What Does a Customer Experience When You Handle Fraud the Right Way?

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By: Tim Prugar

This morning, tens of millions of Americans woke up and experienced the same, sinking feeling:

Was my information exposed in the Equifax Breach? Am I at risk for being a victim of fraud?

As a business, your customers are frightened right now. They're worried about their accounts, and their identities, and the lives that they have worked hard to build for themselves and their families. What they want more than anything is the peace of mind that if something goes wrong, it can and will be taken care of in a timely fashion.

I know that feeling well - last month I was the victim of credit card fraud. The feelings above were real, and they were intense. However, my bank was able to transform a very scary experience into a positive one by making it easy to have my problem addressed and fixed. The fundamental tension in fraud prevention is between Customer Experience and Security. However, as you'll see here, those two can very easily work hand-in-hand to protect the customer while ensuring loyalty. 

My story, originally posted over at CustomerThink, is as follows:

Speed

I had just become the victim of credit card fraud.

While sitting at my desk, I received an email alert from my bank — one of the largest in the United States — that my credit card had just been used in Iowa. Of course, I wasn’t in Iowa. And I hadn’t used my credit card in nearly three weeks.

Upon looking, to me, it was an amount that clearly showed someone was testing the card to see if it would go through — often the first step in a fraudster’s bag of tricks.

My bank prompted me to confirm the purchase — “Was this your purchase, or is something wrong?” it read. They had started on the right foot, and with 15% of banking customers who experience fraud closing all accounts with that provider, the bank knew the next steps were just as critical to keeping my business.

I clicked “something is wrong” and my card was immediately frozen. I called the support number listed in the email, was quickly authenticated by the bank, and in less than five minutes, my card was closed, the fraudulent transactions reversed, and a new card was on its way.

Efficiency

Chances are, you or someone you know has or will be a victim of credit card fraud. According to the consumer financial protection bureau, more than 10% of the US will fall victim at some point in their lifetime; indeed, the United States accounts for 47% of the world’s credit card fraud cases.

To combat this, companies are always improving their security. For example, the advent of EMV, the smart chip on your card, has led to a decline in total losses in recent years, as it has become more difficult for some fraud acquisition techniques like card skimming.

So where do high-tech fraudsters turn when they’re thwarted? The weakest link, of course. And today that is the call center. The place where customers are earned and lost.

In 2016, call-center fraud rose more than 110%. Financial institutions authenticating primarily through ANI — automatic number identification — were startlingly vulnerable to attacks carried out by phone spoofing, which remains a heavily relied upon technique for fraudsters.

Shoring up this vulnerability is a fine line for financial institutions to walk.

Too little security and perpetrators of fraud can easily game the system. Too much security, and you’re putting an already aggravated customer through the ringer.

The worst thing a bank can do is handle this poorly: bouncing someone between multiple agents, poorly thought out knowledge based authentication question that either the person may not know the answer to, or a fraudster may be able to figure out through social media, long hold times, etc.

You need a system that does this, and does it quickly, so a customer can get on with their day as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Positivity

Ironically, having my credit card stolen ended up being a pleasant experience, because now I’ve got a great story to tell — a firsthand account of how a powerful authentication system can transform the customer experience in fraud cases.

How a company handles fraud and makes the customer feel is important; a company has the same responsibility as when they’re trying to convince a customer to buy. If someone has a terrible experience dealing with the counter-fraud measures of their banking institution — that can derail the entire relationship.

Speed is a factor in situations like this, and with a solid authentication system in place, my bank and I can operate with trust and peace of mind that I am who I say and solve the problem at the speed I desire as the victim. I want to get a person on the phone as quickly as possible.

When a company can authenticate a caller quickly, they chop off the clunky knowledge based process at the beginning of the call and it allows them to green light calls like mine.

The primary benefits are twofold: identifying fraudulent calls and beginning the procedures on dealing with such calls, or authenticating the call quickly before any further damage is done by a perpetrator of fraud.

Who knows what the damage of an additional 5, 10 or even 30 minutes means in terms of fraud — but we can stop the damage before it gets that far.

When companies use efficient technology to put the customer experience first while simultaneously demonstrating a commitment to strong security measures, everyone comes out ahead.

Even though my account was compromised, even though there was fraud — I walked away with a positive feeling about the company, because of the efficiency of how my case was handled.

With brand loyalty harder than ever to win, and fraudsters continuing to evolve the way they commit attacks, smart organizations will do well to bake fraud prevention into their CX.

 

Tim Prugar is the VP of Operations at Next Caller. He can be reached at tim@nextcaller.com.

What Can AI Learn from School Teachers?

Over at ICMI, Next Caller's Director of Customer Success, Tim Prugar, reflects on his career in education and provides some thoughts on what Contact Center AI can learn from the thousands of real-time adjustments and decisions that teachers make on a daily basis. 

