It is a scary time to do business. Phishing, hacking, identity theft, ransomware, payment fraud: the list of ways that cybercriminals are attacking individuals, companies and governments seems endless. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently referred to cyber threats as “the greatest threat to our markets right now” and for good reason. While recent global attacks like Wannacry and Petya/GoldenEye dominated headlines due to the sheer size of its reach and impact, thousands more acts of cybercrime are committed every single day — almost 50 percent of which target businesses.
But, don’t be fooled into thinking that you have to be a Fortune 500 corporation to be a target. Cybercrime is an equal opportunity menace. Larger mature companies are hit most often, but smaller scale-ups are hit the hardest, and it takes longer for them to recover. Only 14 percent of small businesses rate their ability to mitigate cyber risks, vulnerabilities and attacks as highly effective. In today’s digital economy, winning and maintaining the trust of your customers is central to business growth, and nothing erodes trust quite like a cyber breach.
Scaling customer trust is a very different animal to scaling customer numbers. In fact, it can work in inverse proportion. When there is rapid customer base growth, it puts more strain on the company’s Trust and Safety resources, which in turn, results in an increase in security breaches and a decrease in customer trust. Don’t allow this to happen. Safely and successfully scale the trust of your customers by adopting these three key measures:
1. Take full control of updating your company’s software.
Imagine that your company is a castle. The walls of the castle can break and crumble in places, allowing intruders easy access. So these walls need to be constantly maintained and patched up. If you give everyone working in the castle responsibility for this maintenance, something is going to go wrong somewhere, sometime. One of your team will fill a hole with sand instead of cement, so you need to take full control of it.
It’s the same in a company. A recent survey conducted by research firm Voke Media found that 27 percent of companies reported a failed audit in the prior 18 months. 81 percent of those failures could have been prevented with a patch or configuration change. 26 percent of companies reported a breach, of which 79 percent could have been prevented with those two measures. In fact, if more individuals and companies kept their software up to date, the devastation caused by the recent Petya attacks would have been minimal.
By using an enterprise network, this critical function will be managed centrally by one expert rather than by many novices.
2. Put human error in the firing line.
Even though the walls of your castle may be fully maintained and secure, a worker may unwittingly open a window or door, giving intruders full access. 95 percent of all security incidents involve human error, according to the 2017 IBM Cyber Security Intelligence Index. Examples include staff clicking links to phishing scams or visiting corruptive websites, and network administrators making small errors with big consequences. For example, it was reported recently that North Korean hackers stole U.S.-South Korea war plans. A contractor working at the data center left a cable in place that connected the military intranet (which had compromised antivirus software installed) to the internet, allowing the North Korean hackers to access sensitive information.
Employees can be helped to recognize scams through prevention training and awareness programs. Make it easy for your employees to report fraudulent emails quickly, and keep testing internally to prove the training is working. Your front line must always be cyber-ready.
3. A.B.C. — Always Be Communicating with your customers.
Tell them what you are doing to keep them safe. Customers value transparency, and the more companies are open with both its customers and employees, the further trust will be established. Take Zappos, for example, who promotes transparency in its Zappos Family Core Values by being completely open with its vendors when it comes to internal information. Instead of trying to hide secrets or use private information to establish leverage, Zappos believes in giving vendors complete visibility. The result is more trusting relationships that strengthen the organization at very foundational levels.
The expertise and time required to successfully introduce all or any of these security measures can be immense, and often difficult to provide in-house. As a result, many fast-growing companies are outsourcing Trust and Safety (TnS) Operations to a partner company, allowing them to focus on core competencies. If this is a route you choose to take, be sure to demand the same level of trustworthiness from them, as your customers do from you. And here’s how to do it:
Find a partner who has a proven track record of delivering top quality TnS services.
A premium BPO will routinely outperform its partner’s Net Promoter Scores (NPS) scores and will have the data to prove it. Providing value-added, high touch customer experiences results in high customer satisfaction. So not only will you have a high NPS score, you’ll also be able to turn those satisfied customers into your champions. A raw, positive customer referral is infinitely more powerful than any advertising copy.
Many companies are publicly private about its outsourcing practices, so go deeper than a few Google searches when carrying out your research. Conversations with peers and BPO reps will bear more fruit. Ask for examples and personal accounts so you can understand how the agents would react in any situation.
Ask a lot of questions about the training the contact agents receive.
Contact agents will be your front line so it’s important they are prepared for any scenario. Whether it’s risk, user safety or fraud prevention, proper training is critical. Last year, one of my TnS agents saved one of our major partners over $20,000 by foiling an attempted money laundering scam before it even got started. Our in-depth agent training programs were central to this big win.
Ask what training programs are available, and if they can be tailored to suit your needs. Empathy training for emergency situations and crises help equip agents with the skills needed in case they find themselves in a sensitive or stressful situation. The key to success is the people so choose an organization that invests in recruitment, training and quality.
Be clear about the security measures that you want in place.
By having the security discussion up front, you can find a partner that is flexible enough to provide what you need. Inform yourself about the company’s network security and how they intend to keep your data safe. Ask: Does their security philosophy match yours? Do they have the right tools already in place? What else is needed to keep yours and your customers’ data safe?
Ask about their data recovery and business continuity plans in the case of a breach. With data breaches looming around the corner every day, it’s imperative to know there’s a backup plan should a breach occur.
Make sure your partner can support your growth.
When companies experience rapid growth, it will throw up a lot of challenges on your journey to success, and many of them will be way outside of the sphere of your core competencies. You’ll need to hire in functional expertise, set up complex new systems and processes, and create management structures. In a world where companies grow faster than at any other time in history, most are outsourcing at least some of their core functions, so that they scale up successfully.
Take Airbnb for example, who over the past ten years have seen phenomenal growth. What started as a small company in San Francisco that allowed people to turn their spare bedrooms into vacation rentals, now operates in more than 190 countries worldwide. When Airbnb contracted Voxpro to carry out its TnS operations, it started with six agents. Three years later, the number has grown to 106 given the rapid growth of the business. A great BPO will grow with you.
It’s a scary time to do business, but in the 20 years I have been running companies, I have never experienced a more exciting time to do business. The digital nature of today’s global economy has opened up amazing opportunities to scale your company bigger and faster than at any other point in history. Yes, it also opens up opportunities for cybercriminal opportunists too, but never forget that you are the one in control, not them. By taking a proactive approach to your trust and safety operations you will shut them down, lock them out, and successfully scale the size and the trust of your customer base.
This article originally appeared in Entrepreneur Magazine on 20th November, 2017. Enjoyed this article? You might also enjoy this article from Dan Kiely: When a startup becomes a scale-up learning when and how to pivot successfully.