Dialing Up Payments Security For Call Centers

Think call centers are on the way out? Think again. They’re evolving to provide a point of service, as they always have, at that last moment of payment, but with new security measures in place, as IntraNext CEO Patrick Brown tells PYMNTS’ Karen Webster.

Chatbots. Live chats. Reports of the impending demise of the contact call center have been greatly exaggerated. It’s no secret that in that “last mile” of payments, a human voice may be a matter of choice when it comes to making payments, at least for some customers. But as it always does in this data rich world, security matters.

In an interview with PYMNTS’ Karen Webster, IntraNext CEO Patrick Brown discussed the ins and outs of making sure that payments are secure when consumers interact with call centers, and more specifically, call center agents.  

Brown said that his firm goes to industry trade shows often and stated that “there’s so much focus on mobile and eCommerce,” that security is at times a “weak link” in the system for call centers and that frequently those companies are not in the know of “who, what or where” when it comes to security.

So, he added, “the safer we can make that interaction, the better.” The company has brought efforts to bear on security through 21 years of providing traditional computer/telephone services to the sector.

As PCI became an issue beginning a few years ago, the evolution of both calls and payments, said Brown, become one where, if customer contact with the call center is in progress, “and we already know there are payment interactions going on, and I can talk to the phone system — how about during the live call, we let the customer control the inputs across phones.”

The data offered up via keypad by consumers is intercepted through call center integration systems. As for the processing of payments themselves, Brown noted that “in the ideal world, we are simply a middleware solution that comes in, and we will peacefully co-exist with what is already in place.”

That might mean shifting transactions, securely, from server to server on top of whatever payments systems are in place. Should it be needed, “we certainly could pick up that business,” the executive stated, and establish a new clearinghouse. But across more typical process flow, IntraNext operates with Cisco/Avaya contact centers, with two servers tied to the data center environment: one temporarily holding the credit card data from consumers and the other a client/manager interaction component. 

The firm then works with a desktop application that uses a plugin configured to each contact center’s environment in terms of payments. To that end, three years ago IntraNext debuted iGuard, which prevents customer service representatives from seeing or hearing sensitive data as it is being entered by customers via telephone/mobile device keypad.

As for verticals and enterprises embracing these modernized call centers, Brown noted that his firm’s roots have been in the cable and satellite TV space, with 18 years in business focused on that sector. But other clientele range from health care companies to outsourcing firms, and as such, “there’s no real specialty anymore” tied to a certain vertical.

The key for IntraNext — which operates via subscription model — is to embrace any volume or size of payment transactions where PII is a part of the interaction. For cable companies and/or IntraNext’s customer base in general, the desire is to get a customer’s card on file or to set up recurring payments. In short, to “diminish the individual one-time payments.”   

Looking at the contact center industry more broadly, though, there is competition from offerings such as live chats via websites and chatbots, Webster stated. Brown countered that “we certainly see, as there has been for years, a focus to try and drive out call volume and get customers into ‘self-care,’ whether that is interactive-voice response or on-web self-care.” But ultimately, he said, “no matter what you do, there is still that last bit of customers you just can’t [move to] that automation, and there has to be a human-to-human interaction.”