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Good Digital Customer Care Requires Identity Unification

Knowing your customer is the foundation of customer identity and access management, or CIAM.

Digital interactions are now at the forefront of the customer service experience. Mobile and web applications have become a primary customer touchpoint. All-digital journeys are now commonplace, and even traditional brick-and-mortar settings like retail and restaurants have prominent digital business lines.

Simply put: digital experiences are now everything, from both the customer and business perspective. Yet, digital proliferation has created enormous customer challenges for sizable enterprises, especially those not considered “digital natives.” With so many different digital experiences in place, each with its own backend configurations, sharing identity data consistently across all channels has been difficult, if not impossible. Failing to solve the challenge means friction and frustration along the customer journey. From a customer standpoint, it can feel like the business’s digital investments have been poorly executed, or that the brand simply doesn’t know them at all.

On the other end of the spectrum, businesses able to maintain consistent service across all channels are seen as delivering on their promises. Providing high-quality digital experiences differentiates these businesses, helping them win new business from competitors while improving the loyalty and retention of existing customers. The trick is to know your customer—wherever they’re at on their journey and no matter what channel or app they’re using to reach you. Knowing your customer is the foundation of customer identity and access management, or CIAM.

Why CIAM Matters So Much Now

Imagine making an appointment to buy a car at a dealership, only to have ten different people confirm your appointment before you even arrive. Annoying! Then, once you’re at the dealership, they bring the wrong make and model for you to test drive. What gives!? This experience is similar to how customers might feel when they encounter a business that hasn’t mastered the art of CIAM.

CIAM used to mean a limited customer account system offered as an online service, such as online banking or an online insurance application. Those days are over! With the rise of digital transformation initiatives, companies now have potentially dozens of these different offerings across various internal systems, cloud-hosted services, and customer-facing digital applications. It’s big business, and the stakes are high.

To really amp up the difficulty level, each channel might have its own unique identifier for a single individual customer: Jill Brown in source A, Jillian Ann Brown in source B, and Jillian Brown-Wilde in source C. These are all the same person, but your systems will never get it right without some help. In order for the customer journey to be seamless across channels, you need a way to connect all these representations of a single customer so you know exactly who you’re targeting, no matter how that person is represented across systems. We call this identification, and it’s key to authenticating our old friend, Jill.

But the fun does not stop there. To really know your customer, you also need to gather every other bit of user data about them from across all these disparate sources. Useful things like: location, previous purchases, daily coffee order, shoe size, frequent travel destinations, usual car make, preferred color. (Oh, hey, those last two could really come in handy for our car dealership!) Having access to all these user attributes is how we build a global profile for each user, to help you decide what they are allowed to access. This is how we make fine-grained authorization decisions, because the more you know, the better!

Trillions at Stake in Every Industry

Managing a single customer identity across multiple different silos is a challenge, but it is one businesses must be prepared to clear in an increasingly digital economy. In fact, 88% of online consumers state that they are less likely to return to a particular website or digital channel after a single bad experience, according to research from Amazon Web Services. The report calculated that an estimated $1.4 trillion in revenues is lost each year as a result of this problem. That’s trillion with a T!

As digital experiences become more widespread, the risk of bad customer experiences increases tenfold for major enterprises. To keep digital customers, the business must pay close attention to key details of their customer journey. That definitely includes how that journey moves smoothly across internal company silos.

If the enterprise is able to maintain a single overarching view of each customer’s identity, with attributes drawn from across the infrastructure, they can deliver an impressively seamless customer experience across all business lines and business touchpoints. Part of this challenge involves intelligent systems integration, but even once systems are logically integrated, customer identity data must be able to flow freely and appropriately across these silos. Customers need one consistent identity across all systems, with no unnecessary duplicates, and all identity and access data integrated into a single virtualized repository.

Consider, too, that these days digital experiences have begun to trickle into realms such as dining, groceries, and in-person retail. Curbside pickup, freelance delivery services, and online ordering all act as facets of the customer journey from their perspective—but potential pain points for businesses if they lack a way to comprehensively manage and share identity data across many different systems.

Improving Customer Service Through Improved CIAM

Despite everyone and everything using digital technologies these days, many enterprises simply have not caught up their capabilities in order to meet modern expectations.

It’s similar to people at a dealership not bothering to communicate to set up a simple test drive appointment, but with a business’s entire digital ecosystem not communicating as it should.

“Customers who run into difficulties don’t see the complex challenges behind CIAM. They simply have one reaction: Why do I have to help this person do their job?”

Without a system capable of de-siloing customer information and smoothly managing access and identity across multiple silos, customers may find themselves asking this question again and again. The fact that a channel is completely digital does not act as an excuse to customer frustration. They will simply wonder “Who messed this system up so badly?”, once again associating their experience with the brand itself rather than the challenges of modern technology.

A 2020 report on digital customer experiences conducted by Microsoft found:

  • 90% of respondents indicated that customer service is important to their choice of and loyalty to a brand.
  • Nearly two-thirds (58%) of consumers will sever a relationship with a business due to poor customer service.
  • The majority of customers continue to use 3 to 5 channels to get their issues resolved.
  • A true omnichannel experience threads the customer profile and history across the channel landscape.
  • To create a positive customer experience, organizations must understand customer behaviors, preferences, and expectations.

Many modern businesses interpret that last point to mean they need customer personalization, which involves making educated guesses as to what a customer might want or need next using machine learning algorithms. However, an even more crucial point is remembering what a customer has already told you.

Being able to associate specific business lines or types of purchases with an account across siloed systems enables a business to cater specifically to what the customer comes to that business to find. On the backend, this means quickly aggregating all important transactions, business line accounts, or recent historical customer actions in one convenient view, both for the customer’s sake and to help any internal representatives to make targeted recommendations and offer better support.

From the customer standpoint, customer interactions can be made smoother by giving employees instant access to the most pertinent account information without having to force the customer to confirm key details or recount them one-by-one to an employee.
Both forms of identity unification—backend and front end—contribute to a seamless and positive customer service experience that achieves consistent quality across all channels.

CIAM Can Help Businesses Earn—and Keep—More Customers

CIAM-derived frustrations can be the proverbial nail in the coffin for a business relationship, new or long-standing. Consider that a report from American Express found that over half of U.S. consumers would back out of a transaction after a poor customer service experience. They will tell, on average, 15 other people about their poor experience.

Globally, according to the report, the most important factor in customer service was speed. That can encompass the speed of resolving a customer service issue but also the speed required to complete a simple transaction. Any delays in customer service or frustrations encountered during the experience will become more ammo against the brand in the minds of the customer.

Identity is, therefore, one of the key aspects of the customer journey to get right, especially as more business activities become folded into digital systems and experiences. The risk is that, with each new system comes new repositories of identity data. Organizations need a comprehensive way of recognizing a single distinct identity across these systems while sharing the needed information to provide a seamless omnichannel experience. If this data sits in silos, customers face redundant authentication requests, miscommunications between channels, and bumps along their journey that all encourage churn.

Customers have two simple demands: “Know who I am, and don’t waste my time.” By providing them with excellent service, enabled in large part through capable CIAM, you can fulfill and exceed these expectations. The bottom line is that customers don’t know what’s happening behind the scenes, nor should they have to wonder. All they want is for things to work!


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