Whether you need to hire new employees or take out a working capital loan, technology makes it easier than ever to accomplish your small business goals. However, it also opens the door to new risks, particularly regarding customer data.
Major companies across various industries have recently come under fire due to data breaches. Not only does it create bad press, it can often lead to potential customers doing business elsewhere.
A March 2014 report from market research institute GfK found consumers are increasingly worried about their data. Fifty-nine percent said their concern had grown over the past 12 months.
“The protection of personal data is a concern across all generations,” the organization stated. “Overall, 88 percent of respondents are somewhat to very concerned about the protection of their personal data, and this trend spans all generations.”
Business News Daily reported more than 75 percent of Internet users said they would stop using a service or product, as well as stop doing business with specific retailers, if they felt like their privacy was violated, citing data from Radius Global Market Research. In fact, 51 percent said they had already stopped doing business with some retailers for these reasons.
In short, if you want to keep your customers coming back, taking their data privacy seriously is essential. Fortunately, there are various steps business owners can take to accomplish this.
Keeping customer data safe
Keep the following tips in mind when looking to improve security for customer data at your small business:
- The first step for any business should be creating a safe computer network. Not only will this help protect customers, it will also keep private business information secure. Chances are your small business relies on computers for at least some tasks, so take the time to set up firewalls, anti-virus software and anti-malware safeguards. These will ensure your computers are running smoothly while also creating a greater barrier for hackers hoping to access the personal information of either you or your customers.
- Keeping passwords and other sensitive details secure often comes down to using common sense. Not writing down information like passwords is recommended, as is limiting employee access to customer data. It used to be that small businesses had to worry about employee theft of products, but in the modern world, workers could also be stealing sensitive customer information.
- It’s not always necessary to hold on to customer payment card data. Doing so puts customers at risk, so set up policies for when this data should be disposed. If your business does need to retain it, create safeguards, such as investing in a private network to store it. IT equipment leasing or financing can assist your business in securing the necessary servers and other equipment that are needed to create a private network.
- Another smart strategy is utilizing up-to-date payment card devices, as these will help prevent criminals from being able to steal customer payment information. The Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council provides plenty of guidance on best practices for businesses large and small when it comes to these devices. Also keep in mind there may be certain laws you have to adhere to where it concerns these devices.
Dealing with a breach
Even if you do all you can to protect customer data, your small business may still fall victim to a breach of some kind. In cases like these, it’s important to have a game plan in place.
First and foremost, be honest and forthcoming with your customers. The faster you relay any news to them, the quicker they can take steps to protect themselves. It will also prevent customers from feeling like you’re being dishonest with them by trying to keep things quiet.
It’s also worth exploring your options for insurance against data breaches. As online criminals have become more of a problem, insurance companies have begun to offer comprehensive policies intended to provide financial compensation in the event of a data breach. At the very least, having protection in the form of business interruption insurance can be invaluable if you find yourself forced to shutter your doors temporarily due to a data breach.
The more forward planning you do, the easier it will be to handle a breach if it occurs in the future.