Data Security

Is there really a trade-off between security and customer experience? (part one)

By Nicola Pero 18 January 2021

Welcome to the first of a two-part series of blogs in which Engage Hub’s CTO, Nicola Pero, discusses why data security compliance should be a customer service priority in your organisation, not just a box-ticking exercise.

The trade-off between security and customer experience

It is often believed that you have to expect a trade-off between security and customer experience – that the more secure a system or an interaction is, the worse the customer experience. The misconception is that extra security means extra steps in the customer journey, and that these extra steps degrade the customer experience by making it more complex and more clumsy. For example, a system that requires a password is more secure than one without a password, but it would have a poor customer experience, because you have to memorise a password and you have to type it in correctly to be able to use the system.

In this blog entry, we discuss the possible scenarios where this trade-off does not apply or where it can be bypassed altogether.

How security steps can add to the customer experience

Imagine you visit a bank to deposit an expensive piece of jewellery into a safety deposit box. When you get to the bank, the door is open, there are no guards or CCTV, and the “safety deposit box” is a container, with your name on it but no key or lock, next to the entrance. The bank employee explains that you can access the safety deposit box whenever you want: just walk through the door, which is open 24/7, and put or remove whatever you want from the safety deposit box. You don’t even have to talk to a bank employee!

After visiting your new safety deposit box, how would you feel? Almost certainly very anxious and concerned. Despite the fact that accessing your safety deposit box couldn’t be simpler for you, it is obvious there is no security in place, and so you are going to be extremely worried about the safety of what you deposit – if you deposit anything at all! The “customer experience” will be one of anxiety and concern, if not one of shock and anger at the lack of security.

This example reminds us that the “customer experience” is about how the customer feels, and it includes whether they feel the service meets the standards of security that they expect. The fastest customer journey is not always the one that makes the customer feel better about the experience. A customer whose credit card was stolen in the past may need extra reassurances when using their credit card to pay online. The extra reassurances may consist of extra steps to authorise the transaction. Without these extra steps they may feel insecure and uncertain. So the extra steps do add to the customer experience by making the customer feel secure and protected in their journey. You could argue that in some cases you’d want to add some security steps even if they don’t add any actual security – just to make the customers feel confident that the process is secure.

Naturally any extra step in the customer journey needs to be well designed and well polished. If the extra security steps are badly designed, don’t flow, prevent the customer from doing what they want to do, or make the process unreasonably long, then they will inevitably ruin the customer experience. Extra security steps that are well designed, work smoothly, and provide a level of security that is appropriate to the task at hand can instead enhance the customer experience by making the customer feel comfortable that the process is secure and that their data is safe.

Re-engineering the customer journey…

The supposed trade-off between security and customer experience is reminiscent of another trade-off that is often believed to exist but that sometimes doesn’t: the one between cost and customer experience. The assumption there is that providing a better customer experience would cost more money and vice versa that cutting costs would compromise the customer experience.

Indeed if you compare two identical customer journeys that differ in their implementation only in the quality or quantity of the resources used to implement them, then the customer journey that was more cheaply implemented is likely to perform poorly with customers.

But if the customer journeys are different, for example because the underlying technologies are different, then all bets are off!  Confirming a change of address to a customer by sending them a letter is more expensive than doing it via digital means (say, SMS or email), and it provides a bad customer experience because the confirmation takes days to arrive. In this case, using better technology you can create a new customer journey which is cheaper while also providing a better customer experience at the same time.

Exactly the same can happen with security; you can improve security and improve the customer experience at the same time if you re-engineer the process to use better technologies and/or to flow more intelligently. For example, paying with a credit card by inserting details on a web page, if implemented properly, is more secure and at the same time provides a better customer experience compared to paying with a credit card via email.

Want to find out more about how to manage your data to improve security and CX? Read part two of the series here.

See other posts by Nicola Pero


Nicola Pero is the Chief Technology Officer and has been with the company since 2000. He is the driving force behind the company's highly successful and innovative technology and products. Nicola studied theoretical physics at university and was very active in the open source and free software community for almost a decade. He more recently completed an MBA at London Business School.

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