5 Ways to Protect Customer Information

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By Neetal Parekh on September 29, 2009 2:46 PM

Consumers often face a choice in supporting a small business or larger corporation for products and services.  And while small businesses know they are evaluated on price, customer service, reliability, and quality; they may not realize that the tech-savvy public is also evaluating how businesses secure customer service in making consumer decisions.  Sloppy handling of valuable personal and identifying information can be devastating to a small business.  It can lead to personal identification theft of customers, can open the company up to liability, and can damage goodwill within the community that a small business works hard to build.

So, how can your small business take proactive steps to protect customer information?  Below are 5 ways small businesses can cover their bases when it comes to protecting customer information.

1. Create a chain of command for documents.  Analyze the course documents take in your business. Where does the paper trail start and where does it end?  Once you know how paper is handled, develop a plan that ensures security of the documents in each step.  Also remember to keep filing cabinets or rooms with customer files locked and secured.  Use office shredders or a shredding company to properly dispose of company and customer documents. 

2. Put electronic data and electronics on lockdown.  The contents of an entire hard drive can be saved on a flash disk the size of your thumb.  Knowing that, and considering the amount of data your company shares and stores online, use software, password protection, secure connections, and encryption software to keep customer data safe and inaccessible to the public.  Ensure your business's compliance with  PCI DSS standards--comprehensive requirements intended to enhance payment account data security. 

3. Choose reliable vendors.  Even if your business proactively mitigates security risks, your business's customer data may serviced by third party vendors.  Ensure that vendors adhere to stringent privacy practices.  Do not hesitate to request references regarding safety and privacy practices.  If they fall short, request them to upgrade their security infrastructure, or head back to the vendor market to find a better-suited option.

4. Make sure your staff gets the memo.  Guidelines and software are only beneficial to the extent they are used, and used properly.  Hold a staff meeting to review new customer data privacy measures and any instructions on how the practices should be administered.  Consider having follow-up meetings to evaluate the system and any challenges associated with it.

5. Think "contingency plan."  As difficult and unpleasant it is to plan for breaches in security, come up with a general gameplan of how your business can handle such situations.  Who will you contact, how long will it take to have compromised information removed, how will you inform customers about a potential breach.

Oftentimes, a company's greatest assets are its customers.  Small businesses owe it to their customers to take definitive steps to protect customer information and ensure consumer safety and privacy.

 

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