About Customer Authentication

 by Laura Zegar (@LauraKZegar)

“Why do I always have to give the customer service rep my information again when I’ve already entered it in the automated phone system?”

Those were the first words out of my sister’s mouth when I told her I was writing a customer experience blog post on caller authentication. She’s asked that question many times. I’m sure you have, too.

Many callers dread a cumbersome authentication process. Who can blame them? Too much customer effort erodes the overall customer experience. Ask your customers to authenticate multiple times on one phone call or assign them complicated passwords, and they just might switch to your easy-to-do-business-with competitor.

American customers spend approximately 15 billion minutes per year on authentication. Guess who spends all those minutes with your customers? That’s right – your contact center agents. Over 25% of agent call handle time is spent solely on authentication.

Chances are, you can’t complete any revenue-generating business transactions with these customers until they’re successfully authenticated. Translation: You don’t make a single cent until you’ve verified your caller.

So how exactly does a poor authentication process impact the customer experience? Let’s walk through some common scenarios.

First, customers must manage multiple PINs, passwords and authentication questions across numerous service providers. Recalling the correct information for a specific provider is often challenging, particularly if your authentication includes complicated PINs or passwords with no significance to the customer.

Example: Bob calls your customer service number and attempts to authenticate in the IVR for a self-service transaction to verify his balance due. Unfortunately, he quickly realizes he can’t remember his PIN. He enters several of his commonly used PINs, hoping that one will successfully identify him. After multiple failed authentication attempts, Bob must either transfer to an agent for assistance or hang up and call back once he locates his PIN.

Not a good start to what should be a simple self-service transaction.

Even if customers know their credentials, their next hurdle is successfully completing the authentication in your IVR. Multi-layered authentication prompts may be confusing, or the IVR may not recognize a customer’s speech or accent. If your technology isn’t customer-friendly, your customers will either involuntarily transfer to an agent or, worse, voluntarily skip the IVR authentication process on future calls.

Example: Mary decides to call your customer service number, prepared with her PIN in hand. She selects the Spanish IVR option to verify her balance due and, when prompted, verbally provides the correct PIN in her regional Spanish accent. Unfortunately, your IVR only recognizes non-accented Spanish and fails to properly authenticate Mary. At this point, Mary must transfer to an agent or call the IVR back to manually key in her PIN.

Another bad start to a simple self-service transaction.

What about customers who do successfully authenticate in your IVR and transfer to an agent? They’re still not out of the woods. Their authentication may not transmit correctly to your agent, requiring the customer to authenticate a second time. And if the customer is transferred to another agent? That authentication may not transfer with them, either, requiring yet anotherverification.

Example: Mike dials your customer service number and quickly authenticates with his PIN in the IVR. He verifies his balance due, then decides to transfer to an agent for questions about his bill. The agent greets Mike and repeats the authentication process.

You know what’s coming next.

Mike asks, “Why do I always have to give you guys my information again when I’ve already entered it in your automated phone system?”

The agent apologizes, explaining that she did not receive Mike’s information on her screen. She successfully authenticates Mike and determines that he must be transferred to another department for further assistance. Mike is transferred to another agent…who again repeats the authentication process.  

All this before Mike can even address his actual inquiry! Ouch.

Bob, Mary and Mike are just three examples of the authentication challenges faced by customers every day. Multiply these per customer, then per company, and we have a serious customer experience problem.

If your customers repeatedly fail the authentication process, it’s time to examine your overall people, process and technology capabilities to identify where the breakdown lies.

Are your agents comprehensively trained on your policies, procedures and authentication best practices? Is your authentication process simple yet robust? Have you leveraged reliable, smart technology to streamline the customer and agent user experience? And, most importantly, have you done all this with a customer-centric view?

With careful planning and execution, even small changes to one or more of these capabilities can yield significant improvement to your customer’s authentication experience.

Before you know it, your customers will be asking a different question when they call you: “Why aren’t my other service providers this easy to call?”

About Laura:

I’m a customer-centric manager with 15+ years of customer experience, strategy and operations expertise…and I’m pretty passionate about it!

Customer capabilities I’ve managed include experience and retention, strategy, system design and implementation, and contact center operations. My experience spans the wireless / telecommunications, retail, banking, IT, health care, sales, government and HR / benefits outsourcing industries.

Outside the customer world, I’m an equally passionate Chicago foodie with a penchant for fitness, design, style, social media…and everything else in between.