How to Use Progressive Profiling as a Privacy Tool

User experience is top of mind for developers building customer-facing applications—and an important element of that is collecting user information. When developers avoid lengthy forms and overwhelming data capture as part of the onboarding process, users have a more seamless experience, right from the outset of using a new application.

This practice stems from progressive profiling: a common strategy in the marketing world. This post outlines what progressive profiling is, why it's effective, and why we’re seeing more and more developers following its principles.

The basics of progressive profiling for customer-facing applications

Effective marketers know not to overwhelm customers by asking too many questions upfront. Instead, they collect a small amount of information, such as an email address, and inquire about people’s preferences and other characteristics during follow-up interactions. Consumers feel more in control of the data they share, and are more likely to engage in follow-up interactions as a result.

This is also an effective strategy for developers building user profiles. Developers need to consider the minimal amount of data required from their customers. What is truly necessary to make the product work, and what is a nice-to-have that helps make the product better? Collecting the minimum required information makes a customer feel safe and secure, protects their privacy, and creates a better user journey from the outset.

We see four common use cases for progressive profiling:

  • No information required: A user is shopping through an e-commerce platform they’ve never used before. They must provide their name, address, and billing information. But does the site need to retain that information? Could they log in as a guest?
  • Better information leads to a better experience: A user is shopping through an e-commerce platform. Again, one that they’ve never been to before. You remind them that if they register, they’ll be able to change their shipping address any time before delivery and avoid entering that information each time.
  • Incentivizing information sharing: A user is shopping through an e-commerce platform. They’ve used it many times and have an account. For marketing purposes, you want to know their age. You offer them a 10% off coupon to provide this information. If they choose not to, they can continue to shop without interruption.
  • Further information required to continue functionality: A user is shopping through an e-commerce platform. They have an account, but it doesn’t include a phone number. A new company policy dictates that all shipments require a number because the company is moving to individual delivery. The customer can’t continue to shop without providing this information.

Once a customer category has been ascertained, developers can program apps and experiences to maximize customer engagement.

Privacy, progressive profiling, and Okta

Progressive profiling puts the power back in the consumer’s hands, giving them very real control over their privacy. As companies look to reduce login friction while maintaining user privacy, developers are playing an increasingly pivotal role.

To tackle progressive profiling, developers have to manage customer identities and application access. But what was once a single front door for user experience and privacy is now hundreds, if not thousands, of identities and entry points. Organizations are fast becoming platforms of connected application services, and they want their first-point-of-access experiences to be as seamless as the rest of the user experience. But these access points must also be secure. Through Okta’s new feature, Sensitive Attributes, developers can store sensitive data (such as social security numbers or phone numbers) with controls over who can view that data, and create a corresponding audit trail.

Creating secure, user-friendly experiences

Over 20 years ago, Harvard Business Review published a landmark piece that first defined the “experience economy”. One of the key takeaways was that organizations are rewarded for providing better experiences—they can charge a premium for commercial offerings that compel users to stay. Crucially, the reverse is also true: poor user experiences lead to customer attrition.

As a privacy tool, progressive profiling allows organizations to better understand their users and gain a more accurate idea of what they are comfortable sharing. Just as importantly, however, it simplifies both registration and login, turning potential pain points into experiences that users appreciate—while simultaneously protecting their valuable data.

Learn more about how to configure progressive profiling for your custom apps.