Aging customers, those with disabilities face buying/payments obstacles

By Gary E. Barnett
In many organizations, the call or contact centre serves as the central hub for customer service, sales and customer engagement.

Even today, with the multitude of different communication channels available – including web sites, email, social media, online chat and more – speaking on the phone remains one of the most popular ways for consumers to connect with businesses for customer service and to make purchases. In fact, Microsoft’s 2017 State of Global Customer Service Report shows that 74% of people choose to contact customer service departments via phone, which is more than any other channel.

Why? Because people still value human interaction. Contact centre agents make customers feel valued and understood, ensure transactions are completed correctly and even up-sell or cross-sell additional products and services when appropriate.

However, when it comes to making purchases or paying bills over the phone, certain members of our society face challenges.

Many phone-based payments solutions require customers to manually enter their payment card details directly into telephone keypads. But elderly customers and those with disabilities may struggle to accomplish that task and require an alternative method.

While advanced speech recognition applications have, to a considerable extent, resolved that problem, they are far from foolproof, they can also be frustrating to use, and keypad entry is still the fallback. The information entry issue becomes exacerbated when wireless devices are used: on account of their small keypads.

Canadian accessibility requirements
Like many nations, Canada’s population is growing older, driven by the aging Baby Boomer demographic. In 2016, seniors outnumbered children for the first time, according to Statistics Canada, and the imbalance has only continued to grow. At the same time, also according to Statistics Canada, one in five Canadians over the age of 15 has a disability, whether it’s related to vision, hearing, mobility or something else.

To help ensure that these individuals have equal access to participate in all aspects of society, accessibility laws have been written in Canada to protect their rights and to prevent discrimination.

The Accessible Canada Act, which became law in June 2019, is aimed at preventing accessibility barriers in information and communication technologies, including digital content and the technologies used to access it. Organizations can now face a fine of up to $250,000 if they do not comply.

Similarly, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) makes it compulsory for public and private sector businesses to follow established sets of accessibility standards. This is relatively straightforward when it comes to ensuring that a businesses’ web site(s) are accessible because the standards are published.

Multi-channel challenges
However, difficulties can emerge when a business is dealing with multi-channel customer engagement. Most of Canada’s current accessibility regulations focus on setting standards for a single customer engagement channel (such as the web site) and tend not to consider customers’ needs in situations where they start in one channel but then switch to another to complete the transaction.

With the rise of personal, digital voice assistants like Siri, Alexa and Google Home, many people no longer need to physically dial a business’s number on their phone. Instead, they simply issue voice commands, such as “Siri, call Hydro.”

The ability to use voice commands to manage routine daily tasks like this has dramatically improved accessibility and the quality of life for many people living with disabilities. However, when a customer uses a voice command to call a contact centre, but then is forced to switch from voice commands to using the telephone keypad in order to input their payment card information, it can be frustrating, thereby negatively affecting their customer experience (CX). It may even cause the customer to abandon the call, potentially causing the business to miss out on sales revenue.

A new technology and practice
Given Canada’s aging population and its accessibility legislation, businesses must begin to design multi-channel accessibility as standard in their customer journeys. Fortunately, new, multi-channel payments solutions are emerging that enable them to seamlessly and securely accept payments across any channel, while improving accessibility, compliance and the CX.

For example, live voice capture technology allows callers to make payments over the phone without needing to physically input their payment card details into the telephone keypads. Callers are on the lines with contact centre agents or salespeople as opposed to computerized or automated speech recognition voice assistants. When it comes time for the customers to make their payments, the agents or sales personnel places the calls into a secure voice capture mode and the callers speaks their sensitive payment card details aloud.

The agents/sales personnel cannot hear the sensitive payment card details, but they are able to monitor customers’ progress and follow each steps of the payment transactions, while remaining available if the customers need help at any points along the way. Once the payment data is captured, the agents/sales personnel can take back control of the calls to complete the transactions and collect any additional non-sensitive information that is required.

With live voice capture technology the customer’s sensitive payment data are securely routed directly to the payment processors. This both helps keep their sensitive data secure and reduces the risk of fraud or data breaches because the data are not collected, recorded or stored by the contact centre. Likewise, because the agent/salesperson on the line cannot hear the payment card details, there is no risk of a malicious employee copying down a customer’s card numbers and using it for nefarious purposes.

And because the payment card data never touches the contact centre network, the technology helps keep the contact centre in compliance with data security and privacy regulations and standards.

At the same time the easy-to-use nature of the technology and the fact that a customer simply speaks their sensitive data makes it an ideal solution for elderly customers and those with disabilities, enabling the business to comply with Canada’s accessibility regulations.

With the right mix of technologies, businesses can provide a convenient and highly secure, multi-channel sales process, thereby delivering accessibility and inclusivity without compromising on security and the customer experience.

Gary E. Barnett is CEO of Semafone.

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