In the past week, several companies (who I pay for their services) have called me to discuss my account. Before they can talk to me, they ask me to complete customer verification. Before I am willing to do that, I can’t be sure that they’re who they say they are.

Putting customer data at risk

Call me overly cautious, but with regular stories in the media about identity theft and coercion, I don’t think it’s wrong to proceed with calls like this with vast amounts of caution. So every time, I ask for them to verify who they are.

Of course, I know that they can’t verify who they are. It’s a fundamental issue with the systems they’re operating that nobody is either willing or wants to resolve. When I ask, they insist I need to complete customer verification before I can ask questions about them.

Frankly, this is wrong - it puts their customers at unnecessary risk, no matter how seemingly unimportant the information being requested for verification is. Barclays has been running ads on TV recently to raise awareness of this issue - it says its staff will never ask customers to confirm personal details. More brands should take this stance because it’s the right one.

Customer verification: a fundamental breakdown

There is no kind of two-way verification, even though they’re the ones who called me. They claim the customer verification is for security purposes. But whose security are they protecting? Mine or theirs? It harks back to data protection laws in this (and other countries) being extremely outdated, but it is a potentially damaging customer experience.

I understand the need for customer verification when discussing sensitive matters, but the current methods are antiquated and outdated. They are not focused on the customer. In fact, they put their customers’ identity at risk. There has to be a better way.

When questioning brands about their methods of verifying customers, they brush off the problem and either don’t understand or fail to acknowledge the risk that they’re putting their customers under. They are unlikely to ever admit a lack of customer focus because that would go against their publicly stated brand values.

Yes, I know I can just call back - and I do - but there has to be a better way of dealing with this breakdown in customer experience. It’s a conversation that businesses should not be having with their customers. It gets customers’ backs up. It makes them defensive. And it makes them much less loyal.

In an era of disloyalty, that’s a big problem. It’s an even bigger problem for services businesses.

How do we solve this breakdown in customer experience?

There are several options that brands could take to improve security and the customer experience at the same time.

I’m a big fan of Amazon - I buy far too much from there. Recently, I had a problem with an Amazon order - an item didn’t arrive on time because the courier did the classic ‘drop a delivery note without bothering to ring the bell‘. That’s a story for another day, but the process of making a complaint was simple and many brands could learn from this.

Many of these brands have mobile apps. Think banks, utility companies, communications providers, internet service providers, etc. If there’s a distinct benefit to installing the app - for example, banks allow you to manage your banking on the move, while utility companies allow you to quickly submit meter readings and pay bills.

Could they not integrate a messaging service into their apps?

Using, not abusing notifications

Using notifications wisely - to the extent that you don’t abuse the power of the notification - can dramatically improve the customer experience. But over-using notifications can be a slippery slope - the last thing you want is for your customers to switch notifications off. If they do that, they won’t see any messages from you.

If you need to speak to a customer about their account, you can email them. You can push a notification to their device. You can send a text message. Use these channels to prompt the customer to call you. If it’s fake, you’ll soon discover from your customers that there are potential phishing attacks going around. You can then notify your customers en-masse about these security risks.

Once you’ve prompted the customer to call you, you should give them a time slot to call you. If that’s not convenient, allow the customer to select a time. This should minimise queue times - the best part about the experience with Amazon was that after clicking ‘call me’ in their app, they called me right away. I waited less than 30 seconds to speak to a representative.

Had I been stuck on hold for 30 minutes (as is often the case when you call one of these companies), I would have been even angrier by the time I spoke to a customer service rep. The fact is, it nipped my frustration in the bud and got straight to the point.

It already verified who I was via the mobile app. To process a re-order of the same items, the rep asked for one additional verification step. They sent me an email with a unique identifier that I confirmed.

That was it. The experience was pretty frictionless and the result is that I appreciated the outcome even more.

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