Call Center Authentication and Routing
Illustration by Stuart Williams

Any center that is truly focused on the customer has to solve a difficult dilemma: make prompts and authentication simple, ensure security requirements are met, AND get the customer to a helpful person who has information about the caller and his or her needs. The old tools and techniques aren’t enough. Success requires customization and personalization, not a one-size fits all approach. The key is to use data and technology well at each stage of the process.

First: Who Is Calling and Why?

The “typical” approach prompts for an account number, SSN, order number, or some other unique identifier. Network information can play a key role, thanks to Automatic Number Identification (ANI). But these numbers are easy to spoof, so they can’t be trusted. Third party services (e.g., Pindrop and TrustID) can be inserted into the call flow to check the ANI and other network and call information against databases that identify “bad guys” versus “good guys.” They return a rating on the call that the center can use to adjust security protocols.

Most centers also need verification. Traditionally, companies have turned to numbers, passwords, phrases, or other information to perform “multi-factor authentication.” Biometrics is likely to become more common as we leverage security functions in mobile devices (e.g., thumbprints). We expect rapid innovation on other options, such as facial recognition or retina scans (we all have cameras in our pockets!). Another option is voice prints, which have required active enrollment but technology now can offer passive enrollment from conversations. Biometric input could be used to flag risk for routing, alert an agent, or change authentication scripts or prompts.

In addition to knowing who is calling, centers also need to know why a customer is making contact. Sometimes the number dialed is enough, using good old Dialed Number Identification Service (DNIS). More often, companies need prompts, and this is where it often gets ugly. The first goal should be to keep it simple. Every prompt should have a purpose for the customer. Prompts should NOT be used to report on call types when calls are routed to the same agents. Use call wrap/disposition codes or some other technology to get the data you need. Don’t burden the customer!

Second: How Do You Route and Handle Effectively?

Smart routing uses information gathered as well as context to determine treatment for the contact. It will use past experience and knowledge of what’s going on right now to make the best decision. Business rules (and the assumptions behind them) may not always be right for each contact, but customers will respect the experience more when it is clear you apply some expertise to their needs.

Here is a good example of routing and handling effectively: I call my airline, they use ANI to identify me, see that I’m booked on a flight that day, and that the flight has delays that will result in a missed connection. With no prompting, they route me to an agent who greets me with “Hello [NAME], are you calling about your flight to [LOCATION] today?” They have all the flight information up so that whatever question I have about that flight, they can answer immediately. But they also have my account information available in case I’m calling about something else. My time on the phone is minimized with a complete resolution and I’m on my way. A potentially ugly situation has turned into a positive customer experience.

Create a Welcoming Front Door

I’ve always joked that every customer wants the center to know exactly who they are and what they want, but doesn’t want to have to tell you. Well, it is becoming increasingly possible to turn that joke into reality. It’s time to rethink how we “greet” customers, leveraging new tools and techniques to change the first steps of the customer experience from frustration to fascination.