Special Focus

Improving Productivity Via Simplified Self-Service Authentication

By Brendan B. Read, Senior Contributing Editor  |  June 01, 2011

IVR and web self-service systems have long been excellent contact center productivity-enhancing tools by handling calls that would have been answered or made by live agents at a fraction of the interaction costs. They can boost customer satisfaction by providing queueless responses.

And one of the most important factors in enabling self-service functionality is authenticating customers when they use them; it is also key in providing effective customer service. Unfortunately, effective authentication has been too often overlooked, reports a new ClickFox (News - Alert) (www.clickfox.com) study, “The Impact of Authentication on Customer Experience and Operational Costs”, prompting customers to reach out to live agents.

ClickFox estimated that approximately 10 percent of customers that call into an IVR system will then contact agents for that reason. In addition, unauthenticated IVR callers that transfer to agents are 30 percent more likely to be transferred to second agents than authenticated callers. On the web up to 23 percent of customers that fail to recover passwords will have cross-channel interactions with agents within seven days.

The chief culprit is requiring customers to use difficult-to-recall identifiers like PINs, account numbers, usernames and passwords. It found that when other factors are held constant, the security question answer results in the highest levels of recovery success, while requiring account number drives the most failed authentication recovery attempts.

The impacts are three-fold: increased costs from higher live agent call volumes and longer average handle times to perform the authentication process live. Customer satisfaction scores drop significantly, up to 12 percent for those customers requiring multiple agents during their call.

Authentication success depends on two factors offering the simplest and most seamless processes for customers, and for a company’s ability to match their inputs to the correct accounts, says the ClickFox report. Creating a process that limits the amount of time and effort required from the customer drives authentication success and subsequent single contact resolution. Further, it is critical to ask for information that will be easily remembered by customers, but also unlikely to change over time.

Here are the ClickFox study recommendations when designing the authentication process:

*             Automatically identify the customer where possible, including using dialed-from number for IVR systems

*             Use easy-to-recall information, such as phone number, Social Security Number (SSN) or date of birth. When the customers’ phone number is not used to identify the caller, often they are asked to enter an account number or their SSN. Given the familiarity with their SSN, customers using that option are nearly 10 percent more likely to successfully authenticate than by using account number

*             Include self service to retrieve forgotten usernames or passwords and apply processes that use security questions instead of account numbers

*             Collect all fields that are used to authenticate customers during the new customer on-boarding process

*             Audit systems to find customers that have blank authentication fields in their customer profiles. Proactively reach out to them via e-mail or text to gather information

*             Should a customer reach live help, coach live representatives (contact center or retail) to update missing authentication data and educate/remind customers about authentication options

*             Following the changes, notify customers of authentication changes via e-mail, SMS/text and continuously educate them of self service options available during interactions

These methods work, sometimes in spectacular fashion. For one unnamed client, ClickFox identified a low online password retrieval rate that drove significant customer calls into customer care. It made recommendations to streamline the password retrieval process and educate customers struggling with passwords. The firm now saves over $12.5 million.

“A large percentage of customer contacts across industries begin with an authentication process,” Chad McMahon, senior business analyst at ClickFox. “The simpler this process is, the more customers will repeatedly attempt and complete authentication, which in turn enables them to self serve. Ensuring authentication requirements include information easily recalled by customers is key to the success of any enterprise’s self service goals.”

Brendan B. Read is TMCnet’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.