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What You Still Need to Learn From the Target Data Breach

Take steps to ensure that the disruption to customer trust is minimized and sentiment returns to normal as quickly as possible.

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Although the Target breach happened in December 2013, the retailer is still working to overcome having broken its trust with its customers. Costs from the breach have risen to $148 million and earnings for shareholders have fallen. As Target is discovering, customer confidence and loyalty is hard to earn back once lost.
In an effort to help retail business prepare for and improve the way their customer service teams deal with concerned and upset consumers during an incident, we took a look at how sentiment trended for the industry during the time period when the Target breach took place.

Let’s take a look at an analysis of the social conversation around the Target breach that Crimson Hexagon conducted for the time period of Dec. 18, 2013 through Jan. 21, 2014. It analyzed 86,000 tweets, with 55% of them being neutral. At the beginning of the time period, 19% of the total social conversation was critical of Target. By the end of the month, criticism had risen to 34%; 2% stated they no longer trusted Target and would not shop there again.

Who’s Responsible?

But most importantly, consumer opinion of Target shifted 180 degrees from 95% positive to 95% negative. According to Crimson Hexagon, this is one of the largest shifts in consumer opinion about a retailer to date. This dramatic shift in opinion may be related to the number of breaches and the fact that 13.1 million people experienced a fraud incident in 2013, an increase of 500,000 over 2012. But it’s also related to the lack of responsibility consumers believe they should carry in relation to fraud.
In fact, the 2014 Consumer Reaction to Financial Data Breaches Study finds that 60% of consumers believe merchants should take responsibility for preventing fraud, while 13% believe banks should carry the burden. Only 5% think it is the consumer’s responsibility. Given this mindset, customer service agents must take care to demonstrate empathy. This is especially true if dealing with the 43% of consumers who think nothing is more aggravating than having credit or debit card data stolen.

Prepare for Next Time

Fraud incidents are increasing. Since 2005, more than 300 data breaches in which 100,000 or more records were compromised have been disclosed. Taking steps for continuous improvement in the ways your customer service agents respond across phone, email, chat and social media during and after a fraud event is imperative to ensure that the disruption to customer trust is minimized and that sentiment returns to normal as quickly as possible.

1. Add capacity fast.

One of the biggest frustrations for Target customers is that the retailer was unable to respond quickly to their inquiries. From stalled websites to unanswered phone lines to unreturned emails, the lack of capacity has cost Target dearly. Make sure you work with your contact center vendor to ensure that adding agents in the case of an event is scalable. Consider work-at-home agents and additional sites with similarly skilled agents that may be used over the short term.

2. Demonstrate empathy.

This is the time when conversations shouldn’t be stifled by strict policies that make agents come across as uncaring and stiff. Consider role-playing and training for improving agents’ soft skills. This training will pay off in both good times and bad. Additionally, working to ensure that your offshore agents understand the culture of the customer will aid in their efforts to calm concerned customers and keep the queue flowing.

3. Communicate the plan.

During a potential fraud event is no time for an agent to be uninformed about the actions the retailer is taking in response to the breach. Customers can be fairly forgiving if they know the merchant is taking action and what that means. Make sure that the information is made available in all channels, especially in social media. Monitor for posting the same responses repeatedly. Your customers know if the company is being authentic and transparent in its concern for them or if it is more concerned with touting the company line.

Kirsten Jepson, senior director of market strategy at Sykes Enterprises, leads the research, development and communication of its global product and service offerings in financial services, health care and retail. For over 25 years she has held senior product development, marketing and sales roles with companies like Sears, Gallo Winery, Citibank and JP Morgan Chase. You can connect at and at @kkjepson.