Read Tim's Post Here.

Will Biometrics Change the Way Your Business Accepts Payments?

By: Tim Prugar

Yes. Yes they will. But Payments will also change the way that Biometrics are leveraged for security. 

Technology has widened the chasm between small businesses and behemoth competitors like Amazon and Alibaba. This becomes most clear in the payments space, where smaller merchants struggle to process the volume and speed of transactions with the technological innovation that larger firms can afford. Small Business Trends took a look at the role biometrics plays in payments, and had an interesting takeaway:

Biometrics is not a Binary

Well, shouldn't be a binary anyway. Biometric identifiers don't get scored as "Correct" or "Incorrect" like knowledge-based identifiers do (Either "Appetite for Destruction" is your favorite album or it isn't!). Instead, authentication solutions look for the probability of a match based on a number of traits or signifiers - once that probability crosses a certain threshold, it's deemed a "match." 

The most effective biometric systems increase the probability that a biometric identifier is deemed a match by marrying that fingerprint or iris or what-have-you to other data signals. As the article points out, fingerprint biometrics can have their efficacy increased when paired with data signals like geolocation or Device ID. Similarly, Jack Ma made Alipay more secure by marrying the "Selfiepay" concept with smiling or nodding as a movement captcha. 

But what about Voice Biometrics?

Voice biometrics are an effective solution for authenticating callers and detecting fraud. Without additional data points, however, Voice Biometrics fails to meet its full potential. 

Here's what Voice Bio can leverage to get even smarter:

Dynamic Blacklists - If a call is coming from a known fraudulent number, a suspicious international number range, or a compromised account- why treat it as a basic customer call? Leverage this information, much of which can be accessed via API in near-real-time, to flag calls before they even reach you Biometric Authentication. 

Spoof - According to Next Caller's research, 94% of all fraudulent attacks on the call center leverage ANI spoofing as one of the methods to gain access.  Smart call centers use information about whether a call is spoofed to "green light" a call for an agent or flag that call for further scrutiny. 

Geolocation - Where should your caller be? If they're somewhere else - that's a solid indicator to at least take a second look at a call. 

Again, all of the above information is available in near-real-time, much faster than a Voice Biometric Authenticator can perform an analysis. 

The next major wave of Biometric Security won't be the implementation of the solutions, but the marrying of data that makes those solutions smarter. 

 

Tim Prugar is the Director of Customer Success at Next Caller. He can be reached at tim@nextcaller.com

Merchants Stand To Lose HOW MUCH to CNP Fraud?

 

By: Tim Prugar

           Regular readers of this blog should be no stranger to Next Caller’s stance that the EMV migration has had a significant impact on Card-not-Present (CNP) Fraud in the retail and financial services spaces. The call center channel and eCommerce are the most vulnerable due to the volume of transactions and vulnerability to social engineering. We always knew that the threat was a potentially catastrophic one, but the amount of money at stake may be even greater than anyone realized.

            A recent report by Javelin estimates that $71 billion will be lost to CNP Fraud over the course of the next five years. With those staggering numbers in play, it’s even more alarming that so many merchants still insist that the costs of combatting fraud are too high to justify. This is false: the majority of real-time fraud solutions are less expensive and less labor intensive than salaried Analysts who perform manual reviews of instances after the fact. Javelin also indicates that in the eCommerce space, address fraud in the form of freight forwarding and Synthetic ID fraud are of particular threat to the industry.

            So, in the face of this oncoming tsunami of fraud, what is a merchant or financial institution to do?

 

Prioritize Real-Time

The reason for the growth in CNP Fraud is twofold: one, the difficulty of traditional Card-Present Fraud post EMV migration, and two, the enormous volume of transactions fraudsters can pump through CNP channels. Merchants and Financial Institutions simply do not have the time and resources to hand-review the massive amount of fraud that is coming and will continue to come their way. Visionary organizations will prioritize real-time, first-stage fraud detection systems over second-stage review solutions.

 

Leverage Geographic Intelligence

Businesses know where their fraud is taking place. Why not view those regions with a greater degree of skepticism? Setting up business rules to trigger automated, real-time reviews of orders going to suspicious locations is a must for dynamic fraud teams. According to Javelin, Fraud chargeback rates in Brazil jumped from .5% of all transactions to 3.5% - with a jump from 1.25% to 2.75% reported during the same period in Mexico. Wouldn’t it make sense to pay a touch more attention to orders going to those locales?

