or add new features. If organizations don't accept and distribute patches in a timely fashion, hackers can take advantage of the vulnerability and put many people -- millions, in Equifax's case -- at risk.

8. Establish and execute a solid security infrastructure

With the right tools, a solid security infrastructure can ensure data remains protected. Organizations can support this infrastructure with the following tools:

  • Antivirus software can make regular scans on all workstations and servers to maintain systems' health statuses.
  • Antispyware and anti-adware tools can protect computer systems against malicious software and protect customers' personally identifiable information.
  • Pop-up blockers can protect against pop-ups, which act to compromise the system's health.
  • Firewalls act as an additional layer of protection and provide a barrier between data and cybercriminals.

9. Train employees to be diligent

Employees cannot implement customer data privacy best practices if they don't know best practices to handle a breach. With thorough training, employees can learn their organization's policies on cybersecurity best practices and ensures an organization's security strategy is up to par.

Trainings should include updates and refreshers to keep employees aware of data privacy best practices as cyber attacks evolve. Additionally, security teams should provide real-life security breach examples as blueprints of what not to do, and train employees on ways to protect against such breaches.

10. Proactively communicate with customers

Organizations should be transparent with customers about how they use data, so consumers can understand and potentially limit access to their data. For example, GDPR in the European Union and similar policies protect customers based on consent.

The entire organization is responsible for data privacy across the customer journey. Every time employees touch customer data they must ensure they don't compromise customer privacy.

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