In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years GDPR is coming.

In fact, there’s less than four months to go. A large majority of UK businesses across all industries and sectors – both large and small – are frantically trying to figure out what the regulation will mean for their business. Unfortunately, even at this stage, it’s obvious there’s still uncertainty of what GDPR means in general. This uncertainty, combined with the apprehension of having to change existing data strategies, is resulting in a negative outlook on GDPR. The businesses which already lead the way in their use of big data now and in years to come, don’t see GDPR as a threat. Looking at GDPR from a customer-centric point of view presents a great opportunity and is what will set your data strategy apart.

Getting up to speed with GDPR

GDPR will replace the data protection directive from 1995, with the regulation taking effect from May 25. It’s been set up to help strengthen data protection for individuals located within the European Union (EU) – and pushed forward by the European Council, European Commission and the European Parliament. The regulation impacts many areas, but its main purpose is to provide consumers with more control in their data and chose how used by businesses.

For businesses, GDPR will make it a lot harder to access customer data in the same way they do now. In future, there will be a lot more processes in terms of how data is recorded, accessed and maintained, and businesses will face more legal responsibility if they don’t comply.  While businesses need to dedicate time to GDPR and deal with the implications it will have on their business, they also need to spend time looking at the bigger picture and the opportunities they’ll be presented with.

GDPR and your customers

With customers themselves being the epicentre of these regulations, businesses should – instead of seeing GDPR as a block to customer data access – look at it as the path to the future of transparency and enhanced customer engagement.

These regulations present businesses the opportunity to “reset” how they use and collate data from their customers, enabling them to create better customer journeys and enhanced brand experiences. As a consequence of GDPR, the next few years will be very interesting indeed. Right now not all consumers are really aware of GDPR, and if they are, they may not truly understand the power it actually gives them over their data. They’ll have far greater control and will begin to choose what data businesses can and can’t have access to; when and how, and can turn access to their data on and off whenever they like.

But this doesn’t mean that businesses won’t have any access to data – not if they’re clever. Businesses that truly embrace GDPR, change their mind set, show customers the value of why and how they’re using data, while giving them complete control, will be the ones who come out on top. The amount of data consumers will give access to will ultimately depend on the relationship they have with your brand. Businesses or brands can establish this trust by being more transparent with consumers about how their data will be used. The more trusting customers are the more access brands or businesses will have to customer data. Here are a few ways businesses can establish this trust and seize the opportunities of GDPR:

What consumers want

With most businesses already having enough data and insights that can be harnessed, and most customers unaware of the power GDPR will offer them, there are further opportunities to get inside the minds of your customers. Use your data alongside targeted research to delve deeper. Find out the type of data consumers are prepared to share in return for personalised services and offers. For example, personal details, where, how and when they shop, what content interests them and how they like to engage with you. Get this right up front and existing customers will be more likely to allow more access.

Assess and improve existing customer strategies

As a business you need to be aligned on your existing customer strategies, and know what data you need to fulfil these strategies. Ensure the business understands the potential of data, and that the customer has a strong value exchange for allowing the access to and usage of their data. Make sure that there is clarity on what data is being used for on both sides and the benefits that access to this data will bring.

Be smart about what data you need

GDPR brings the risk of a reduced depth and breadth of the data collected. By using data in a smarter, more open and transparent way will both mitigate risk and also create business growth through more effective product development, improved customer experience and more relevant marketing. Trust and data accessibility should both grow when customers see the benefits that sharing their data brings.

Keep it secure

Data storage and usage should be done in a secure way, with set procedures and access levels along with clear security guidelines and disaster recovery. Having access to a customer’s data is a privilege. It should be looked after securely, compliantly and with a strong governance process.  Give clear responsibility for the handling of customer data across all business areas. From the CEO to the junior team, handling data securely is a must.

GDPR is not just the data departments responsibility

Many will believe the responsibility of GDPR processes lie with one specific department or the data controller. In reality it’s very much a joint effort impacting all areas such as legal, IT and communications, so there’s a need to make sure everyone else sees it in this way too. Everyone needs to be informed on what GDPR means, how it will affect processes and the strategy moving forward.

The next steps…

As time develops the processes that are daunting businesses will becomes less intricate, especially as businesses will work harder and smarter with their data. Businesses can either work with GDPR – and redefine their approach to personal data usage, drive real business and customer value, and ensure that the data industry has a long and healthy life – or simply let it work against you and tie you and your business up in regulatory knots.

What businesses need to do is create a data value exchange. Make their products and services better, keep customers happy by making services more efficient, and target them with the right offers at the right time. All of these elements will create a much better customer experience and allow businesses to seize the true opportunities of GDPR.