Interactive voice response (IVR) is integral to the operations of a modern-day call center. It’s a telephony software technology that provides businesses with an automated phone tree to gather customer information and route calls. It even allows companies to earn revenue 24/7 by accepting payments without the presence of a live agent, for example.
Lately, IVRs have grown in popularity among businesses because of the many advantages they offer, including:
- Boosting agent productivity
- Providing improved customer experiences
- Reducing call wait times
- Automating client interactions
- Providing cost-effective customer service
- Gathering deep customer insights
- Increasing call center management efficiency
- Offering 24/7 availability
While the benefits of automated telephone systems are plentiful, governments have enacted regulations to protect customers—particularly the privacy of their personal data and financial information. The most impactful IVR regulations come from the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).
TCPA, for example, protects consumers from illicit robocalls and unsolicited communications without their consent. It mandates that telemarketers avoid contacting people on the Do Not Call registry.
Many lVR systems are designed to accept customer payments, which means they must adhere to PCI DSS requirements to secure credit card information. This ensures IVRs and contact center agents can process card payments via different channels such as email, web chat, phone, support tickets, and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services.
Using IVR is relatively simple, but it’s easy to slide down the slippery slope of infringement if not managed properly. As a result, an IVR-reliant business can expose itself to steep legal fees by using a non-compliant IVR, so it’s wise to avoid them.
Managing Risk With IVR Compliance
Risk can be unavoidable and it’s often baked into the cost of doing business. That said, most well-run companies learn how to manage risk.
When it comes to IVRs, several compliance risks are associated with the use of tools that automate functions for boosting revenue—such as collecting payments and scheduling callbacks with prospective or existing customers.
The top risks you’ll face as an organization when accepting payments via IVR include the following:
- Data breaches—When your company accepts card payments and financial information, it becomes a prime target for hackers to steal credit card information. However, if the organization that suffers a data breach is PCI-DSS compliant, its penalties are significantly lowered due to that adherence.
- Legal action—Data breaches can result in legal action from all affected parties (including credit card companies), which can be very costly and punitive. In 2007, for example, the clothing chain T.J. Maxx and Marshalls had to pay $40.9 million in a settlement for a security breach that put millions of customers’ credit cards at risk.
- Complaints and disputes—Improper routing and long call wait times can lead to many unsavory outcomes, especially when money is involved. This dissatisfaction can cause customers to abandon calls in frustration or even switch to competitors.
- Financial and revenue losses—Apart from penalties and legal action, additional dominoes that can fall include the termination of credit card processing contracts, which limits the ability of the business to accept payments and further results in diminished sales. Others include the cost of reissuing compromised cards and the increased cost of compliance.
- Negative brand perception—One of the main intangible losses a business can face is irreversible damage to its reputation, which is what a data breach caused by lax IVR compliance can inflict.
- Compliance issues and penalties—PCI-DSS is managed and administered by the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council (PCI SSC). The major credit card companies, namely MasterCard, Visa, Discover, and AMEX, formed PCI SSC, and they are the ones who dole out fines for violations. For instance, failure to meet PCI-DSS compliance requirements for over seven months can cost up to $100,000 per month. Additionally, more specific penalties include penalties of $5,000 per month (for low-volume clients) and $10,000 per month (for high-volume clients) if the non-compliance is between 1 to 3 months. If the non-compliance is between 4 to 6 months, the penalties jump to $25,000 per month (for low-volume clients) and $50,000 per month (for high-volume clients).
It is important to note that these violations aren’t the same as those imposed by government regulations. With IVR compliance, card brands will impose fines on the payment processor for violations, who, in turn, penalize the responsible merchant.
Keep in mind that most risks and penalties can be managed and absorbed relatively easily by institutions like large banks, but if you are a small business, it could lead to bankruptcy. To mitigate the risks, it’s a good idea to incorporate or implement the built-in compliance features of many IVR services.
