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The Importance of Secure Call Handling in the Public Sector

Navigating the Future of Cybersecurity: Embracing Zero Trust and a Passwordless World

Nov 4, 2022

Generally speaking, the modern user journey or customer experience is made up of multiple channels and various touchpoints. As a public service, a user might initially discover your organisation via social media; they may visit your website, and interact with your web chat on the way to conversion; you might then reach out via email to encourage repeat visits to the site, or send updates via SMS. It’s clear that in public services, and with the help of smart cloud-based software, we’re truly living in the omnichannel era of client communication. 

However, with so many avenues open, some public bodies are in danger of overlooking one of the most well-established channels of all: the telephone. Your call handling service – or the way you manage outbound and incoming calls – can have a tremendously positive or painfully damaging impact on your user and/or customer base, depending on how you manage it.

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, one study by CFI Group found that over three-quarters (76%) of all consumers prefer phone calls to reach support agents. But whether you have call handlers working in a traditional call centre, or you use a more modern, virtual contact centre solution (VCC), the quickest way to poison your UX is to leak users’ private information. 

Given that so much data changes hands so often these days, and with all the cookies and other invasive technologies doing their best to acquire sensitive, potentially-dangerous customer data, you need to offer a totally secure way of exchanging information over the phone. Here at Call Handling, we have some of the most relevant experience available on this topic – there’s a clue in our name! In this blog post, we’ll explore call-handling solutions in more detail, and examine why phone-based security is so important in the public sector, before walking you through some tips to elevate your call-handling services and maximise your communications.

What are Secure Call Handling Services in a Contact Centre?

Whether you’re a company that does business with its customers, or a public service that uses the telephone to communicate with clients, secure call handling is the process of responsibly and effectively managing both inbound and outbound calls. It enables you to configure a set of telephony preferences to determine the route of incoming calls, and identify the best opportunities to improve phone-based customer services, increase productivity and yield better ROI.

Though it may sound simple, for a large organisation or public entity, call-handling systems can be extraordinarily complex. This is due to the wide variety of enquiries or contacts it is typically tasked to deal with. There will often be a number of systems and strategies operating as part of a larger call handling infrastructure, including:

  • Call routing: A method of getting the caller in touch with the most relevant agent as efficiently as possible.
  • Interactive voice response (IVR): An automated system that ‘listens’ to the caller’s responses, and may ask security questions, in order to fully conclude or help resolve their enquiry.
  • Call forwarding: A system of quickly transferring callers from one contact destination to another.
  • Call whispering: Often used by supervisors and/or managers, this is a way of assisting live agents in real-time during a call.
  • Call parking: The practice of stacking or queueing callers in the event of high volume.
  • Call screening: This uses caller ID to help identify the nature of the enquiry before an agent makes a decision.

Generally speaking, we can divide ‘call handling’ into outbound and inbound calls:

Outbound call handling 

This usually involves a call or contact centre staffed by many agents – hundreds or even thousands – who are assigned the task of making calls to clients and customers on behalf of the organisation. Though ‘cold calling’ is widely seen as a negative practice for businesses to engage in and it’s generally advisable to avoid this, from a user perspective, there are undoubtedly some benefits to ethical and responsible outbound call handling. Clients can benefit, depending on how well the service is managed. Typically, a public entity may invest resources into outbound call handling for marketing purposes, telesales, fundraising, giving client reminders, or renewing subscriptions.

Inbound call handling 

On the other hand, inbound call handling refers to the way your organisation deals with the calls it receives. There are many factors that can affect inbound call volume – external forces, seasonality, the time of day, disruption to the service provider, public events – and so it’s imperative for an organisation to manage inbound calls effectively and efficiently. Some operations deploy a message-taking service or traditional call centre for basic processes like standard security questions. This is unlikely to yield a first-contact resolution, but (ideally) can help pass users on to an agent who can assist. 

Implementing a call answering service, a virtual receptionist service or other digital system is a more modern solution which merges a skilled team of live agents with smart software to take messages, capture enquiries, transfer calls or answer questions; this can all be done remotely.

Why Secure Call Handling Matters in the Public Sector

The first thing to say is that, despite communications steaming ever forwards into the digital era, there is still a place, and a need, for telephone-based interactions. Often, users want simply to communicate with a human voice on the other end of the line; to have ‘a real conversation with a real person.’ Demonstrably, an investigation by Invoca found that 65% of users prefer to interact with organisations via the phone, and this is a preference that every contact centre should aim to facilitate.

The above is a particularly pertinent concern for public entities. The ‘rules’ of service are slightly different between the public and private sectors; where a retail company, for instance, may receive far fewer inbound calls, a public service provider such as healthcare or a refuse collection organisation will likely field a far greater number of phone calls. For many citizens, the phone is still the first port of call to raise an issue, ask a question or voice a concern; especially when it pertains to matters of daily life.

