Aug 23 2017 Save Your Customers Time, Use Their Phone Number



I have a question: Why don’t more companies recognize me when I call?

Identification is the first key to a successful interaction. Yet, I keep getting asked the same thing every time I call in: “Can I get your account number?” I rarely remember my account number, so this process is inevitably painful and time-consuming. The solution seems so simple to me. Just look me up by the one item you already have when I call and we’ll both save a lot of time “my phone number.

What Is My Account Number?

Recently I was working with one of our clients in the deregulated energy supply industry. For those that don’t realize it, you can buy your energy directly from these companies, rather than your local utility. A good analogy for anybody over 50 would be when you could start buying long distance phone service from somebody other than “Ma Bell.” And now they just give us long distance as part of our package – how quickly things change. Well, now you have two companies involved in providing your energy service.

One challenge for these energy supply companies is that their customers never get the account number correct. Often callers provide their local utility account number, if they even know that. This issue is not unique to the utility market; customers do not always know or remember their account number. We have to make it easier to know who the customer is.

How About Using My Email Address?

Think about the retail space. How many of us even know what our account number is after we place an order? Typically we have to look it up by order number or even credit card number, and we start pulling out all the different payment cards we have. Many retailers have moved to using email address as the account identifier. Certainly much more personal and something I probably know – at least between the two emails I use.

Email is a great option when I’m online, but not so good when I call. Trying to spell out an email address to an agent always seems to take more tries than just giving my name. I can’t even imagine having to try to say some of the email addresses I’ve seen – either due to complexity or inappropriateness. (Yes, I’m talking to you.) And how am I supposed to say it or enter it into an automated IVR system? That rarely works well.

Use My Phone Number

When I call a company, I want them to know who I am without having to ask. They should know this from my phone number. And if I call from another phone they don’t recognize, my phone number is information that is easy for me to provide and easy to understood. Not only do we get a reliable identification method with a phone number, we can do it automatically for phone calls. But its efficacy extends beyond the standard phone call; it works great when a company is texting with me, too – which more companies should be doing, anyway.

“Can I Get Your Phone Number?”

Companies do not need to make my phone number be my account number as well; I might change it. But you do need to keep track of my phone numbers and associate them with my account. That way when I call (or text), you know who I am and can tie me to my account. Over time, build up a list of customer phone numbers by simply asking the question, “Can I get your phone number?” Request my cell number, my office number and even my home phone number.

Don’t Make It Creepy

While I want you to know who I am, you need to make sure I know what you are doing. Otherwise all the time and convenience saved is going to be wasted explaining how you knew. I won’t tell you how long I spent yesterday figuring out how the Panera Bread guy knew what table I was sitting at. (If you are curious, it involves RFIDs.)

When you ask for my phone number, also confirm, “Can we associate this phone number to your account so we can look you up more easily in the future?” And when you look me up, tell me: “We see that you are calling from a phone number associated with an account. Would you like to use this account?”

Another technique sometimes used is to look up the phone number; if a match is found say, “Would you like us to look up your account using the phone number you are calling from? Even though it’s already been looked up, this makes the caller feel that they are in control. Additionally, the question does not get asked if the phone number is not already known to be a match, streamlining the experience.

Final Thought

There are obviously more details to implementing phone number identification – how to handle security, what if there are multiple matches, etc. There are several options available and the best option will depend on your situation. But don’t let that stop you from providing an improved customer experience that also reduces your costs of doing business.