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Customer service centres as fraud resource

Customer service centres can be very valuable resources for fraud prevention and detection, if they are accepted and recognised as such, writes Semire Yekta, Doctoral Researcher at Goldsmiths, University of London.

While service centres are traditionally defined as workplaces to handle a large number of customer inquiries via calls, emails or digital channels, in their current stage they can also be very helpful in discovering a variety of fraud phenomena. Understanding how call centres are involved in fraud will help to develop a better set-up of fraud prevention and detection measurement. While customer service centres will not provide all answers for the complex fraud problem, they can provide some answers as they are a part of long, diverse and multi-dimensional fraud chain.

The structure and functionality of customer service centres make them a unique place that link a variety of people, organisations, companies and financial institutions and can be considered as a hub for information exchange between customer service representatives and others. The publicly available contact details and convenient ways of reaching out to the customer services are not only used by customers but also those who look for a first contact regarding fraud. For example, victims of fraud and identity theft contact the representatives to look for some immediate support when they unexpectedly discover an unauthorised payment on their account or receive an invoice for an online purchase they did not make. Similarly, the police often get in touch with online retailers through customer service to receive information on fraudulent orders to carry out an investigation. Financial institutions also approach service centres to cancel an order or to stop a delivery when they notice a fraudulent transaction afterwards; and not to forget the actual fraudsters, who also get in touch when they have inquiries about their orders or when they look for ways to overcome detection measurements, such as placing an order over the phone.

As a result of customer service infrastructure and roles of customer service representatives, they get indirectly involved into many fraud-related issues and develop knowledge that can be fairly useful in understanding fraud in a better way. However, to do so, there needs to be a stronger cooperation between customer service centres and fraud-related departments or key decision-makers.

Which steps can be taken to profit from customer services?

• Firstly, there needs to be a clarification on the size and nature of customer services before looking into better ways of cooperation as large and international customer service centres might experience more and diverse forms of fraud than small and national centres. A focus can be defined after developing an understanding on the scope and limitations of the service provided within the service centre.

• Secondly, there needs to be an analysis of existing communication channels to see if there can be adequate information exchange between the service centres and other actors. If not, it might be the best to look for ways to improve or to create new of information exchange so that fraud related issues can easily be forwarded.

• Thirdly, customer service representatives will mostly be busy with responding to customer inquiries. There needs to be a clarification on how fraud can be dealt with or alerted alongside other tasks without creating too much of additional pressure or workload.

• Fourthly, within the customer services, higher priority will naturally be given to calls or email to comply with service level requirements. This means that fraud will not be the main priority. It might be worth thinking about how to create structures or roles that will prioritise fraud in some cases.

• Fifthly, not only existing priorities can contribute to fraud remaining unnoticed or unreported; also the distribution of calls and emails amongst the agents. For example, some customers can become suspicious through making several contacts, a particular way of approaching customer services, the content of the email and language. However when emails from the same person are distributed amongst several agents, particular pattern might not be recognised. It is important to keep in mind and address this point when it is possible.

• Sixthly, it can be very useful to organise regular feedback sessions to talk about issues that might have been missed or might not be easy to report. From my own experience, I know that fraud is a significant part of customer services. However the implicit nature of fraud within the service centre cannot always easily defined in numbers or statistics. Some topics might be easier to address within a relaxed feedback session.

• Lastly, it is important to genuinely value the input of customer service representatives. Then they might be more willing to go the extra mile to help while already being overwhelmed with dissatisfied and angry customers on daily basis.

The implementation of these points can help to be more aware of fraud and to give a stronger focus to fraud-related issues within the customer services with the aim of developing fraud know-how. Further, customer service representatives might be able to provide in-depth insights from individual cases and stories so that the development of technological solutions and rule management can significantly profit from them.


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