Delivering the human touch

But it’s not enough for a public entity to simply answer the phone when it rings. Users expect to be met with an efficient, personalised and warm service. Communications in the public sector are built on trust, respect and appreciation; impossible to build if an agent doesn’t know the name of the user they’re speaking to, or at least some details about their previous interactions and situation.

Ensuring security in telephony

Furthermore, there’s a high chance that a phone-based conversation will cover some information of a private or sensitive nature; medical history, for instance, or banking details, or family matters. As a public service provider, it’s your responsibility to handle this data (as well as any call recordings) with care, and ensure it is totally protected from risk at all times. Failure to do so can see you fall foul of statutory/regulatory compliance, to say nothing of the irreparable harm you’ll do to your client relationships.

Call handling is important in public service; but secure call handling is essential for positive user journeys and a rewarding, ongoing experience. Many companies view a business exception or technical exception as something impossible to mitigate against; unavoidable elements of their operations. But that’s not necessarily true – there is a way to dramatically reduce technical and business exceptions, and strengthen your data handling protocols to comply with the highest standards of security.

We’ve committed our VCC to the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), and our ISO 9001 and 27001 speak to our knowledge and experience in secure data handling. We also work incredibly closely with PCIPal, so our software is aligned with the PCI DSS requirements that protect payments made over the phone. For more information about how our VCC can add security to every channel your organisation communicates in, and minimise your incidences of technical exceptions, get in touch with our team today.

7 Steps to Improve Call Handling for an Optimised UX & Customer Journey

The reasons for providing a streamlined and secure call-handling service are, by this point, clear. Now, we’ll walk you through a few steps you can take to improve the way your organisation handles its calls.

  1. Answer calls in a timely fashion: This one isn’t rocket science; no one likes to be left ringing, so make sure your inbound handling agents or system answer the phone quickly; more to the point, ensure that when the line does go live, you’re ready to deal with the user. Also, be sure to request permission for call recordings, if you plan to carry out this form of intelligence gathering.
  2. Qualify callers efficiently: Knowing users’ requirements is half the battle with secure call handling. Once you’ve weeded out nuisance calls and established the nature of a user’s enquiry, you’ll know what steps to take – whether you can facilitate a first-contact resolution, or need to route the call to another agent.
  3. Ensure all information is protected: If there’s one thing to take away from this article, it’s that you definitely don’t want to put users’ sensitive data at risk. Solidify your data security protocols, and make sure callers know that their personal information is protected.
  4. Avoid leaving users on hold: Nothing aggravates a caller more than being left holding the phone. Take a look at your call analytics to determine how often, and how long, callers are left on hold, and whether there’s room to improve.
  5. Prepare for informed callers: With so much information available online, it’s likely that your clients will have at least some background or peripheral knowledge before making a call. You should be ready for well-educated questions. Conversely, the user may have consumed some misinformation, so you should be prepared to politely but firmly communicate correct and relevant information.
  6. Personalise your interaction: “OK, OK… can I just take your name again?” is something that no user wants to hear. Of course, at the start of a call it will be necessary to ask for some details; but with a centralised cloud contact centre implemented, that should be more than enough for your live agents to access user information and imbue the call with a personal touch.
  7. Summarise and close the call positively: At the conclusion of any call, it’s worth going over the key points you’ve been through. It helps establish the progress that’s been made and reminds the caller of what to expect next. If a follow-up is needed, put the relevant information into your CRM to make the process more efficient.

Our VCC: Information Security in Every Channel

Despite our strides into the digital era, and all the new communication channels it opens up, the telephone is still an integral piece of the service jigsaw – secure call handling still matters and, the chances are, it always will. Especially when dealing with organisations in the public sector, users often want to be met with the empathy and human connection that can only be achieved by speaking to a knowledgeable and skilled service agent. But, there is a huge caveat to all this: the necessity to make all calls totally secure and risk-averse. Users need assurance and confidence in knowing that any sensitive information or personal data they divulge will be totally secure.

Fortunately, with a future-proof and cloud-based system, the safety of top-tier security protocols is just one of the many benefits you’ll be able to pass on directly to your users. Our VCC has gained ISO 9001 and ISO 27001 certification, and we’re aligned with the EU GDPR, meaning you can assure peace of mind and security to your users every time they get in touch. Moreover, our system is built alongside PCIPal, the market leader in secure payments over the phone, so your users’ financial information is subject to the most stringent and rigorous protection. 

Ensure data security in all channels, and give your clients the peace of mind to reach out with confidence and trust. Book a demo today to find out how our VCC can take your communications to the next level.