Staying alive and moving forward in business is tough. To achieve their goals, companies use every resource they have at their disposal.
Especially in terms of customer relationship management, companies and call centers tailor their approach specific to each and every individual client, so as to ensure that they have the best shot at making that particular client react favorably.
The obvious offshoot of this initiative, however, is that such call centers deal with a lot of data regarding clients, most of which is sensitive and private in nature, and must remain confidential.
Companies employ the use of sophisticated call center software that can churn out trends and patterns from the data that is scraped off every available public library and internal databases.
While this is great for businesses looking for every little piece of information they can find in order to market their products better, it leaves these systems vulnerable to significant security risks from external agencies.
A breach of security would not only compromise the customer’s confidential information, it would undermine the effectiveness of the organization, call into question their priorities and ensure legal responsibility on the company for being unable to protect sensitive data.
In this digital age, naturally, call centers are using online applications and software to both store and work with data relating to their customers.
This is the easiest, fastest and most convenient way to process and share customer information as and when required.
However, these practices can cause unwanted exposure of this data for a number of reasons – be it negligence of the employees, malicious sharing or selling of internal data, unauthorized access, lack of detection mechanisms, unclear protocol, etc.
This is why it becomes extremely important for companies to ensure their data remains protected using the best security measures available.
External threats are so rampant today that we hear of a data breach in some company or the other every other day.
The cost of these breaches, in monetary terms alone, can go high up in the millions of dollars mark, maybe even touching billions for major attacks.
Besides that, there is a devastating loss of trust from clients, reputation in the market and further prospects during the recovery period.
Online threats are so potent and so damaging, and yet occurring so regularly, that it former FBI Director Robert Mueller to remark, “There are only two types of companies – those that have been hacked, and those that will be.”
Indeed, the reality of the world we live in is that we are all vulnerable to malicious attacks unless we take active steps to protect our customers’ data and any other sensitive information.
Bearing in mind the gravity of the situation and the dire consequences that security breaches can have for companies and individuals whose data is compromised, here is a list of things to do in order to combat the top security issues plaguing companies around the globe today.
1. Set up a viable Q&A security protocol to identify customers. A very simple but effective way in which criminals gain access to private information about a customer is by posing as the customer himself when dialing the call center.
It is impossible for the agent to verify authenticity by sight as he never actually meets the customer, yet shares potentially sensitive details over the phone.
For this reason, it is very important to put in place a system of security questions that must be formulated and answered at the time of the registry of that customer, so that in all further communication only the authorized customer can answer those questions correctly before moving on to accessing any private data.
This ensures nobody can pose as the customer and scam the company out of its private information.
2. Adhere to access authorization protocols. It is essential for every organization to distribute access authority on the basis of rank or hierarchy.
Therefore, the CEO and Board of Directors will have access to any and every piece of information, the Heads of Departments will have access to all information relating to their department and necessary information from other departments, the Project Managers will know everything about their project and any information from other projects that might be necessary for their collaboration, the managers working in different aspects of the project will know about all of the information relevant to their section of the job and the employees working as call center agents will know all necessary information about the client they are dealing with.
Any deviation from this protocol hands undue access to an employee of the company, which leaves that information vulnerable to misuse.
3. Provide education to employees about the latest threats and how to safeguard against them. Most call center employees are young and inexperienced.
They have not been in the industry for too long and have likely not seen how sophisticated data breaches and hacking can be.
Therefore, it is necessary to keep them well aware of the techniques that cyber criminals use to attain access to private data, and educate them about the ways they can ensure that does not happen to the data placed under their watch.
Despite all of the complicated mannerisms of crime in the online world, negligence is still the greatest reason behind allowing criminals into the secure systems.
If you can ensure your employees are not going to be negligent with the information they have on their systems, half your job is done.
4. Use modern technology to protect against cyber crime. Our lives are so intricately interwoven with our online ecosystems that is nearly impossible today to completely segregate one from the other.
Hackers are getting smarter and smarter with the help of better processing power of their tools. In response, defenders of confidentiality need to opt for smarter tools as well to protect their data.
Use of multiple layers of protection in the form of security enforcers and firewalls are becoming popular in organizations both large and small.
Strategies like encryption of data, transmission through private networks, use of online security measures before accepting or sending any file, etc. are practices which have been developed in order to ensure that data can be stored, processed and transmitted securely.
