When it comes to customer service, consumers are taking charge. When they pickup the phone they want to get answers – fast. But are consumers really getting the results they want the way they want them? A recent consumer survey of attitudes around present-day caller authentication systems shows this stage of the customer journey is neither quick nor convenient. To the contrary, the majority of respondents are frustrated with today’s automated authentication approaches.  But it’s not all a bad news story. The same survey highlights where companies can – and must – make improvements.

Give your customers what they want? It’s the number one thing businesses have to do to drive positive results and create lasting loyalty. But companies don’t have to jump through hoops to delight their customers. A good customer experience is one that keeps it simple, removing all the obstacles that waste people’s time or tax their patience. Success is all about delivering convenience every step of the customer journey.

Customer service is a critical stage in this journey, and one where companies can do a lot to remove the roadblocks that prevent customers from achieving what they set out to do in the first place. Whether the customer picks up the phone to ask some basic information, or just wants to connect with a ‘human’ to resolve a customer care issue, it’s the company that can remove the friction that is best positioned to delight – and keep – the customer.

Providing good customer service is key, but there are many ways to achieve this goal.

In an effort to streamline the process after a caller contacts the business many companies have implemented automated systems. The purpose of these speech-enabled IVRs is to identify and authenticate the caller quickly and effectively before routing the call to the right resource.

While these caller authentication solutions may tick all the boxes, the bigger question remains: Do they truly satisfy the customer?  In May Opus Research, in conjunction with Nuance Communications, commissioned Coleman-Parkes Associates to find out.

Easy does it

The research firm surveyed 1,000 individuals who had recently used their telephone for customer care to assess their attitudes toward speech enabled systems for authentication and gain insights into the features and functionality  customers would consider ideal.

Among the findings, a whopping 85 percent of respondents said they were dissatisfied with today’s automated authentication systems and approaches. “It’s not that customers don’t understand or appreciate the requirement for a system that verifies who they really are,” explains Dan Miller, Opus Research Senior Analyst, Conversational Commerce. “They do indeed want a high level of security, but they also want an authentication process that is effortless.”

By way of background, most authentication systems require the caller to provide some sort of identifying information, such as a PIN, password or other personal information such as birth date or hometown.

Miller argues that this approach is flawed on two counts. One, the information the caller customarily offers is has “little real security value” – and consumers know that. “Identity theft makes people feel vulnerable.” On top of this feeling is the realization that personal information is easy to take from computer records or just by connecting the dots in what people say in their social networks. “This creates a real requirement for a more secure authentication systems.”

Two, these systems put the pressure on the caller to remember his or her password, pin or personal information. “The problem with this approach is the burden it puts on the caller to remember and recite this key information,” Miller says. “It’s human to forget and, in the case of passwords, people prove all to human.”

And that leads to another almost emotional issue respondents have with current authentication systems.

Forgetting the information, which respondents said often happens, sends them on a trip around the system that costs them even more time and patience. “People are most peeved at this point because they have failed to authenticate on the first attempt – and people generally don’t like to fail, ” Miller observes. Adding insult to injury, the caller is now moved on to an alternative authentication method that often requires the caller to provide a live agent with additional information or answers to security questions. “And this is largely regarded as a waste of time.”

Get to the goal

Each shopping journey may start on a mobile app or Internet website, but when customers get to the point that they want to pick up the phone and talk to somebody, they mean business. As Miller puts it: Callers understandably have little patience with “obstacles on the road to successful task completion.”

Interestingly, it’s the youth that have the most issues with current authentication methods. Specifically, callers across the 18-24 age group “show the least patience and the strongest desire to get to an agent – and get things done,” Miller says. Older respondents also have problems with authentication schemes that put the burden on them to provide PINs or other forms of personal information. “As people get older, they are more prone to forget important information. So, they, too, want a process that is easy and effortless.”

Ideal scenarios

So, what do customers really want out of their customer care experience? The survey results provide some important clues that Miller says should be used in designing secure and convenient authentication systems in the future.

“Respondents told us they want frictionless, speedy service,” Miller explained. This is where voice biometrics can come in to deliver simple and secure authentication, saving customer the hassle of having to provide personal information because their individual voice – not what they know – verifies who they are.

In Miller’s view, the advantage of voice-based authentication is that it can help people accomplish their goals in “a way where their security is assured and they can also be sure they aren’t wasting their time in the process.”

And companies shouldn’t take the customer requirement for a simple yet secure method of caller authentication too lightly. According to the survey, respondents already indicated that they were prompted to provide a PIN or some other form of information for 83 percent of the calls they made.

That number is sure to “skyrocket,” a development that should force companies to rethink their approach to authentication now, rather than later. The advance of mobile and services such as mobile commerce, mobile banking and healthcare will further increase the demand for simple and secure authentication. In fact, it is  recognition of this mobile-megatrend that Opus Research has renamed Miller’s area of subject expertise “Conversational Commerce.”

Moving ahead, Miller is convinced that strong identification is key to trusted communications. And, since services such as commerce will take place on mobile devices, it follows that there will be a significant increase the conversations that take place between people and companies. “Customers want – and will demand – simple and secure services that accommodate their needs and schedules, not just those of the vendors.”

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About Andrea Mocherman

This was a contributed post by Andrea Mocherman. To see more content like this, visit the Customer experience section of our blog.