Encryption and data loss prevention measures
You must ensure that credit card information is never transmitted across the network in plain text. It is incumbent upon contact centers to mandate that financial data must be encrypted in use, transit, or at rest. Furthermore, point-to-point encryption (P2PE) standards, which are a comprehensive list of security requirements, must be implemented by P2PE providers.
Adhere to PCI DSS and other security best practices
IVR platforms must implement appropriate data retention policies that won’t jeopardize your customer information. For instance, while handling credit card payments, sensitive authentication data such as CVV/CVV codes cannot be stored after authorization.
Moreover, call centers must not store any card data and therefore need to dispose of all stored credit card information.
Make sure all call center systems are fully PCI-compliant
To build and maintain a robust network system to secure card payments, you need to do the following:
- Protect cardholder information behind a firewall.
- Make sure you constantly update security systems, such as software and hardware equipment.
- Use multifactor authentication for password protection.
- Run penetration tests to probe for systems vulnerabilities and patch them before criminal hackers discover them.
- Incorporate antivirus and antimalware systems for security
Embracing a secure, descoped IVR payment solution
If you lack the resources or time to build a secure system infrastructure yourself, embracing an existing IVR-compliant payment platform is a viable option.
You’ll most likely want to seek a cloud-based, PCI-compliant service provider that implements secure IVR payments—because, apart from taking care of various delivery aspects, one of the advantages is that it removes the need for live agents to handle sensitive card information. In this descoped environment, you eliminate the risk of data breaches caused by mishandled sensitive information.
Of course, you’ll also want your solution to be cost-effective and easy to deploy.
In any case, finding the right IVR provider for you comes down to investigating the following eight prospective features.
1. PCI DSS Descoping Options
Once again, IVR compliance deals primarily with PCI-DSS and TCPA. According to the PCI DSS Quick Reference Guide, “PCI DSS globally applies to all entities that store, process, or transmit cardholder data and/or sensitive authentication data.”
This means that any system, asset, or entity that stores, transmits, or processes payment card data is considered to be “in scope.” It includes all the technology, people, and processes that interact with cardholder information.
In practical terms, descoping simply means separating customer card and financial information from your company’s system so the excluded ecosystem is no longer “in scope.” This mitigates and minimizes the risk of card fraud by detaching your company’s infrastructure from customer card information.
A practical way of descoping is to ensure that no card data enters your corporate network and that your agents operate without access to payment information—even though they communicate with customers as they make payments.
Companies who want to “descope” their environment from PCI DSS compliance should look for several key benefits in a business phone system or call center solution:
- Achieving PCI compliance: The primary objective of descoping is to achieve and maintain PCI compliance. Descoping ensures no sensitive data reaches your network because cardholder information is processed securely on your behalf by an acquirer or third party.
- Guaranteed security: Since descoping ensures sensitive data won’t enter your system’s infrastructure, there’s nothing for malicious actors to steal or rob. This scenario creates a fairly foolproof security environment.
- Building a cost-effective contact center: Descoping saves your organization valuable time and resources because you no longer have to train contact center agents on PCI compliance. Apart from reducing outsourcing expenses, it eliminates the cost of acquiring and implementing technological solutions required for PCI compliance.
- Improved agent work environment: Thanks to its reduction of redundant PCI compliance training and administrative requirements, descoping often leads to employees being less stressed. This improves their overall outlook and job satisfaction.
- Improved customer experience: When agents are able to enjoy their jobs more, they usually provide better service. This can lead to a much better customer service experience overall.
2. PCI compliance certification
In addition to issuing certifications and qualifying approved payment software used to collect data, PCI SSC provides the necessary training that enables organizations to qualify for implementing PCI standards successfully.
Descoping your infrastructure usually requires engaging with a third party to keep customer data outside your company system or contact center areas. When evaluating a potential IVR solution provider, it is imperative to inquire and obtain evidence of their PCI compliance certification to see if they have gone through this requirement.
3. Network segmentation
Segmentation is a powerful feature for maintaining IVR compliance because it is a veritable mechanism for reducing PCI DSS scope.
