May I Have Your Password?

A company asks a taboo question, and scuttles its customer experience as a result.

What do you feel when you hear those five words?


Surprise, probably…  because in today’s world of online accounts, passwords and PINs, we’ve been coached to never reveal such secrets.  Surely any business that asks for your password must be running a scam, right?


Well, maybe not a scam – but at the very least they’re tone deaf to what constitutes a good customer experience.


The catalyst for this post comes from a technical support call I recently had with the IT services company that hosts my firm’s website and e-mail.  Now, this is no Mom and Pop business; it’s one of the leading providers of such services.


So I was quite shocked when one of their support people uttered those five words that you never expect to hear from any company’s authorized representatives.


I pushed back, asking why he needed my password in order to solve my e-mail problem.  He insisted that was the only way he could access my account, diagnose the issue and resolve it.


Under pressure, I acquiesced and coughed up the password, even though doing so contradicted everything I had ever been taught about information security.


After about ten minutes, the support rep tells me how to fix the problem, asks if there’s anything else he can do for me (sure, how about stealing my social security number?), and ends the call.


And there I am, staring at the phone, thinking, “gee, some stranger halfway across the world has the keys to my online kingdom.”  It sure didn’t make me feel warm and fuzzy.


Call me paranoid, but I proceeded to log on to my account at this hosting company and change all of my passwords (yes, there’s more than one… but that’s an entirely different story).  As though I needed yet another alphanumeric, case-sensitive, enigmatic code to remember…


What’s even worse is that now, before I ever lob a call into this company’s technical support line, I go into my account and change my password (temporarily), in anticipation of their representative asking for it.  It’s like having a valet key for your online account – only far less convenient.


So where is this company going wrong?  Let me count the ways…


·         They’re navel gazers.  That’s to say, they’re too inwardly focused.  While getting their customers’ passwords might be the easiest way for them to provide technical support, they’re totally ignoring what that approach looks (or feels) like from an external, consumer perspective.


·         They’re overlooking emotional considerations.  From a purely rational perspective, I can see how giving up my password might be the fastest path to problem resolution.  The support rep sees exactly what I’m seeing and can figure out what’s wrong.  But customers rarely evaluate experiences purely on a rational dimension.  There’s an emotional component – how you feel during the interaction – that necessarily influences your perceptions.  Yes, my problem was solved promptly.  But I sure didn’t feel good about how we got there.


·         They’re introducing friction.  The more effort a customer has to put into the interaction, the less likely they will be satisfied (and loyal) as a result.  I can’t think of a more frustrating, mind-numbing exercise than having to continually change my password whenever I call these folks for assistance.


·         They appear to have ignored practical alternatives.  Seriously?  Your reps don’t have some kind of special administrative access that lets them diagnose and fix these types of user problems?  OK, then, how about allowing me to share my desktop with your rep online.  They’ll see what I see, without me having to share my password.  Or, if all else fails, how about just asking if I’d like to create a temporary password for the duration of the call?  Any one of these approaches would yield a far more positive, customer-friendly experience.


I’ve got plenty more suggestions where these came from, but in order to hear them, I’ll need to know your mother’s maiden name.



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