A few days ago, there was yet another article about a delivery boy harassing a girl. This time, he decided to circulate her number on a WhatsApp group as a sex worker. A while ago, it was another woman who left the city, not being able to withstand harassment from another delivery boy.

When that fleeting moment’s shudder passes, we forget about it, and the incident becomes old news. There are two main reasons why this is happening today more than ever.

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Phone number is the new email address

A big part of our lives has moved online. Our daily life now involves a lot more activities on the internet than it ever did in the past. We order groceries, book movie tickets, order food, book rides, and whatnot.

No longer can our online life stay independent of our offline identity.

With the increase in adoption rates of mobile phones around the world (and the adoption rates are showing no signs of slowing down), it’s not surprising to see phone numbers becoming the go-to choice as an online identity. Phone numbers are unique and can provide businesses with a lot more information than an email address ever can.

Mobile phone numbers are not discarded as quickly as email addresses are. People use the same mobile numbers for years.

Phone numbers offer a low-cost, direct channel of communication with the customer. It’s not as easy to ignore a phone call or SMS as it is to ignore an email.

So, more and more businesses are using mobile phone numbers as unique identifiers for their customers.

The nature of the businesses we deal with is changing

Today, the world is moving towards an on-demand economy. And this on-demand economy has given rise to business models driven by marketplaces and aggregators. The people you do business with are no longer the ones who are responsible for fulfilling your request.

On-demand economy is not something the e-commerce boom invented. Remember calling up the uncle at the kirana store and asking him to send home groceries? The uncle delivered it himself or sent the boy who worked at his store to deliver the groceries.

In the old world, the person who delivered the product or service was an employee of the person you were doing business with, but we are now moving towards a marketplace or aggregator model. The control that an aggregator has over the individual who is delivering is very flimsy.

This creates a natural trust deficit.

In a survey conducted by OnePoll, a market research company, 86.55 percent of respondents stated that they were “not at all likely” or “not very likely” to do business with an organisation that had suffered a data breach involving credit or debit card details. The numbers were slightly lower if home and email addresses and telephone numbers had been lost.

For growing businesses, this will not be a small hit in growth or revenue.

If this is the case, how can customers trust these companies with their contact information?

The onus is on the businesses to convince the customer that the information shared with them is in safe hands. More transparency about how customer information is shared is the key here. But here are a couple of things all businesses need to think about to keep their customer information secure.

Information needs to stay with the party it was originally shared with

Customer information must be shared only on a need-to-know basis.

If you require a plumber to fix your taps, he needs to know your address to get to your place, but he doesn’t need to know your phone number. Your cab driver only needs to know your drop location and no other information.

While addresses remain a slightly tricky data point to deal with, it is possible for businesses to protect their customers’ phone numbers. This is where cloud telephony plays a crucial role. Instead of sharing a customer’s phone number with the delivery personnel or driver, businesses can mask or anonymise the customer’s phone number. This simple implementation of technology will ensure that the service personnel does not need to know the client’s phone number to reach them.

Not only will the service personnel be able to call customers without knowing their phone number, but cloud telephony will also help the business track these conversations. In case of a dispute or a complaint from the customer, it will be possible for companies to go back to the recording and listen to what happened during the conversation.

Demonstrate that you have the customer’s best interest at heart

For a user to trust a company with their personal information, they will need to believe that the brand has their best interests at heart. Brands like Airbnb have spent a lot of time building a community that lays a lot of emphasis on trust because they have realised that trust forms the basis of their business.

A few years ago, if someone told you they were going to be staying at a stranger’s house in a new place, they would be laughed at. But that’s precisely what Airbnb has made possible today.

Even in India, a lot of brands like Ola, Uber, Swiggy, etc. have recognised the problem of trust in a shared economy and have implemented number masking to ensure that their customers can use their services without fear or mistrust.

The onus is on brands to ensure that customers can do business with them without being worried for their safety or well-being. In the long run, the trust brands build with customers will be the biggest differentiator. It will be the difference between companies that make it and those that don’t.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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