 

Verify Everything

With Synthetic ID fraud on the rise, it serves as the perfect compliment to CNP Fraud. It’s not enough anymore to verify that a phone number and/or a postal address are valid. Fraudsters are providing valid information in invalid combinations to circumvent detection systems. Fraud teams, particularly in eCommerce, should not only be validating each order line, but should be verifying that the information has been seen together before – an offering that Next Caller provides.  

 

Tim Prugar is the Director of Customer Success at Next Caller. He can be reached at tim@nextcaller.com.

Should ISPs Prepare for "Hacktivism" in the Wake of Net Neutrality Vote?

     The internet erupted in a collective fury last week as the FCC voted to rollback net neutrality regulations. From the internet commons of Reddit to the New York Times Editorial Page, observers noted with concern, anxiety, or full-blown rage that the policy shift was a threat to the concept of a free and open internet. The popular wrath was directed at two main sources: FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and massive Internet Service Providers (ISPs) who potentially stand to gain from the deregulation. With ISPs squarely in the sights of the internet’s vengeful wrath, the rise of “hacktivism” should give ISPs significant pause about the security threats this policy change can bring to their organizations.

 

What is Hacktivism?

            A blend of hacking and activism, hacktivists leverage security breaches or other cyber attacks to advance a political or social cause. Rather than looking for money, Hacktivists are seeking to combat perceived injustices. Examples include an attack on the state of Michigan’s website in the wake of the Flint Water Crisis, the hacking of DNC Emails, and even the data breach at Ashley Madison.

 

Why Should Net Neutrality Make ISPs “Productively Paranoid”?

            First and foremost, there’s already been an alleged hacktivist attack as a result of the net neutrality vote. The FCC itself has claimed that it suffered multiple distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks that they believe had the goal of shutting down the public commenting system in advance of the net neutrality vote. These tactics are becoming increasingly common as an expression of internet outrage, and ISPs don’t need to look much further than headlines to see the anger that these policy changes have caused:

Comcast and Verizon’s Sneaky Push to Kill Net Neutrality is Just Embarrassing

Comcast and other ISPs celebrate imminent death of net neutrality rules

Verizon Apparently Thinks You’re Stupid 

FCC Buried By Fake and Hate-Filled Comments on Net Neutrality

            To sum…many people are very unhappy.

 

 What Can You Do To Protect Yourself From Hacktivist Attacks?

            The most important thing to recognize is that attackers focus on vulnerabilities and weaknesses. Any plan to shore up security must identify and secure frequently-overlooked channels.

1.     The Phone

Whether it’s PBX, VOIP-based UC systems, or a consumer-facing call center, the phone channel is a prime target for bad actors. ISPs should be certain that PBX/UC systems have secure passwords and that systems are in place to detect suspected breaches. A hacked PBX can run up hundreds of thousands of dollars in long-distance calls in a single weekend, and would be a perfect way for hacktivists to make ISPs feel financial pain for the net neutrality shifts.

ISPs who operate consumer-facing call centers should employ technology that can detect instances of call spoofing or robodialing in real-time. Executing a Telephony Denial-of-Service (TDos) attack by flooding a call center with robocalls is an effective way to completely shut down a call center, like what happened at the Minnesota insurance exchange. ISPs want to be sure to have strong anti-spoofing technology in place to prevent account takeover protect their customers’ personal data in the event of an attack.

2.     Phishing Attacks

The human being is always the weakest link in the fraud chain. From Snapchat to the World Anti-Doping Agency to GoogleDocs, significant cyber threats can be facilitated by an employee clicking on a link or downloading and opening a file they shouldn’t. It is essential that ISPs exhibit a heightened sense of internal security, and ensure that all employees have received recent training on phishing attacks, social engineering practices, and basic email safety.

3.     Third Party Vendors

With the rise of interconnectivity and the Internet of Things, it’s no longer enough to worry about your own security protocols and practices – you must also be rock-solid certain as to the security credentials of your third party vendors. An air conditioning vendor contributed to Target’s data breach, and Lady Gaga’s album was leaked after a collaborator was hacked. How are you being certain that your vendor partners aren’t accidentally putting your business at risk?

3 Lessons Contact Center Leaders Can Learn From WannaCry

By: Tim Prugar

     The transnational WannaCry Ransomware Attack exploded across the internet early Friday Morning on May 12th, and it’s aftershocks are still being felt early this week as some machines in Asian Markets are being booted up for the first time after the weekend. For the curious, Nicole Perlroth over at the New York times provides an outstanding overview of the background events leading up to this cyber attack, but the basic facts are relatively simple. A hacker or team of hackers identified a vulnerability in the Server Message Block (SMB) Protcol in Microsoft Software, and put together a ransomware attack that spreads through a system’s file-sharing capabilities. The attack would immediately encrypt all of the system’s files, demanding a Bitcoin payment for the de-encryption and safe release of the pertinent documents. The attack, like many, was unleashed via a simple phishing ploy – an unsuspecting victim downloaded and opened a file they shouldn’t have that contained the malicious software. The rest was a nightmare for the cybersecurity community.

