Doesn't it suddenly feel like data is the devil in business? Chances are your customers have been inundated by the news that yet another company is facing a data breach --whether it was stolen, misused, lost, or corrupted in some way. And that can either serve as a challenge or an opportunity when serving your customers, securing their data, and earning their trust.

The new bogeyman in business is your customer's fear that their personal data may be for sale everywhere and in anyone's hands. It's time to reexamine exactly what data you're 
collecting from your customers, and what you plan to do with it.

For decades, we were data starved. It was complicated and costly to gather customer data, and even basic demographics and psychographics. Then, figuring out how to use it to help your business became an even greater challenge. Now, we are data rich, but to make the best use of it (and maintain consumer trust), you have to guard it--not toss it around like a football on a Sunday afternoon. Here are three steps to get started:

1. Don't hog it all.

You don't need to know everything about your customers. If you have to collect more than a handful of data points to sell something, maybe there's an issue with what you're selling?Work with your team to figure out the critical data points that you really need (and will use). Then, stick to it. 

2. Be proactive.

Take the lead and start moving away from collecting anything and everything about your customers. Don't wait for government regulation to step in. That's like cheating in a game and hoping the referee doesn't catch you. 

3. Be transparent.

Get your customers' buy-in. This doesn't mean asking them to check a box. Ensure that they have the right to stop, remove, export, and delete their data. Offer up full visibility into how their information is held and used.

There's no doubt that access to data has benefited your business--and helped you better serve your customers--in many new ways. But it's what you do with that access that will determine whether you win with your customers today, and over the long haul.

If you can show customers that you are not a data pig, and then help them understand how data is used (and what they may be giving up for it), you can win. Most importantly, be vigilant about not capturing every breath they take. That's the best place to start.