The advent of the cloud and the proliferation of offsite resources and support options have benefited businesses of all types. It’s no longer necessary to make heavy investments in infrastructure or maintain a significant in-house IT asset maintenance team to keep vital systems up and running. That means companies can redirect capital funds and focus on their core competencies, relying on external support to keep systems online.
But it also means there are more endpoints than ever before to consider from a security standpoint, and that can cause sleepless nights for the teams charged with safeguarding data. These concerns apply to the cloud services most companies rely on as well as freelance resources that access company information in the course of their work. It also applies to the customer support platforms a growing number of firms, particularly Business to Business (B2B) companies, use to deliver customer service.
Every business is an IT company these days because of the extent to which virtually all businesses rely on technology to perform mission-critical tasks. And when a customer requests support from a B2B vendor, sensitive information is frequently transmitted and stored. For example, medical records organisations need to store private health information that is subject to HIPAA regulations within a ticketing system.
That’s a scenario that can pose risks for multiple parties, including patients whose records are being stored, the organisation that is requesting help and the business that is providing the support. This example underscores how critical it is to ensure that the B2B support platform and all other endpoints are secure. To mitigate these risks, it’s crucial to understand security goals.
Data security encompasses two issues: the need to protect data from being lost or corrupted, which can be accomplished by backups and disaster recovery plans, and the need to ensure that data is not hacked or otherwise compromised. To protect customer information, vendors may need the ability to encrypt “data at rest,” i.e., the data that’s sitting on a server, as well as “data in transit”, i.e., information that is in the process of being transmitted. In B2B customer support there are many layers of data transmitted and stored – from basic customer contact information received via phone or chat, to files attached to an email or ticket.
Companies that use B2B support platforms must ensure that partners can protect this vital information. Here are five aspects of using a customer support solution that businesses should assess to ensure adequate levels of protection for their data:
- The nature of the data that is being stored: The first thing support professionals who are charged with ensuring data safety should do is gain a comprehensive understanding of the type of data that is being shared and stored via their customer support platform. Encryption systems are expensive to deploy and operate, and not every type of data requires a high level of security. But when support activities involve sensitive data such as credit card or health information, it is critical to ensure that the support platform vendor can store and transmit encrypted data. The vendor should be able to produce certifications and documentation that address specific data security needs.
- Applicable industry and regulatory standards: IT security professionals know that certain types of information, including health records and financial data, are subject to regulatory and industry standards like HIPAA patient privacy protections and payment card industry (PCI) data protection rules. Before partnering with a customer support platform provider, leaders should get to know their customers’ specific needs and make sure the prospective partner applies intelligent resources to ensure that customer data is secured according to the applicable standards.
- Security advisors: Vendors should have 3rd party security advisors in addition to security experts on staff. The fact is, the security field is evolving rapidly and will continue to be transformed as new factors come into play, particularly around developments in artificial intelligence and other cutting-edge technologies. It’s not possible for a company that is focused on providing a B2B customer support platform to stay on top of every new security trend or threat. Businesses who are assessing prospective partners should ask about the security advisors the vendor uses.
- Testing regimen: A reputable vendor will conduct tests periodically to ensure the safety of the data they store and transmit. Companies who are exploring partnerships with B2B support vendors should ask the vendor about the testing regimen and request details on the vendor’s planning, deployment, and adjustment processes. It’s also a good idea to find out if the vendor uses third parties to test security. A reputable vendor will conduct arm’s length tests regularly to identify and mitigate vulnerabilities.
- Security policies: One of the most important areas to explore with a prospective vendor is the organisation’s security policy. Make sure there is a detailed policy in place that outlines how security is applied and managed. Ensure that it addresses tactical issues as well as strategic concerns. A vendor who takes security seriously will have a robust and up-to-date policy that documents all aspects of the organisation’s security stance.
Even 100-year-old businesses that sell machine parts often maintain an ecommerce page and interact with their customers electronically, so technology is critical to their business operations whether they identify themselves as a tech company or not. It makes sense for companies that provide support to their customers to use a customer support system, particularly if they serve other businesses and are focused on managing the entire customer relationship rather than just resolving individual tickets.
The right B2B customer support platform can give customer service agents access to the tools they need to quickly resolve issues. It can allow agents to leverage colleagues’ expertise to solve problems as a team. It can also provide customers with self-service options and deliver a robust knowledge base that can eliminate the need for many agent contacts.
But for companies that want to take advantage of all the benefits a B2B customer support platform has to offer, it’s crucial to evaluate prospective vendors’ security capabilities. These five tips can help support professionals assess vendors and make a decision that streamlines support operations while ensuring that vital data remains in safe hands.
Robert C. Johnson, serial entrepreneur, investor
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