     While the WannaCry threat can reasonably be classified as “cyber terrorism”, and patches to protect machines from being infected have already been issued, Information Security Officers should use this incident as an opportunity to pull lessons about protecting all channels from attacks from bad actors. What can fraud experts, CISOs, and Call Center Leaders learn from the WannaCry attacks?

 

1. The Human is the Weakest Link In the Fraud Chain

The methods through which WannaCry spread and replicated may have been automated, but the door for access was opened by a human being. Basic social engineering is at the heart of many of these phishing, SMSishing, and vishing scams, and the phone is one of the most lucrative channels for manipulating a human being to a desired end. CISOs and Call Center Leaders should be investing heavily in training agents to identify and recognize common social engineering methods and tricks, and should consider exploring technologies that are able to identify calls real-time that have been spoofed or otherwise manipulated. There is a high correlation between ANI Spoofing and phone fraud attempts, so more information allows agents to “trust but verify” with more complete data.

 

2. The Cost of Attacks Go Beyond Money

     The big story of the WannaCry attacks isn’t the absolute value of the money extorted (some reports have it at less than $60,000), but the “collateral damage” losses of disruption to services, man hours lost, and even potential health implications. The WannaCry ransomware didn’t just infect computers in a vacuum – it infected computers at Universities, the British National Health System, train stations in Germany, and multi-national corporations based out of France and China. Similarly, when fraud teams do cold “dollars and cents” cost benefit analyses of fraud solutions for the Contact Center, they often look only at their absolute number of fraud losses, and compare that to the cost of the solution. CISOs and Contact Center Leaders should look at the problem holistically: How much time are we losing due to caller authentication? Can we quantify the damage being done to our brand due to fraud and data breaches? Are fraudsters leveraging information stolen at the contact center level to make larger, more costly fraud attacks elsewhere?

 

3. Hackers and Fraudsters Are Very, Very Good At Exploiting Vulnerabilities

     Some hackers and fraudsters are organized criminal enterprises; others are impish troublemakers. Either way, these people are experts at identifying weaknesses in security systems and exploiting them for their own gain. Just as the architects of the WannaCry attack masked their malicious software to get a foot in the door, so too do those looking to commit account takeover or identity theft through the Contact Center mask their phone number to minimize the likelihood of detection. By using ANI Spoofing, fraudsters look to mimic the phone number of an existing customer to bypass ANI-matching authentication procedures, or look to mimic a completely random phone number to hide their own identity. Either way, these fraudsters are leveraging spoof as the main method for their attacks, and any technologies that can detect these spoofing attempts real-time provide an added layer of much-needed security at the Contact Center level.

 

     So what can CISOs and Contact Center Leaders do in the wake of the WannaCry attack to ensure that all channels are adequately defended from bad actors?

     Security Leaders would be wise to conduct a thorough audit of Contact Center authentication and security protocols to ensure that vulnerabilities and weaknesses in the call flow are identified, isolated, and addressed in a timely fashion. Tools such as blacklists, voice biometrics, and anti-spoof technology are all strong safeguards to keep bad actors out, but they are used best in tandem as a layered solution to provide the highest possible level of Contact Center security.

 

Tim Prugar is Next Caller's Director of Customer Success. He can be reached at tim@nextcaller.com.

Three Strategies for Call Center Optimization

Artist's rendering of Michael Cho dictating a blog post.

Artist's rendering of Michael Cho dictating a blog post.

Next Caller Philosopher-King Michael Cho was recently asked by Execs in the Know, a global network of customer experience professionals, to put together some thoughts for a guest blog post. You can read Michael's insight on optimizing the call center not only for excellent customer service, but also to increase revenue below:

Michael's Guest Post at Execs in the Know

Get To Know Your Caller: The Power of the First 30 Seconds

Jenny is the Visitor Support Manager for DMV.ORG. With over a decade of customer service experience, Jenny has been recognized through social media channels as a thought leader. She is co-founder and a regular contributor on the Customer Service Life Blog (http://www.communciatebetterblog.com). She can often be found on the beach in San Diego, California.  Follow here on Twitter: jennysuedempsey

Jenny is the Visitor Support Manager for DMV.ORG. With over a decade of customer service experience, Jenny has been recognized through social media channels as a thought leader. She is co-founder and a regular contributor on the Customer Service Life Blog (http://www.communciatebetterblog.com). She can often be found on the beach in San Diego, California. 

Follow here on Twitter: jennysuedempsey

 

Ready...set...GO!

You have 30 quick seconds to make a million fast decisions.

