Secret Consumer Score Determines How Companies Treat You

Nov 7, 2019, 9:34 PM | Updated: Nov 8, 2019, 11:13 am

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – If you have ever owned a smartphone, shopped online, bought an airline ticket or used a credit card, you are being secretly scored in ways that can impact your wallet. The scorers are businesses we buy products and services from every day.

They are called Customer Lifetime Value or CLV scores. All sorts of retailers and businesses use them to judge our value as consumers.

“They have detailed information on every single transaction,” said Andrea Thomas, a marketing professor at the University of Utah.

“They have algorithms that show how people like you have acted in the long term. So, then they can assign a customer lifetime value score to you individually and then act on that,” she said.

The scores can determine what products and ads we see online, the prices we pay, even how long we are put on hold when we call customer service. And the best treatment goes to those with the best scores.

“They have detailed information on every single transaction,” said Andrea Thomas, a marketing professor at the University of Utah.

“People with a certain CLV score will get popped to the top if you’re calling. You’ll be the next call we answer. Or, we look at you and say, ‘Ok, we’re actually going to give you a deeper discount or more flexible terms because of the value that you are as a consumer,’” Thomas said.

While CLV scores are specific to each company, here is how they work in general: Retailers link transactions to individuals, add a dash of demographics like age, marital status and zip codes, then pepper in some proprietary algorithm and voila – a score to measure our reputations.

“They can tell whether you are being too expensive for them,” Thomas said. “Whether it’s fraudulent or not, you start to get a reputation as a consumer, as being somebody that isn’t worth the customer service hassle.”

If you shop often without being enticed by deals, your CLV score is probably higher. But, if you complain often, buy things only when they’re deeply discounted or return items often, your score probably stinks. We say probably because most businesses will not tell you what your score is.

U of U marketing professor Andrea Thomas.

“It’s not your right as a consumer right now,” Thomas said. “Nobody has legislated that it’s your right to see it and to have input into it like they have other scores like your credit score.”

That did not sit well some of the consumers we spoke to on the street.

“It’s maddening,” said Laurie Hewitt. “It’s not a fair shake, really. I mean, we’re doing them a favor.”

Vicki Smoot expressed a similar sentiment. “If they’re tracking us and taking data on us, then we should be able to ask for our score,” she said.

“That’s something that you should be able to check up on and see how you are doing,” said Chase Laser.

Privacy advocates said the same thing. Some compare the use of CLV scores to China’s developing social credit system that scores people’s reputations on their good and bad deeds.

Bad deeds like walking your dog without a leash, littering, bad driving or even gossiping will bring down your social credit in China. If it drops too low, forget about dining at the best places, landing the best jobs – even buying airline or train tickets may be out of reach.

A key difference is that China’s social credit system is government-run and people know where they stand – good or bad. In America, consumers are tracked and scored by private companies who don’t share that score.

Uber is a rare exception. A passenger’s score is visible right in the rideshare company’s app.

Driver Marlea McKinstry has given over 7,000 rides. She showed us how Uber’s scoring system works.

Uber driver Marlea McKinstry showed us how the company’s scoring system works.

“I very seldom give out less than a five (star),” McKinstry said. “You just have to be somewhat considerate.”

Translation: be polite, don’t leave trash behind and being ready to go at pickup time.

“The driver doesn’t begin to get paid until you get in the car and they start the ride,” said McKinstry.

Drivers rate riders from one star on up to five. If your average score falls below four stars, McKinstry said you can get the boot.

“They’re deactivated and they can’t ride anymore,” she said.

“I’d been using Uber for months before I realized, just like I was rating the drivers, the drivers were rating me as a rider. And, I have to say, I was shocked when I found that out,” said Ed Carter, director of Brigham Young University’s Communications Department.

Carter researches and writes about digital privacy. He is worried that since most companies will not let us see our CLV scores, there is no mechanism to ensure their decision making in how to treat us as consumers is fair.