Newer endeavors to provide protection to private data are being developed every week, in a bid to stay ahead of the criminals and go about our tasks without the threat of breaches.
5. Ensure every detail is locked behind a strong password. Nearly 30% of data breaches occur because the access password was too weak or predictable.
The problem with passwords is two-fold – first, customers are laymen who may or may not appreciate having to lock every detail behind a significantly strong password, or end up providing weak passwords and second, that if a password is breached, all other security systems can be bypassed since providing the correct password is assumed to be proof of authenticity.
Both customers and agents need to be told how important it is to provide uncommon and strong passwords for the protection of their data.
6. Arm yourself with firewalls against TDoS attacks. TDoS, or telephony-denial-of-service is the criminal activity of storming a call center outlet with such a high volume of calls that they are unable to actually receive the calls from their customers, and then demanding an amount in ransom to stop the inflow of spam calls and allow them to get on with their business.
There are firewalls specifically designed to block all calls coming from a specific locality or bearing the same signature, which help in reducing the risk of threat from TDoS attacks.
However, TDoS is currently one of the most potent threats that exist for call centers, and governments across the world have put it up as a top priority for their law enforcement agencies.
7. Conduct background checks before hiring to prevent malicious attacks from the inside.
While your data is vulnerable to threats from the outside and it is important to take care of those threats, a far more dangerous situation could be if your data is compromised from the inside, that is, if one of your agents turns out to be a criminal selling confidential information to malicious hackers and fraudsters.
To prevent this, the only practical remedy is smart hiring. Scrutiny must be ensured in background checks about the person before he is hired, and access authorization protocols must be strictly observed so that he cannot have access to information beyond what his security clearance permits.
In addition, continuous evaluation is necessary to ensure none of your agents can be manipulated into spilling private data.
Drug tests, psychological evaluations and random checks must be put in place to ensure your employees stay loyal to their cause.
The Case Study
So far, we have spoken about how important it is to put security measures in place, how much of a threat exists for call centers dealing with sensitive information, what methods could be applied to safeguard against online criminal activity and what the consequences of having your data compromised could potentially amount to.
To drive this point home, we are going to take a closer look at a case study that demonstrates how potent cyber attacks can be, and what steps are necessary to keep your organization bulletproof.
Let us take the example of the telemarketing agency DataStar Solutions. DataStar is a telemarketing agency that provides call center solutions for an established organization.
In this case study, we are going to talk about the situation that the company found itself in, the specific challenges they faced with regards to ensuring security and how they went about trying to make their systems secure.
We will also take a look at the result of their endeavors and determine whether the changes implemented had a positive impact on the day to day operations of the company or not.
The Problem Scenario
DataStar Solutions was in hot water regarding ensuring the safety and privacy of information provided by their clients.
Over the course of a decade, they had seen two major data breaches, the more recent one having cost them $25 million in compensation, not to mention the loss in face for the company, and a significant dip in the growth rate and customer satisfaction indicators.
They were desperate to find a permanent solution to their vulnerabilities.
The problems that the company faced in terms of data security are listed below.
1. The call center agents who worked in the organization were mostly freshers and were not wary of the various pitfalls they could fall into and compromise the security of the company in the process.
2. The security mechanisms being used by the firm were archaic and no match for the latest sophisticated hacking systems.
3. The company found it difficult to convince their clients why thorough scrutiny was necessary before any private information was shared, and why they required to validate their authenticity every time they were on the phone.
The solutions listed by the company are as follows.
1. The company decided to invest in the best call center software that would provide encryption and firewalls to protect their data.
2. Agents were educated and trained in data security and the ways they could ensure their data remains safe.
3. A Q&A pattern of validation was designed so that clients could authenticate themselves securely yet easily.
After the implementation of training programs for agents and using effective call center software solutions, the company was able to safeguard itself much more efficiently.
This translated in the fact that over the next two years, not a single data breach was reported. Slowly but steadily, their customers also started believing in their safety procedures more and more, and the company regained the trust it once held in the market. This also led to a significant increase in sales and brand value.
We have thus seen how best to tackle the security issues that plague modern call centers. Following these steps will prove to be effective in a world where we hear of a major data breach too often for any company to sit comfortably.