Restoring reputation and customer trust after a data breach

A data breach is something today’s average organization expects to experience at some point. Actually, multiple times each year at varying degrees of scale and severity. It’s the new normal thanks to the growing number and sophistication of attacks. Several situations occur in the aftermath of a data breach, but none poses a greater risk to the organization’s survival than the loss of customer trust, so restoring your company’s reputation becomes a paramount concern.

It’s critical that repairing trust and restoring reputation post-breach be a component of your long-term incident response. Botching this aspect of your response can inflict a mortal blow on the organization and mark its demise. On the other hand, managing the response well and winning customer trust will not only improve your business’ reputation but strengthen customer relationships.

Here are 10 things you can do to ensure customers remain loyal to you and your brand and restore your reputation after a data breach.

data breach restoring reputation

1. Be transparent

The data breach has happened. You know and so do your employees. Perhaps some of your customers already know too. Denial at this point is the surest path to reputational ruin and is something your customers and the wider public are unlikely to forget for a long time.

Even if you believe owning up will bring some harm to your image and bottom line, do not cover up a data breach to protect your organization. Once the truth comes out, the reputation loss is far worse than any reprieve the deception provides. Owning up to the incident will demonstrate that you are willing to pull out all the stops to be truthful. This will strengthen customer trust and cement their loyalty.

2. Timely, responsible notification

Once you have some reliable information about the nature and scope of the data breach, you must move with speed as far as communication is concerned. Customers want to know quickly what’s going on and how it affects them.

Of course, speed has to be tempered with accuracy. It would be counterproductive to rush through communication when you do not have a reasonable degree of confidence in its accuracy. To get it right, run a thorough investigation with urgency and share the information with customers.

3. Customize communication

customer loyalty

In the dash to get your message out to all potentially affected customers, it’s tempting to craft and send a single broadcast message. But it’s unlikely that your customers are a monolith. Instead, map out the impacted customer base and identify any specific needs or risks of different customer segments. From that, develop different messages for the different segments.

It may mean having to wait a few more hours, but customized messages will deliver higher impact and be less prone to ambiguity or interpretation. For example, if your customer base spans multiple regions and countries, you may have to send out messages in the language used in each region instead of a single message.

4. Manage expectations

As you struggle to reassure customers and show you are taking remedial action, there’s always the pressure to make promises that are unachievable. Angry customers could push you into commitments that cannot be met, something that’s detrimental to restoring reputation. Telling affected customers that services will be restored immediately, whereas the technical team asked for 24 hours, will prove a headache for you and could elicit calls for compensation.

Be honest about resolution times, even when it’s not what your customers want to hear at that moment. Once the incident has dissipated, they will know that your word can be counted on.

5. Focus on customer interest

Following a data breach, there’s a lot of work that must be done in containing the fallout, sealing gaps, prevent a future breach, and restoring reputation. To achieve this, many organizations turn to third parties with proven expertise tackling similar incidents. They often have to evaluate multiple consultants before choosing one. The process of hiring the consultant can be long and drawn out as the organization seeks the best deal.

But in the process of securing its interest, this delay can harm customer interest and tarnish the organization’s reputation. Whereas ensuring you get value for money from a security consultant is important, you shouldn’t leave the impression that saving money takes priority over customer data protection.

6. Show empathy

No one wants their most confidential information to land in the hands of criminals or unauthorized persons. A data breach can, therefore, be a traumatic event for some. Worse still, affected customers could be dealing with another grave personal loss or challenge at that moment.

Show empathy in your communication. Keep your message professional but not indifferent or arrogant. Demonstrate your willingness to assist and detail the actions you have taken to mitigate the risks that come with the breach.

7. Provide useful, relevant guidance and assistance

data breach restoring reputation

One of the biggest dangers of a data breach is identity theft. So be prepared with the guidance and assistance your customers may require in line with this risk.

For instance, if the data breach involved the loss of user names, passwords, and credit card numbers, you can offer credit monitoring and noncredit monitoring. Credit monitoring is fairly straightforward. Noncredit monitoring would involve searching the visible and Dark Web for persons, organizations, or platforms offering this information for sale.

8. Offer a consistent customer service experience

When a data breach occurs, you can expect an avalanche of calls, emails, and office visits from anxious customers. This surge in inquiry volume can be overwhelming. Under these circumstances, it’s easy to slacken on the professionalism, patience, and consistency customers would otherwise enjoy when enquiring during less stressful times.

Yet, it’s at these moments that your reputation can soar or sink. Customers will remember how they were talked to when they called to find out if their information is safe. There’ll be no free passes because you were dealing with a data breach.

9. Counter competitor response

Just because your organization has suffered a breach doesn’t mean your competitors will wait for the incident to blow over before they make a move on your customers. Actually, your rivals realize this is a vulnerable moment for you. Because their promotional activities could indirectly reference your data breach as a cause for customer concern, you have to keep an eye on them and develop counteractions.

You may also proactively develop your own charm offensive irrespective of whether competitors launch an attack or not. Offer special promotions, free services, discounts, and other incentives that will make your customers want to stay.

10. Do better going forward

It is futile to go through all these actions to protect your business reputation and win customer trust if you will continue experiencing similar data breaches in the future. Even the most patient and loyal customers have limits as to how much they are willing to overlook a mistake, especially one that involves the security of their confidential information.

An apology is only meaningful if it comes with the appropriate changes in process, procedure, and behavior.

Restoring reputation and customer trust is a long-term project

Today’s customer has higher expectations of businesses than ever before. Despite these lofty demands, customers are rational and realistic. They understand that if cyberattacks have plagued some of the world’s largest and best-resourced organizations, no one is immune.

What they want to see after the breach is action that shows a commitment to quickly contain the impact, mitigate risks, and prevent a recurrence. This inspires confidence and trust, which are crucial ingredients in rebuilding the organization’s reputation.

Make no mistake — restoring reputation and customer trust after a data breach is a long-term, multifaceted endeavor. It’s a gradual climb back up. Acting quickly puts you in a great position to get back to your original reputation.

Featured image: Shutterstock

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