BYU Communications Department director Ed Carter.

“I think that is scary because a lot of these decisions actually do affect our lives in real ways,” Carter said.

He was also troubled by the lack of oversight as companies keep tucking permission to use our personal data this way in user agreements no one reads.

“In this case, there is no guarantee of due process as far as our data and companies are doing with that,” Carter said.

Privacy advocates like Carter are urging the government to step in with stronger protections on how companies use our data. But given the huge growth in both e-commerce and data collection, expect the use of CLV scores to keep growing.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

KSL Investigates

Delric Ellington and Kael Ellington talk about a stray bullet that entered their Salt Lake City hom...
Annie Knox and Daniella Rivera, KSL TV

Amid increase in youth shooting deaths, Utah pediatricians push for tougher gun laws

The number of Utah children and teens killed by gunfire reached a record high in 2020, in part because of a spike in homicides. Two Utah pediatricians are calling on the state to pass what they see as solutions to the troubling trend.
3 days ago
Albee Bostrom and Sissy McDade turned their love of thrift store shopping into a business: Thrift H...
Matt Gephardt

Gephardt Busts Inflation: Second-hand shopping, selling surge as Utahns try to beat rising prices

Data shared with the KSL investigators shows Utahns are trying to bring in more money and reduce spending as they try to bust inflation.
3 days ago
Bry Hansen visits his son's grave in South Jordan. (Tanner Siegworth/KSL TV)...
Annie Knox and Daniella Rivera, KSL TV

The number of Utah kids and teens dying by gunfire hit a record high in 2020

The state hit a devastating milestone in 2020, recording the highest-ever number of shooting deaths among Utahns 18 and younger.
3 days ago
Matt Gephardt & Sloan Schrage

Get Gephardt: What can you do if you pay someone to do work but they disappear with your money?

Imagine paying a deposit only to have them take your money and ghost you.
5 days ago
Photo illustration (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)...
Matt Gephardt

Get Gephardt: Your credit card can up your interest rate without telling you

If your credit card company raises your interest rate even just a little bit, it could have a significant impact on how long it takes you to get out of debt. A relatively new law means your credit card company can do just that and they do not even have to give you the heads up.
6 days ago
UDOT says it spend over $1.5 million on fixing potholes in the last fiscal year, FY 2022....
Matt Gephardt & Sloan Schrage, KSL TV

Submitting a claim to the government for pothole damage? Good luck with that

A pothole can do serious and expensive damage to your car. But as Get Gephardt found, if you hit a bad spot on a Utah road, don’t expect the city or state to rush to pay for your repairs.
7 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Portrait of smiling practitioner with multi-ethnic senior people...
Summit Vista

How retirement communities help with healthy aging

There are many benefits that retirement communities contribute to healthy aging. Learn more about how it can enhance your life, or the life of your loved ones.
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to choose what MBA program is right for you: Ask these questions before you apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Cloud storage technology with 3d rendering drawer with files in cloud...
PC Laptops

How backing up your computer can help you relieve stress

Don't wait for something bad to happen before backing up your computer. Learn how to protect your data before disaster strikes.
young woman with stickers on laptop computer...
Les Olson

7 ways print marketing materials can boost your business

Custom print marketing materials are a great way to leave an impression on clients or customers. Read for a few ideas to spread the word about your product or company.
young woman throwing clothes to organize a walk in closet...
Lighting Design

How to organize your walk-in closet | 7 easy tips to streamline your storage today

Read our tips to learn how to organize your walk-in closet for more storage space. These seven easy tips can help you get the most out of your space.
Types of Computer Malware and Examples...
PC Laptops

5 Nasty Types of Computer Malware and Examples | Everything You Need to Know to Keep Your Computer and Family Safe

Here are the different types of computer malware and examples that could potentially infect your computer.
Secret Consumer Score Determines How Companies Treat You