First impressions about a company via customer service channels make lasting impressions to the customer and whoever the customer decides to share them with (friends, family, social media). When Sir Patrick Stewart waited 36 hours for his Time Warner Cable appointment he took his thoughts to Twitter on their initial customer support. It resulted in a media backlash that had the TW social media team on their toes.

In most cases, the single point of contact with a company is when they reach out to customer service.

How will you, mighty customer service representative, measure up to the clock?

 

1. Be Prepared

If you’re a customer service agent that is provided with a technology to pull customer data, such as a name, phone or account number, address, etc. on your computer screen before every call, consider your job made 10% easier. If you don’t, you still have the ability to do one simple thing: ASK. By referring to the customer by name throughout the entire call, as well as opening their account to read through any previous service notes, you are a step ahead of the game to kindling the fire on a great call.

 

2. Be Kind

You’re on the customer’s side. Your job is to have their back. When you answer the phone, are you answering in a tone that you’d use with your best friend? Setting and keeping a genuine and friendly tone during the conversation welcomes your customer to your company, starts to build trust and showcases your brand voice in a positive manner. Not only that, it will benefit the bottom line. According to JitBit, businesses lose upwards of $84 billion per year due to poor, untrustworthy customer service.

 

3. Be Purposeful

The customer called for a reason. They may voice their frustrations immediately, not caring about your kind voice or that you know their name. What actions do you take then? By listening to the customer speak and release their dissatisfaction, you can zoom in on what the larger issue is at stake. You can then hold the reigns to define the purpose of the call to keep things on track and help your customer get to their desired resolution.  

 

Here’s a Customer Service MadLib Style Script for you to act as a baseline on how to keep the empathy in your word choices when you may be challenged by a difficult customer:


[After listening quietly to customer on phone]

______________  thank you for sharing your experience with me. I completely understand why you feel   

(Customer Name)             

_______________.

(Customer Emotion)

I am disappointed that _____________ has happened. Our company takes ownership of this and apologize.        (Sum up customer story)    

My goal is to resolve this. I will _____________________ and I look forward to working with you!

             (Realistic Customer Expectations)

 

In a nutshell:

  • Be Prepared.

  • Be Kind.

  • Be Purposeful.

Write that down on a Post-It and stick it to your computer monitor, friends!


All of this happens within the first 30 seconds of the call. And the power is all in your hands.

So Sayeth The Times: 3 Reasons Why Biometric Authentication Should Give You Pause

 

In Tuesday's New York Times, the Room for Debate blog took on concerns surrounding the growing use of biometric authentication in the banking sector. Typically these arguments are more polarizing, with a traditional "A IS GOOD vs. A IS TERRIBLE!" style of debate. But when it came to Biometrics, something interesting happened: both sides agreed that Biometric Authentication is an imperfect, and sometimes deeply flawed, science. They merely disagreed on the implications of that for banking security. 

Look, Biometric Authentication is LIGHT YEARS ahead of static passwords and easily-researchable security questions. It's here to stay. The debate isn't whether or not banks should utilize biometric authentication - the debate is whether these financial behemoths should be relying on biometrics as their sole, or even their main, first-stage fraud solution. To make a football analogy, the Carolina Panthers would never say to their quarterback "Hey, Cam, you're revolutionizing the quarterback position and doing things we never thought possible - we can just rely on you and don't need to have an offensive line, or receivers, or running backs - I'm sure you can do it all and won't fail." No coach would ever say that. Of course not. After all, that's the Chicago Bears' patented offensive strategy. 

                                Not Funny, Tim.

                                Not Funny, Tim.

So let's take a deeper dive into the challenges presented by Biometric Authentication:

1. Just Because It's Biometric Doesn't Mean It's Not Data

Target. Snapchat. Ashley Madison. Data breaches that have exposed the personal information, home addresses, credit card information, or even Social Security Numbers of customers and employees have made front page news on dozens of occasions. As Claire Gartland of the Electronic Privacy Information Center points out, citizens have action steps they can take when this type of information is released. They can cancel cards or apply for new SSNs. But what recourse do people have when biometric information is leaked? The Office of Personnel Management has already admitted that 5.6 million fingerprints were stolen in a recent data breach, and hackers have already shown their ability to replicate fingerprints and iris scans to game security systems. Voice biometrics has similar flaws. If your customer data can be breached, so too can your biometric data (regardless of the encryption or tokenization).  

 

2.  Do Your Customers Trust You?

Just because I'd let my friend hold $100 for me doesn't mean I'd trust him to hold onto my fingerprints and DNA. I've seen enough Law & Order to know better. Biometric authentication brings about very real Orwellian concerns on behalf of consumers. What are you going to do with this information? What assurance do I have that this will only be used for authentication? While James Lewis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies writes these concerns off as "nervous dystopian projections" and "irrational" (ouch!), the comments show a very different perception of this development in technology. 

