It’s not often a £12,000 fine looks like a good deal. But, in light of GDPR coming into effect this May, the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) penalising Royal Mail £12,000 for sending more than 300,000 nuisance emails to customers who had opted out of direct marketing, could seem a bargain. With fines under GDPR potentially reaching 4 percent of annual turnover, or €20 million - whatever higher, businesses such as Royal Mail will find their potential penalties exploding. For comparison, under GDPR the £880,500 in penalties the ICO imposed in 2016 would have been nearer to £69m.

The fact businesses need to be ready for GDPR has been underlined multiple times. So, what can they do to ensure a bearable penalty doesn’t become a crippling fine?

The most important factor is ensuring the business knows how customers want to be contacted –ideally doing so in such a way that engages the customer. For instance, Manchester United recently used a match to advertise that fans needed to reregister to continue being contacted – and even offered the chance of winning a football shirt when they did so. Similarly, the business needs to know whether 64-year-old Mr Smith wants to be contacted by post, or if he’s willing to receive offers or product news. Potentially defying his wishes by constantly posting requests with no incentive to reply or engage in conversation is likely to mean an unhappy customer, and potentially even a post-GDPR fine.

Understanding which channels customers prefer and adopting an omnichannel approach so that the business can reach all of them will mean organisations can continue to converse with their customers without running the risk of falling foul of GDPR. This can also increase the strength of the customer experience. After all, if GDPR means customers reiterate their preference is to communicate over Twitter, Facebook or another channel, the business will have a much better understanding of how to give them best possible experience. This goes far beyond just doing a copy, paste and send to all mailing lists.

In short, the Royal Mail penalty may well be the last we see before the GDPR goes into effect. The old regime may go out on a relatively merciful note, but it should also be an opportunity to make the final preparations for GDPR. Not only to ensure compliance, but to consider how the business can truly improve the customer experience. 

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