Shhh. You might not be running a top-secret business, but there are times when absolute discretion is required. But how can one keep customer secrets?

It helps to take a peek at how those businesses that offer 100 percent confidentiality treat such situations.

Privacy is a growing concern across the board. It was FaceBook’s flippant attitude toward privacy that propelled Ello into the spotlight. FaceBook is huge; your business isn’t. FaceBook can afford to lose a few thousand customers; you can’t.

I run a ghostwriting agency. In some cases – surprisingly few, mind you – my clients want complete confidentiality. For me it is simple, since nobody ever comes to me and accuses me of writing somebody’s book or website or best man speech. People generally do not care, so they don’t track me down.

For a business like mine, and yours might be like this, too, you provide the service and the client is the one that goes out and blabs to the world. In fact, even when clients hand us highly confidential information, chances are it will be released to the public; after all, that is why they hire us, to write something that they will publish. Nevertheless, sometimes an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) is requested, and we always sign it.

Sometimes, just being a client is risky

But what would you do if you are in charge of a client’s confidential information and somebody wants access to it? What if just admitting that the client is your client is more disclosure than the client would appreciate? That is exactly the case with some businesses, such as private investigators.

Perry Myers, President of Chicago-based MSI Detective Services, tells of the time when both sides of a dispute came to him to investigate the other side. He did not at first realize it was the same dispute, and it created a “weird conflict”.

Once he realized that it was the same case, he told the second person who contacted him that his caseload was full and referred them to another private investigator. Having already promised confidentiality, he never told his client. Neither party ever found out that the other had come to him, because he protected the privacy of both parties.

Some things are just private

Medical labs must also maintain absolute confidentiality, none more so than those testing for sensitive matters like STDs (sexually transmitted diseases). Insurance companies would love to know about such things as HIV. Parents would love to know if their teens are getting intimate. And spouses would be curious to know if their partners have reason to be concerned.

In other words, even revealing that somebody is a customer could be disastrous for that person.

For that reason, STD Check doesn’t even use it’s real name when sending emails. If somebody looks over your shoulders when you are downloading emails, they will only see one from “FPK services”. The same goes for credit card statements. The line could refer to printing, cleaning, tax advice, babysitting or anything. Using a generic-sounding alter ego is one way to mark a confidential relationship in the same way that our writers sometimes use pen names.

The company also asks for explicit permission to leave a voicemail. Unless the customer asks for voicemail, no phone contact will be initiated.

Sometimes, your business is about privacy

Then, of course, there are businesses like Ashley Madison, the dating site explicitly for people seeking extra-marital affairs. You might scoff that anyone using those services deserves to be “outed”, but the fact is that the business will remain in business only if customers can be assured of absolute discretion.

This can get tricky, since people are posting profiles of themselves online, and there is always the risk of running into the piña colada conundrum:

“So I waited with high hopes and she walked in the place
I knew her smile in an instant, I knew the curve of her face
It was my own lovely lady and she said, “Oh, it’s you?”
Then we laughed for a moment and I said, “I never knew.”

As for Ashley Madison, they know that most people would not laugh to find their spouse cheating, even if they are doing it, too. And if somebody suspects that their spouse is cheating, don’t expect a letter to come back reading:

“Dear Mr. Tomlinson.

Yes, we have found that your wife has an account with us. I am sure this will lead you to you believe her to be a very naughty girl, but that is what our members are looking for.”

Remember that the customer is your boss. Be very careful what you say, how you word it and to whom you speak when dealing with confidential or sensitive information. You cannot afford to be flippant or careless. Your business is worth only what clients are willing to trust you to do, and in many cases that means protecting their privacy. Absolute discretion.