Home > News > The Data Breach Factor So Many Companies Forget: Emotion

Comments 0 Comments

Smart business people know that they must secure their systems to withstand the most determined and persistent physical, as well as cyber, attacks. They must minimize their risk of exposure by deploying the most sophisticated security and anti-malware software, using outside firms to frequently penetration-test their cyber defenses, continuously training their employees to comply with the most stringent security protocols, investigating every vendor and installing state-of-the-art physical security equipment. They must obsessively monitor all of the above. And then, be prepared to manage the damage when the all-too inevitable breach occurs. But in between the technology, training and tracking, it’s all too common to forget one key factor: preparing to deal with the emotions of those customers or employees whose data have been compromised.

Anyone whose data is accessed and exposed in a breach is going to be shocked, scared, concerned and/or angry, at the very least. But while hackers and thieves anonymously lurk behind avatars and screen names selling the pilfered data on black market sites, victims of your breach will have another target (pun intended) for their outrage: you.

Now you can talk ad nauseam about your sophisticated technology and tireless training – no doubt boring most anyone who will listen with the specifics (or at least the details that your lawyers or law enforcement officials will allow you to disclose) of everything you did right and how the bad guys snaked you anyway. But the fact of the matter is that as bad as the breach is for your business, there will be a whole lot of good customers, employees and clients out there whose financial lives are about to be disrupted – with no notice – and whose future lives could well be rocked by identity theft for no reason other than they chose to patronize your business.

Treat Your Customers As You Would Want to Be Treated

Every business must build urgency, transparency and empathy into its breach planning.

What does that mean? For one, you shouldn’t wait until you are outed by reporter Brian Krebs to properly inform your customers. Instead, like Kickstarter did, notify your customers the minute the hole in your system is plugged and the existence of actionable damage is confirmed. The best way to help your customers and maintain your relationships with them is to treat the situation with a sense of urgency. Your security hole might be plugged but, with their data stolen, theirs is open as long as you keep quiet.

Next, be as transparent as possible — without harming any ongoing law enforcement investigation. Acknowledge what you know about the breach, how you suspect it will affect your customers and what you concretely plan to do to remedy the damage your data breach has done to them. Portraying the criminals who hacked your system as sophisticated computer geniuses who broke into a heretofore impenetrable system is only going to backfire when some enterprising reporter discovers that your system was accessed using off-the-shelf hacking programs and your security team ignored warnings to that effect long before anyone did anything about it.

Finally, be empathetic. While you have been (or, at least should have been) preparing for a data breach all along, your customers absolutely did not expect to have their personally identifying information or financial data fall into the hands of criminals today. Though you might know what your company needs to do to fix the problem, or how you might personally cope with being the victim of a data breach, I daresay most of your customers do not and will not. You must treat their feelings — even their anger — with respect, train your employees to do so and work to assuage their fears with information and, if warranted, credit monitoring and resolution services. For instance, the last thing they need is for you to demand additional sensitive information from them before processing their fraud claims, which will only make them feel more powerless, frustrated and angry with your company.

Frankly, all the technology you need to deploy and all training you need to implement to try to protect against a breach is probably easier than planning for urgency, transparency and empathy in your response to the inevitable breach. But as Airbnb’s Chip Conley shows, “scenario planning” can help make the difference between a response that is lambasted by the media and abhorred by your customers, and one that is praised far and wide.

More on Identity Theft:

Image: Monkey Business Images

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

Credit.com receives compensation for the financial products and services advertised on this site if our users apply for and sign up for any of them.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team