Back in the day, “webmaster” was a prized title that bestowed respect on the holder as a knowledgeable jack of all trades for everything pertaining to website development and administration. But as the internet matured, there came a growing recognition that one person, however skilled, simply could not handle every task for building an online presence, and the title lost favor, replaced by many niche areas of expertise: web developer, architect, publisher, coordinator, content editor, etc.
Considering the increasing need to deliver a transformative customer experience (CX) that includes carefully honoring a customer’s requests for the collection, use and sharing of their data, it may be time to refine how we think about the role and responsibilities of a data steward.
What does a data steward do? Traditionally, a data steward worked in IT, with a role of governance – usability, availability, and security of the data. Though an individual steward may have held some business or subject matter expertise, in that context or narrow focus, the role was understood as using technology and/or processes to meet legal and internal governance requirements.
To meet those requirements, data management technology like Master Data Management (MDM) software typically has data stewardship functionality to oversee sourcing, cleansing, mastering, publishing, and auditing data “entities” like customer/party, product, or site. The software helps the steward validate that the data representing these entities are fit for purpose, and available to the people and applications that need them. A data steward is responsible for overseeing the quality, accuracy, and completeness of records, and the processes for correcting errors and making changes. An example of this in the customer realm is handling data subject requests, such as deciding the appropriate response if a customer asks to delete a record. A data steward may also be called on to oversee match discrepancies, deciding whether a record that fails to meet a certain threshold as a solid match is or is not a valid match.
Those are the traditional responsibilities of the data steward role, as they pertain to master data management initiatives: is data up to snuff, so to speak, for its intended purpose?
Data Stewardship & Shared Customer Values
If we look at all the modern demands for quality data – especially customer data – we find that data stewardship activities fit the “webmaster” analogy: As the set of responsibilities expand in parallel with the growing importance of delivering a transformative customer experience, the steward must wear more hats or has to specialize their role.
In a 2021 Dynata survey commissioned by Redpoint, 80 percent of US consumers surveyed said they will only shop with brands that personally understand their needs. This personal understanding means far more than simply knowing someone’s size or color preferences, or how they like to communicate with their primary care physician. It also entails a brand being completely transparent about how it collects, shares and uses a customer’s data, honors privacy preferences like contact frequency or contact channel, and in general demonstrates a complete understanding of the customer beyond brand interactions – household information, employment, life events etc.
Effective data stewardship plays a key part in fostering a deep personal understanding. From a policy perspective, data stewardship through a CX lens sets a requirement for how long to keep individual transactions in a customer database, for example. It determines how to handle personally identifiable information (PII); what information goes into a PII vault vs. non-identifiable customer data. Included in policies would be who is allowed to see or use PII data, how data usage is tracked, how to respond to data subject requests. With a transformative CX as an overarching goal, data stewardship policies may take a more liberal approach toward keeping customer records for a longer period. They may also prioritize what type of data is collected, based on how it is used for an intended purpose of enhancing a personalized CX. And they may recognize that while customer data itself is an asset, mishandling data or failing to honor customer preferences and regulatory requirements can quickly become a liability.
The broader role of data steward will encompass what data is collected, understand why it is being collected, and adhere to policies for keeping, managing and protecting it on behalf of the customer. In this context, data stewardship is understood to mean what a brand is doing to make sure that customer experience transformation has the best possible impact on the customer with the fewest negative outcomes.
In a world where a personalized customer experience that reflects a personal understanding is quickly becoming a base-level expectation, a data steward’s evolving role beyond meeting legal and governance requirements is to demonstrate – by action, deed and policy – that the brand shares fundamental customer values, whatever they may be.