As a contact center leader for a number of years at a SaaS (software as a service) company, one thing that I’m not sure my upbringing adequately prepared me for some “customers” actively trying to rip the company off. I reserve the term “customers” with quotation marks around it for those attempting to obtain service without paying for it, pretending to be someone they aren’t, attempting to steal money, information, or some combination of all three of these things.
While ever-evolving security and compliance measures continue to weed out fraudsters, or at least slow them down, it’s still often the case that companies are a step behind. This means that, for the time being, contact center agents will deal with fraud on a regular basis. These are often difficult, stressful, resource-intensive customer interactions that require extreme patience and discernment to protect the company and the legitimate customers they aim to serve.
In this article, I’ll share four common scenarios that my team dealt with and then conclude with some recommendations to equip your contact center to best handle them as they arise.
Scenario #1: The Delinquent
The first customers are those trying to get an extension on paying their bill. Agents will hear the entire gamut of reasons and excuses as to why the customer can’t pay their bill, when they intend to pay it, and how much they intend to pay. From here it’s up to the agent to make a judgment call as to whether the customer is deserving of a grace period or not — sometimes bending policy if the customer is convincing and sincere enough. While many of these cases are likely legitimate customers who are down on their luck, this can sometimes indicate fraudulent activity.
Scenario #2: The Abuser
Perhaps the customer is hogging resources or violating terms of service in one form or another and wants a second chance. I also include in here the customer who is consistently an abuser of your contact center agents regardless of who they interact with — a customer who has worn out their welcome. These customers, sometimes fraudulent, sometimes just bullies, don’t generally go away quietly, causing an added burden for the contact center.
Scenario #3: The Social Engineer or Phisher
I was first introduced to social engineering when someone claiming to work for our company, called our contact center in the middle of the night asking for the password for one of our system administrators. The caller claimed they were in our network operations center (NOC) and just needed the password. Never mind the fact that our contact center was upstairs and the agent was able to walk downstairs and confirm that no one was in the NOC. Social engineering is tricky, but all too common is the situation where agents must determine if the person contacting support is who they say they are.
Scenario #4: The Credit Card Thief
The final group is those who sign up fake accounts for any number of reasons. Sometimes they aim to use and abuse the service for as long as they can and other times they are validating stolen credit card numbers so they can make larger purchases elsewhere. These accounts often come to light when a credit cardholder calls to inquire about a charge on their statement, leading to a string of accounts created from the same IP address or with similarly-formatted fake email addresses.
As you may have gathered, fraudsters and abusers will hit your company and contact center from a variety of different angles, and it’s important to be as prepared as you possibly can. Here are some recommendations.
1. Note any administrative actions taken on an account
Often overlooked by folks not working in the contact center, notes in the customer’s account or CRM record are critical to ensuring everyone is on the same page. If you are an administrator disabling an account, assume that some will contact customer service shortly after your action. Be sure to clearly note in the CRM system why the account was disabled and add guidance around what agents can and can’t say when they receive inquiries. Also, specify under what circumstances the account can be restored (if that’s an option).
2. Ensure that agents document their conversations and actions
Agents should note any actions they take or interactions they have about the account because there’s a high probability the account holder will contact support multiple times if they don’t receive the answer they’re looking for on the first interaction. It’s critical that the contact center operates as a team regardless of how big or small it is.
3. Keep communication professional
There are a couple of areas where professional communication is a must. First of all, any account notes should be purely about the facts. Notes aren’t the forum for airing out grievances about an alleged fraudster or abuser laced with colorful expletives. I’ve been there and this only serves to breed a culture of negativity in your contact center — and you run the risk of this sentiment bleeding into interactions with customers. This leads to the second point: any communication with the account holder should always be professional, treating the caller as you would other customers, and politely cutting off communication when appropriate.
4. Don’t rush to judgement
In the same vein as the previous point, I’ve been guilty of rushing to judgement, accusing a legitimate customer of illegitimate activities. While it’s important to act quickly and decisively in cases of fraud, it’s critical that you keep cool, weigh all of the evidence, recognize the possible existence of bias, and get a second opinion as needed. And if you are in a management position and handling escalated interactions, remember to model the same professional communication you demand from your agents.
5. Empower agents but also give specific boundaries
One thing I love about contact center agents is their strong desire to protect the company they represent from potential harm. At the risk of being too firm or too lenient in these cases, it’s important to train agents on the specific actions they can take. For example, if a cardholder calls to report fraudulent activity, should the agent refund the charges to avoid costly credit card chargebacks? Or as I mentioned earlier, under what circumstances can an account be restored? They should also know when it’s essential that they escalate to a manager.
6. Work together to spot trends
Your agents may be the first line of defense when it comes to spotting a variety of fraudulent or abusive activities. Be sure to create a way for them to report any and all suspicious activity. Remember that they often feel strongly about people taking advantage of their company so listen to their voice when they sound the alarm bells.
As I conclude, the fight to prevent customer abuse and fraud is definitely a company-wide effort, with the contact center playing a key role. Given my perspective is from a SaaS company, I would love to hear your perspective and any additional recommendations you might have for contact centers to handle.