10 Things to Consider When Implementing a Secure Message Center

November 13, 2018

Monica Hutton

The insurance, financial service and healthcare industries work with regulated information as part of their core business process. For this reason, support services for members, account holders or patients is more complicated than other industries due to security and privacy regulations surrounding the sensitive information, be it identity, financial or health information. Support services delivered via web and app-based messaging and email channels must be encrypted, logged and tracked for compliance purposes.

For that reason, organizations in these sectors should implement a Secure Message Center on their web properties. When implementing a Secure Message Center (SMC) for a website or client services portal, what questions should you be asking yourself? In our experience – it’s all about understanding the support inquiry workflow end-to-end. Below are 10 questions to consider, and some insight based on our experience implementing them. For simplicity in the guidance provided, we use ‘customers’ to describe all prospective and current financial services clients, insurance subscribers, patients, clinicians etc. Likewise, anyone in your organization supporting or communicating with customers are labeled ‘employees’.

1. Who needs to use the secure message center and why?

Customers visiting your web properties to get information or utilize self-service resources should be provided various ways to contact your employees when they need help. That’s an obvious statement, yet many organizations limit the support options to telephone contact and snail mail, or restrict email correspondences to non-sensitive topics (thru disclaimers and warnings). To provide a better level of service and support, a SMC should be implemented enabling the exchange of sensitive information throughout the message string with the employee using encryption and access permissions.

2. Where should the secure message center be located?

The secure message center should be readily accessible (and easy to use). If customers visiting your public website(s) need to engage your employees and share regulated information – you may need to provide access points from a public webpage. For customers with login credentials to a secure customer services portal, locating the SMC where it can be accessed from anywhere inside the portal is best. In other cases where high volume, specific requests or service issues are handled, customized secure message center fields or forms specific to content on a webpage can be more effective and provide structured data to your backend enterprise applications.

3. How should secure message center users authenticate themselves?

A secure message center requires customers to identify themselves, and password protect the information exchanged for security and compliance purposes. If the customer is a new visitor on a public webpage – they will need to authenticate by creating an account (email and password typically), or you could leverage their public ID providers to make it easier for them (ex: Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, Microsoft). If the customer is already logged into a secure portal with existing credentials, the secure message center should leverage those credentials through enterprise SSO techniques such as OAuth, or other IdP techniques, eliminating the need to re-authenticate or create separate credentials for your secure message center. No one wants to log in twice or maintain separate credentials to access secure messaging for support.

4. What type of inquiries are expected?

Secure message centers are meant to provide a safe and secure method of transmitting sensitive information and should be advertised as such. Awareness of secure message center functionality is important to user adoption. Once the customer knows that it’s meant for sensitive communications, then all types of inquiries are to be expected. Anything from customer support issues, to issues with mobile finance/banking, to questions about a customer’s account – you should expect the same variety of inquires that come through your current support or service channels.

5. Do customers or employees need to share files or other message attachments?

Depending on the type of inquiries, file attachment features may be needed to support the inquiry or resolve an issue.  Sharing smartphone photos and screenshots is often required. In some cases, you may need the ability to handle very large file attachments such as videos or diagnostic images.

6. Can the inquiries be categorized for efficient routing?

If a customer exists in your database, routing their inquiry to a specific employee tasked with managing their account may make sense. In other cases, you may want to route the inquiry to your subject matter experts, or groups tasked with specific business processes, product or services. Here are various ways you can route inquiries from the secure message center:

  • Customer – by email address, name or an account number
  • Topic – by picklist in the SMC webmail user interface
  • Topic – by content filter once the message is sent (keyword routing)
  • SMC – unique SMCs can be placed on different areas of the website or portal and messages can be routed to responsible employees accordingly

7. Who will respond to the inquiries and what application will they use?

Routing techniques above help distribute inquiries to the appropriate teams as needed, and backend applications should identify available employees within teams. Is it a support issue? Send it to customer service/support team. Is the customer asking about their account? Send it to an advisor. Asking about a specific product or service, send them to appropriate sales team.

It’s important to consider the backend application your employee uses to receive and respond to the inquiry. Depending on their role, they may work in a CRM system, a contact center application, a support ticketing system, or a standard email client like Outlook. In some environments there may be a custom database application specific to the business process.

Regardless of the application they use, a secure messaging solution should integrate the messaging workflows into the UI and application for best results. Generally, if the application supports standard email protocols, your secure message center solution should enable your employees to send and receive easily, often with case tracking and archiving for the entire message string. In some cases, APIs can be used to improve the integration and seamless handoff of the message, files and metadata.

8. What type of reply notifications do customers need?

When an employee responds to a customer inquiry from a secure message center, how should the customer be notified? In most cases a simple email notification with a link to the message center inbox will suffice. In other cases, and where other contact information is available, (phone numbers, mobile phone numbers), that may be supplemented with notification types such as a text messages, or an automated voice message. These supplemental techniques ensure the customer gets a timely notification of the employee response.

With advanced secure message center response techniques – the reply, including related file attachments as needed, can be sent securely right into the customer’s personal email inbox. This simplifies the messaging process and enhances satisfaction with the inquiry engagement and resolution.

9. Is a custom user interface desired, or is a standard webmail interface sufficient?

Depending on your specific use case, the SMC may benefit from your own web design and UI implementation, specific features exposed or hidden, or structured data fields beyond the tradition ‘to’ ‘from’ and ‘subject’ lines. In this case you’ll need an SMC platform with a robust set of secure messaging APIs, including runtime functions, provisioning and management of the message center functions. APIs are also required if a secure message center function is implemented in a corresponding mobile app for customers.

If a standard webmail interface is sufficient, your SMC provider can likely provide you an interface with your own branding at a minimum, and some other ‘on/off’ feature selections such as drop-down ‘to’ fields for routing, file folders and other minor send/receive features enabled or disabled. This approach minimizes web development and accelerates the implementation time for the SMC.

10. What type of management and reporting tools are needed?

When it comes to a secure messaging center solution, the message traffic must be logged and tracked to support a compliance audit or other inquiry to prove that a message and file exchange has met security and compliance policies and laws. Detailed message metadata can also be used to identify usage trends by any field (sender, recipient, date, time, subject, attachment name, etc.). Optimally, the content of messages and file attachments should be inaccessible to anyone outside of the sender and recipient also to support security and compliance policies. If e-discovery is needed, a separate (and secure) archiving solution can be used with the secure message center.

For reports on message handling rates, inquiry resolution and other employee productivity levels, corresponding CRMs, ticketing systems or contact center solutions are designed specifically to deliver this data and should be leveraged for those type of reports.

Need help deciding how to best implement an SMC for your organization? Contact us!

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