                   "I, for one, welcome our new Biometric Overlords!"

                   "I, for one, welcome our new Biometric Overlords!"

3. Impact on Customer Experience

The number one concern for Fraud Analysts is "Catching and Stopping Fraud." However, "Limiting False Positives" and "Ensuring a Seamless Customer Experience" finish a close second and third. Biometric Authentication can have serious impacts on both of those exceedingly important CX metrics. Will MasterCard spring for me to become better looking if my face is consistently judged not to be my actual face? Voice biometrics necessitate 15-30 seconds of analysis at the time of connection on a call - increasing average handle time and also increasing customer frustration at the outset. Biometric authentication also requires certain technologies that can serve as a barriers-to-entry for customers that may not be able to purchase smart phones. Are banks going to be in the business of only offering security to those who can afford it?

So What Now?

While the debate in the Times cast a significant amount of doubt on the viability of Biometric Authentication as the sole solution for banks, we should refrain from throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Biometric Authentication is an enormously promising development in the world of security, but it is a mistake to view this development as a panacea, or a reliable sole method for thwarting fraudsters. Banks who are looking to increase first-stage fraud prevention at the payment and call center level would be wise to combine known fraudster block lists, Biometric Authentication, and carrier and transaction level metadata to best defend against nefarious attacks and protect their customers' assets...and peace of mind. 

By: Tim Prugar (tim@nextcaller.com)

 

Top Call Center And Telecom Trends For 2016

Authored by: Sheldon Smith is a Senior Product Manager at XO Communications (XO.com). XO is a telecommunication services provider that specializes in nationwide unified communications and cloud services.  Sheldon has an extensive background in UC and he has over 15 years of experience in the technology industry. His position involves overall product ownership of Hosted PBX, SIP, VoIP and Conferencing.

Overview

Research and Markets, a market research store, states the global contact center market is on track for a compound annual growth rate of 9.26 percent over the next four years, as companies look to outsource communication services and improve the customer experience. However, growth isn’t just happening over the long term. With 2015 almost over, it’s worth taking a look at what next year may bring for the call center and telecoms market: Here are five top trends for 2016:

Improved Mobility

Most telecom providers have built-in support for mobile devices and in some cases, wearable technology — but according to research firm Gartner, 2016 will usher in a new type of mobility powered by the “device mesh.” Put simply, this mesh extends beyond “traditional” consumer devices to also include home electronics, automotive digital systems and environmental tools. For telecom companies, this means increasing demand from users to support any device, anywhere, anytime.

The Ambient Experience

Gartner also predicts the rise of “ambient user experience” over the next year. Enabled by the device mesh, the idea here is to create a customer experience that “seamlessly flows across a shifting set of devices and interaction channels blending physical, virtual and electronic environment.” This is a sea change: Consumers are trending away from devices as discrete channels but instead view them as part of a unified whole. For call centers, the means a rise in the number of callers who expect agents with full access to historical records along with any online, mobile or previous phone conversations.

Stepped-Up Security

Breaches are now an expected outcome for many companies regardless of size or industry. The same applies to telecom providers: Personal data stored by your organization is a hot-ticket item for determined hackers. In 2016, expect to see a rise in the number of security startups and VoIP providers that offer native encryption for all communication data — in transit and at rest. Improved controls for local admins are also on-tap: C-suites and security pros alike want to know what is happening on their network, why and how they can put a stop to it, as needed.

Power to the People

According to global online community Customer Think, one big change coming to call centers of the future is the ability for customers to help themselves with minimal assistance from an agent. While CT takes the long view and says 2020 is the year to watch for this kind of transition, the tech market of 2016 should lay critical groundwork. For example, improved interactive voice response (IVR) systems will make it possible for customers to “self-serve” most of their issues, in turn putting more pressure on front-line call center staff to become subject matter experts. Over the next year, expect the view of agents to shift from one of “first contact” to “final option” — knowledge and skills must improve to match demand.

Bandwidth for Big Data

If telecom providers want to stay competitive through 2016, they’ll need to do better with big data. It’s no longer enough to simply store this steady stream of information — consumers expect their provider to offer real insight when it comes to buying habits and predicted needs. Handling the big data deluge means providers need to shore up available bandwidth and make sure they’re ready to manage the transition from steady flow to rushing river as data demands. According to business news publication Trade Arabia, companies in the Middle East — the world’s second-largest mobile phone market — faces the challenge of dealing with a tech-savvy consumer base that effectively jumped over landline adoption to embrace Internet-connected devices. The result? Massive amounts of data to analyze and insights to glean, and the chance to get a leg up on North American providers that don’t dive headlong into big data.

