5 Most Important IVR Authentication Best Practices

In customer service, you need to know what your customer wants. But it’s also important to know who they are. Fortunately when someone calls your contact center, there are a few IVR authentication best practices that can help.


August 30, 2018

In customer service, you need to know what your customer wants. But it’s also important to know who they are. Fortunately when someone calls your contact center, there are a few IVR authentication best practices that can help.

When someone calls your IVR — also known as an interactive voice response system — you probably hope they’ll finish the interaction using self-service. That means your technology must be smart enough to tell who is calling. There are several ways to make that possible.

Why Should You Care About IVR Authentication?

In the IVR, another name for authentication is “identification and verification” (IDV). By getting the correct ID of your callers, you know not only their names, but their account histories, too. As you compile a single customer profile for every customer, that information helps you serve them more quickly and effectively.

But IDV is important for another reason. The more you confirm about a customer, the more they trust you. As odd as it sounds, customers aren’t always forthright with customer support. Sometimes they need a little coaxing to get the truth and understand the real problem. As you show how well you know them, you convince the caller to reveal the reason for their call.

So with that in mind, here are five IVR authentication best practices to help you ID whoever comes on the other end of the line.

1. Start With a Phone Number

You can always ask a customer for their name. But it’s far more impressive to know who they are before even picking up the phone. And it’s possible with Automatic Number Identification (ANI).

ANI is basically a more robust form of caller ID. As soon as a call comes to your contact center, ANI matches the caller’s number to a customer profile in your account system. That gives you at-a-glance access to important information, like their location or the date they last paid their bill.

But as a caution, don’t program your IVR to answer the phone with someone’s name. When a computer answers with “Hello, George,” some customers get a little spooked. Plus, it may be George’s wife, Gina, on the line instead. But even with these variables, the phone number has become a reliable personal identifier and one of the top IVR authentication best practices for its ability to get you important account information at the start of the call.

2. Associate Multiple Phone Numbers

Twenty years ago, one household kept one telephone permanently affixed to the kitchen wall. Today, the average U.S. household has 3.9 associated phone numbers. (Sidenote: billing systems can typically hold just two.)

An ANI learning database allows you to dynamically associate new or additional phone numbers to each account, which increases verification efficiency. Sure, that means you probably could distinguish between George and Gina, but more importantly, you’re more likely to find relevant account information, which is what you’re really after.

So, if you don’t recognize a caller by his or her phone number, what do you do? Keep in mind that technology is not the goal. The goal is to offer the customer the best experience possible. If the phone number is not on your records, simply ask for the phone number on the account or ask if the customer wants to become a new customer.

Customers know they have multiple phones, and they know if they are calling from the office instead of home. They get it. So take this chance to increase your customer profile. Ask customers if they want to include the new number in their files. The next time they call, they will have a much faster experience.

3. Make Second ID Second Nature

Best Practices for Self-Service Identification & Verification Tip Sheet

Many companies today require a second form of identification. If you go this route, be sure to use a piece of information that you already include in your customer accounts. The best method is to use something intuitive like a social security number or birth date.

As a tip, only use the last four digits of the social security number, as many people hesitate to provide personal information. Using only the last four digits of the social security number or birth date sends the message that you already have their personal information and are simply confirming it.

But before asking for this extra information, first ask yourself if it’s really necessary. If the customer doesn’t need to access secure data such as account balance, you probably don’t need a second layer of authentication. Do you really need their social security number to offer technical support? Find a location? FAQs? Doing so in these cases just makes things harder for customers.

4. Use Customer Data to Predict Intent

An IVR can do more than answer calls. The technology can now offer personalized service for each customer through targeted messaging and predictive intent. That’s right. It can predict what customers want and change its script to match.

If the customer has an outstanding balance associated with their account, for example, the IVR can open the conversation by asking, “Would you like to make a payment today?” That gives the customer an immediate chance to confirm their intent and provide payment without wading through a lengthy IVR menu. By positively identifying customers, a predictive IVR reduces the chance of multiple transfers or drop off.

As a bonus, this informs an optimal proactive campaign, too. If your prediction was right, try sending a proactive text message in the future. So instead of waiting for a certain customer to call and pay their bill, ask in advance if they’re ready to pay.

5. Know When to ID

Hopefully you’re able to recognize customers as soon as they call, but honestly, it’s also important to ask whether you need to ID your customers at all. Yes, the last of the IVR authentication best practices is about skipping authentication altogether.

Some requests simply don’t need it. And in some industries, the caller’s ID must remain private and can’t be passed on to an agent. When this happens, there is no value in requesting it.

The number one customer complaint with an IVR or contact center is needing to provide the same information more than once. If you’re capturing a caller’s ID but not passing the information along, it’s time to reconsider your IDV needs. Alternatively, if your agents are ignoring screen pop ups and asking for authentication anyway, you may need to focus on training.

Self-Service: The Goal of All IVR Authentication Best Practices

Ultimately, the big benefit to successful IDV is self-service. That’s the first goal of most IVRs. You can’t provide successful self-service to people you don’t know. So increase your IDV, decrease your call center costs and increase your customer satisfaction.

Now that you know these IVR authentication best practices, check out these 21 steps to get customers to love self-service.

And for even more information, call or text a West expert at 800.841.9000 and let us show you how to make your IVR smarter and more helpful than ever.

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