Usually, people don’t think that much about cybersecurity, at least not before problems emerge. It’s not a whole lot different with organizations and companies, but they very much have to pay attention to cybersecurity, at least if they want to continue operating and maintaining optimal customer experience. The good thing is, organizations are becoming more proactive about cybersecurity and adopting advanced safety measures, as well as raising awareness within teams. However, the situation still is far from ideal, with a lot of companies and customers falling victim to cybercrime.
What’s more, recently numerous cybersecurity breaches have turned into well-publicized scandals, seriously damaging the reputations of large companies:
- Facebook suffered heavily when the personal info of 533 million users was leaked.
- Marriott/Starwood hotels were struck by a serious data breach that lasted for four years before it was uncovered. By the time their cybersecurity issue was uncovered, data belonging to millions of people, including passport numbers, was stolen.
- In 2021, LinkedIn suffered a heavy blow, when data on 700 million users (phone numbers, emails, location, etc.) was stolen.
The list goes on and on. The epilogue is always the same, damaged reputation and extremely negative customer experience. But just how important is cybersecurity for customer experience in general? Do people think about their cybersecurity before being affected by cybercrime? What factors affect this? These are some of the most important questions we’ll address in today’s article.
Cybersecurity: a very brief introduction
The history of cybersecurity is closely tied to the phenomenon we call hacking. Without hacking and people who take advantage of less-than-perfect digital systems, there wouldn’t be any need of ramping up cybersecurity. Hacking is here to stay as it seems as if there are many motives to engage in it:
- To some people, it’s a way of illegally making money.
- Others simply do it for fun and treat it as a sort of intellectual challenge.
- Nowadays companies have in-house hackers (also called penetration testers) who help improve the company’s systems.
And from the early days of hacking, security breaches made for very alluring, scandalous headings. For instance, the capture of Kevin Mitnick in 1995, who used an incredibly efficient blend of social engineering and good-old hacking, made the news and must have seriously (and negatively) affected the experience of customers of companies like Motorola or Sun Microsystems, whose systems were compromised by Kevin Mitnick. And he didn’t even use advanced technology or use a VPN to hide from authorities. Today’s hackers have a lot more instruments at their disposal and it isn’t surprising that new data breaches are occurring practically every day.
Moving Forward: Cybersecurity in the Modern World
Thanks to the dissemination of digital technology, the availability of the internet, and, last but not least, the popularity of social networks, it is now very easy for companies to gather a lot of info from their customers. Moreover, people are more aware of the numerous risks to their cybersecurity and understand better how their personal data can be misused.
These are some of the main reasons why companies are paying more and more attention to keeping customers’ data safe; in short, companies that allow cyberattacks to happen, risk having very, very dissatisfied customers. Of course, there are other reasons why a company would want to ramp up its resistance to cyber attacks; there were, for instance, many cases where cybersecurity breaches seriously affected a company’s ability to function. But customer loyalty and brand reputation are still some of the biggest reasons why businesses around the world invest in cybersecurity.
It’s one thing to make these statements, but the reality could be different. In the next section, we’ll consider some recent studies which sought exactly to answer the question of how cybersecurity breaches affect the customer experience.
Data Breaches and Customer Experience
There’s a growing body of research showing that a cybersecurity breach drastically affects customer trust. In fact, customer trust and experience in general, are just the “final station” in the whole chain of consequences that start unraveling after a cyberattack has been successfully completed. The brand itself, the way it’s perceived by customers, also changes for the worse.
A study that focused on the context of data breaches in the hotel industry has found that members of the loyalty program mark the most drastic (negative) change in brand trust. In other words, if you as a company experience a serious data breach without taking the necessary measures to mitigate the consequences (more on this soon), you’ll probably lose your most loyal customers. “Non-loyal” customers might not be as affected, but then again they would probably stop using your services sooner or later, as they are by definition not that loyal.
Improving Customer Experience after a Cybersecurity Incident
Recently a team of researchers developed a framework for dealing with customers after a cybersecurity incident:
- Timely disclosure – waiting before disclosing information on a cyber breach can make customers very suspicious. It’s better to act as quickly as possible, notifying the customers about what happened to their data.
- Not downplaying the incident – sooner or later the extent of a cyber attack will be made known (for instance data might appear on Dark Web). This means that downplaying the extent of the incident will inevitably backfire.
- Taking the initiative – customers should hear about a data breach directly from the company, not from other sources. Ideally, the CEO would make a public statement across all important media channels.
- Directly contacting the customers – companies should consider sending emails to each customer who was either directly or indirectly impacted by a cyber attack. This will make things more personal and will contribute to the reestablishment of trust.
Cybersecurity incidents, even when not having a direct effect on customers, can seriously shake brand trust and negatively impact the way existing and potential clients perceive your business. Since positive customer experience is one of the major determinants of the intention to continue buying a specific product or service from a company, keeping cybersecurity up to date shouldn’t be an option but a priority.