Ready for 2016? The future holds better mobility, improved user experience and security backed by a tech-savvy populace with big data focus.

Connected Customers: The Value of Leveraging Big Data to Build Customer Conversations

Contributed by: Eric Eriksen

Next Caller is excited to share some information ahead of the upcoming D2C Convention in Las Vegas. At the event, Sam Espinosa and Jeff Kirchick will be speaking on the importance of using big data to increase customer response and maximize contact synchronicity.

Constant connectedness has fundamentally changed the relationship between corporation and customer. Internet usage has generated more actionable data in the past decade than had been created in the previous century. Mobile internet, which has the greatest surveillance potential, increasingly drives data traffic. According to Cisco, more data passed through mobile internet devices in 2014 than passed through the entire internet in 2000. Additionally, wireless data traffic should exceed wired traffic for the first time by the end of this year. Contact with corporations is no longer one-way. In the past, corporations bombarded potential customers indiscriminately with ads, while consumers indicated their feelings solely through purchase decisions. Today, consumers can express their feelings through social media, while corporations can target their messages. Customers and corporations can have “conversations,” with consumers constantly sending data to corporations, and companies constantly modifying and personalizing their messages.

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously declared that there were no second acts in American lives. Telephones and rails, cars and radios, these things brought the world together in such a way that a thousand miles could not protect people from their pasts. Today, it seems quaint that our ancestors thought the world had become small. Yes, we can now go to sleep on a plane in New York and wake up in New Delhi, but the real advance has been that acts of connection are no longer intentional. Generating information was once an active process. If you wanted someone to know something about you, you or someone who knew you had to volunteer the information. A mistake could haunt a man in large part because it was one of only a few data points associated with him. Major events made their way into documentation, but the minutiae of daily life passed without notice. To find information, a person needed to undergo a targeted search, traveling to the physical archives of the world. There is simply no way for me to know what my great-great-grandfather’s preferred brand of whiskey was.

Today, data generation is a passive process. An American’s every move is monitored through GPS embedded in devices, with multiple corporations receiving constant location updates. Every Google search and web visit is recorded not only by the website visited but by every other website a person has visited. The result is an enormous feedback loop. As there are more and more data points for every individual, there is more and more reason to search for information, thereby generating more data. Beyond knowing what my favorite whiskey is, it is now possible to determine how often I go to the store to buy it as well as whether I’ve investigated other options online.

People today are connected in a way that would have been inconceivable even a decade ago. Nielsen estimated last year that the average American adult spends multiple leisure hours a day between smartphones and the internet, to say nothing of the 64% of employees Forbes estimates use the internet for personal purposes every day. The modern American consumer spends enough of his day interacting with all-knowing social media and shopping platforms like Facebook, Amazon, and Twitter that he develops an assumption that the businesses he patronizes know everything about him. He knows that searching for one pair of boots will haunt him for a month in the form of ads for everything from shoes to country music concerts. As a society, we have normalized constant surveillance, and we expect the positive effects of that surveillance in the form of personalized customer service.

The problem is that most business is not done through Facebook, Google, or Amazon. Business is overwhelmingly done with legacy companies, which are inherently not digital natives. Marketing is still mostly done by traditional marketers, who operate on the assumption of limited data. Rather than targeting Blue Label to affluent customers who regularly consume whiskey, marketers put ads in train stations and the backs of glossy general interest magazines. Most of their efforts are seen by people who would never buy the product. We passively volunteer huge amounts of information, yet many marketers do nothing with it. We no longer feel special and privileged if a company gives us personalized service. We feel cheated if they fail to treat us as individuals, and we express our anger on social media, permanently harming the brand.

This expectation of individuality means that cross-channel inconsistency undermines the brand across all segments. The vast majority of companies fail to recognize that data provided through one source is equally valid when utilized across other media. A customer who lives on Dixie Road when he inputs data online does not live somewhere else when he calls a toll-free number. Forrester estimates that 82% of companies do not have a synchronized view of customer data.  A customer with 50 interactions through social media can make a phone call and be treated as a total unknown. To the customer, this feels like someone he knew forgot his name. In order to overcome this, a company needs an omnichannel customer management solution. Corporations must maintain a consistent, consolidated, and comprehensive customer profile that integrates phone, social profiles, address, and email. Calling should not be a radically different experience from interacting on Twitter. We have seen this repeatedly in the past year, as poor call center experiences resulted in high-profile social media disasters for companies such as Comcast and Southwest Airlines.