You must ensure the system is well-managed by separating sensitive data and its processing from the rest of the system. Network segmentation allows you to create easily managed sub-networks with their respective policies, protocols, and access control lists. For instance, network segmentation can be used to ensure point-of-sale systems are not linked to other systems that lack PCI protection.
To implement network segmentation adequately, the system should undergo thorough penetration testing to validate its effectiveness according to PCI DSS Requirement 11.3.4.
4. Use P2PE/E2EE solutions
P2PE/E2EE solutions are cutting-edge compliance features that organizations can use to reduce PCI scope while also drastically securing customer financial information.
The PCI Security Standard Council has changed many once-acceptable card practices for the better. The resulting challenge for businesses is to continue securing card payments without disrupting operations.
P2PE ensures that there is encryption for payments at the point of interaction and that these encryptions adhere to PCI standards—especially when it comes to the storage and transportation of data.
Furthermore, P2PE mandates additional partitioning with decryption, which must occur outside the merchant’s environment, preferably in the cloud or an offsite data center.
Keep in mind that although P2PE/E2EE technologies are vital cornerstones of data security, there’s a slight distinction between their operational methodologies. Namely, while third-party processors can hold keys with P2PE, E2EE systems only permit merchants to hold encryption keys.
5. AI, Advanced Reporting, and Analytics
Artificial intelligence is playing a pivotal role in IVR systems, particularly with regard to natural language processing (NLP) capabilities. NLP tends to shine in IVR systems due to its ability to understand, process, and respond to customer interactions in conversational language.
As its name implies, natural language processing allows IVR systems to recognize and respond to basic words, phrases, and complete sentences. Therefore, incorporating NLP into your IVR reduces the need for live agents while empowering AI chatbots to operate like real humans.
Furthermore, the advanced analytics and reporting provided by AI can equip business owners with hidden insights and patterns. Likewise, comprehensive reporting is often necessary to provide managers with feedback on how or whether a system maintains IVR compliance. With automated reporting, however, they can easily scrutinize key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics regarding call volumes, call duration, and customer feedback.
6. Call Filtering and Flow Customization
When inadequately managed, high call volumes can easily overwhelm a contact center. Moreover, they can also create high stress levels for agents who feel compelled to rush through calls.
Since call flow customization is a contact center’s most essential feature, businesses should look for solutions with robust customization capabilities. Good solutions will allow them to create menu options, routing paths, and voice prompts with relative ease.
Meanwhile, call flow also enables enterprises to tailor call flows to align with particular business requirements and objectives. An ideal customization feature, then, would enable call centers to trigger an automatic alert after reaching a certain volume, which would then start to inform customers of high wait times.
Any given contact center will have its own unique call volumes, so you should have a mechanism in place to adjust for high wait times. This will ensure that customer calls are handled appropriately regardless of your current call capacity. One way to facilitate this is by providing the option for scheduling a callback.
Meanwhile, for any organization that deals with significant inbound call volumes, call filtering is a crucial feature of IVR systems. It facilitates accurate and quick call routing with the clear advantage of improving the customer service experience. It also allows your customers to access an emergency call department or an appropriate live agent to find answers quickly based on their needs.
Altogether, an IVR solution should optimize your team’s workflow by maximizing an agent’s time on high-priority calls and spending less time on unnecessary ones.
7. Call Queuing and Callback Automation
Call queuing is a central feature of IVR functionality because it helps reduce call wait times while also keeping inbound calls organized. In addition to call queuing, your IVR system should provide callback automation to make your customer service processes work seamlessly with little oversight.
For instance, your callback automation should allow time-pressed customers to record their responses or schedule a callback at a time convenient to them. This way, they can get off the phone quickly while also accomplishing what they set out to do.
8. Third-Party Integrations
It’s almost impossible for any software to be completely siloed from the rest of a business’s digital ecosystem of apps and other services. Therefore, any IVR solution worth its salt must provide adequate avenues for third-party integrations, such as customer relation management (CRM) systems, to streamline workflows and boost productivity.