In the direct response space, these factors are even more important. Huge call volume means that connecting the right customers as quickly as possible can boost conversions and revenues, while high levels of online ordering mean that customers calling to ask about Internet orders have to either input long, often forgotten, numbers or go through something almost as long as the initial registration process. Throughout this whole ordeal, direct response customers also have the ability to hang up at any point, making customer service, and every second, count. Plus, no one in Direct Response has to be told how important social media has become in generating a runaway success. The Snuggie became a pop-culture phenomenon in a way that was almost impossible prior to the rise of online communities.

About a Great Customer Service Experience With Aetna & Why Social Media Is Huge For Customer Service

by Jeff Kirchick (@JeffreyKirchick)

In today’s day and age, we know people are more likely to report negative experiences than pleasant ones, and they have the medium to do that so easily. Whether it is on Yelp or Twitter, bad reviews are all the more common, and now they have the power to tarnish a brand’s reputation more than ever. That’s why it’s important to spread the word about companies who are doing a good job when you can, so I wanted to share an experience I had with Aetna back in December.

I recently joined Next Caller, and our company decided around the same time to use Aetna as a healthcare provider. With the Christmas/New Years festivities in full swing, our application got approved retroactive to a prior date while Aetna could sort through the holiday madness and provide individual policy numbers in the coming week. However, I was dealing with a medical emergency (what are the odds) at the same time and needed to see a doctor immediately. I tried calling the Aetna customer service line in the evening, but to my dismay, at 7:07 PM, I was told by the IVR that their phone lines close at 7 PM. Feeling like the world was out to get me, I took to Twitter, and admittedly I sent Aetna not the nicest tweet in the world that basically demanded why the world was not revolving around me in my time of need.

Within minutes, I had a response from Aetna.

Clearly, my “emergency” was not as urgent as I thought it was, because I fell asleep and responded the next morning. With some basic information e-mailed over to them, Aetna could then go ahead and provide me with the policy number I would need to provide to a doctor in order to be treated. Problem solved.

However, the message was encrypted, and the person I was corresponding with, who saw that I had sent my e-mail from an iPhone, tweeted back at me asking if I would like a phone call instead with the information since iPhones sometimes have a tough time with the encrypted message.

Within seconds, I was talking to Jennifer from Aetna over the phone. She gave me all of the information I needed. She then proceeded to tell me how she had peeked at the Next Caller website the night before after my initial tweet and asked me some questions about what I do. It’s not often that customer service representatives take an interest in you as an individual, but it was truly a pleasure to feel like I was an actual person over the phone that Aetna cared about, rather than someone they would just like to get off the phone with as soon as possible. In any case, I was on my way.

But it didn’t end there. Later on, I was at the pharmacy picking up a prescription, and I ran into another issue that required me to call Aetna. I became frustrated with Aetna’s IVR, and twice I was disconnected when being transferred to a human. So I went back to Twitter. Being at a pharmacy urgently needing medication is a time where you want instant gratification. Lo and behold, Jennifer was back on the phone with me within minutes to settle the situation and ensure that I could get the medication I needed.

Looking back on the experience, I had a tough time with Aetna over the phone, but a great time with Aetna when dealing with their social media team. This has often been the case – that it is frustrating to call customer service, but I have often received great help through social media. Why is that?

Well, brands today cannot afford for people to be saying bad things about them in online communities, and so they are investing accordingly in putting together teams that meet frustrated customers where they are. Something I have often noticed with social media customer service reps is that they often try to take the issue offline immediately by encouraging the customer to e-mail them at a certain address. This diffuses the situation in a public setting, and brings it to a private place where the customer and the brand can negotiate without others taking notice.

But people who work in social media are quite frankly savvier than others. They take pride in being part of the digital wave and in doing so, they see to it that they are quick and precise. They often need to prove the value of what they do to their superiors who have invested in more archaic forms of communication for the past few decades. Measuring ROI through social media is difficult, so those who work in the field are personally invested in being good performers.

I also believe that because most executives did not grow up with social media, but are being told of its importance, they are putting the proper amount of resources into social media because they know it’s “up and coming” and “popular.” Meanwhile, they continue to do the opposite with their call centers – make them as mean and lean as possible, which leads to longer hold times and frustration for the consumer. Even basic upgrades to caller identification would save companies and customers a lot of hassle, and yet over 60% of inbound calls to call centers today still require identification.

I know that several large companies I have spoken with have at least twenty people who work on their social media. What an astounding number. I cannot express enough how satisfying it was to have an Aetna representative essentially at my fingertips throughout the day in a critical time of need.

As a Starwood Platinum Member, I have similarly had exchanges with their social media team via Twitter to handle certain issues or room upgrade requests and again I have been amazed by the prompt responses and just flat-out results that you get when you can compartmentalize an issue and deal with it head-on with a representative from the company. When you can skip all of the bureaucracy, the voice recordings, the risk of being disconnected or having to spell out your name over the phone over and over again, things are just straight up easier.