How trust and safety teams can navigate 2020’s holiday season

This year has taught the world a great deal. Collectively, we’ve learned that even runaway success doesn’t isolate a brand from disruption. We’ve learned that, when there’s a great enough need, companies—entire industries —can pivot on a dime and use their resources to protect people instead of profits. But the hardest lesson for many of us in the trust and safety field has been letting go of predictability.

For fraud prevention experts who rely on patterns, it’s scary not having the ability to see around the next corner. We count on automated data tracking and anecdotal experience to make educated guesses about how fraudsters will behave. But a lot of what we predict depends on consumer behavior, which also has become noticeably erratic in the wake of COVID-19.

When it comes to fighting fraud during this year’s holiday season—a time when e-commerce booms and fraudsters go after the usual targets—we have to expect a different dynamic this year. So how does a trust and safety team plan for the inherently unplannable? Here are five ways to get started:

1. Fine-tune flexibility.

Teams must stay flexible in these unprecedented times. Cross-train the team members you already have. First, list out all of the daily requirements for the team. Can everyone in the group achieve those requirements? If not, deficiencies are a good place to start. If the trust and safety team gets help from other teams during the holiday rush—such as the customer success or finance team—it’s important to leverage their training for the most high-value workflows, so don’t hesitate to ask for backup.

2. Build support systems for remote teams and skeleton crews.

We’re all striving for normalcy, but as more companies officially push office openings out until next year, it’s becoming more apparent that working conditions will be inconsistent across employees for the foreseeable future. Try to make connectivity, and hopefully productivity, as constant as possible.

Start by asking the trust and safety team what they could use help with right now. Are there any equipment needs, like an external monitor, favorite mouse, or footrest that’s been left at the office? Can the company coordinate a pickup of those things? Do they have reliable internet connections? And, how many other people need to use the internet at the same time? Can they increase their bandwidth for the months of November and December?

Budgets for such purchases are a valid concern right now. It will require some effort and buy-in from management to invest in supporting remote trust and safety teams—but it’s worth considering that they’re being heavily impacted by pandemic-induced churn and chargebacks. Whether they’re fully virtual or not, many fraud prevention teams have been scaled back because of the pandemic, and are trying to get more done with less bandwidth and fewer resources. To offset cost worries, I’ve generally used chargeback dollars saved as a counterbalance for these types of short-term investments.

3. Take, and encourage, time off.

Despite the likelihood that people will take time off during the holidays to travel or stay with family, leaders (and independent contributors) may not always consider how vital breaks are when it comes to keeping people functional and productive. It becomes even harder when merchants face the holiday rush—after all, it’s the busiest time of the year!

But nonstop availability has never been an entirely fair expectation during the holidays, and with COVID-19 in play, it’s become even more difficult. Whether employers like it or not, employees have other demands on their time: children at home, virtual schooling, personal appointments at inconvenient times, and the general slowdown that’s become a hallmark of a society adjusting to a spreading pandemic.

Instead of letting things pile up, build-in holiday time off for everyone on the trust and safety team now, even if it’s only a half-day off here and there. Outside of offering people a welcome break, dedicated time to deal with personal needs, and support for their mental wellness, planned time off will give teams the runway needed to plan projects around different schedules and availability. It will also act as a pressure-relief valve, leading to fewer instances of short notice or emergency time off. Companies will also experience fewer of the careless mistakes that lead to security breaches.

4. Turn up the focus on volumes.

While companies generally brace for increased volumes overall during Q4, it’s important to expect even more volatility this year. Try to understand the company’s most important markets and start by strategizing around potential upticks in traffic and transactions. When possible, allocate more resources during these periods to smooth out review requirements and reduce backlogs.

5. Adjust for the abnormal and adopt automation.

The way consumers shop has changed considerably since the start of the year. In-app purchases, contactless payments, buy online/pickup in-store, and no-contact delivery are all part of the new normal. Companies may face a significant increase in online orders, which will result in a need for far more verifications and assessments—but with much less time, and sometimes fewer analysts, to review them. Automation and technologies like real-time machine learning can help make the trust and safety teams more efficient and effective, both now and in the future, by taking a lot of the manual work out of the equation.

We’re heading into an unpredictable season. The companies that stay flexible, keep their teams well-rested, and find opportunities to automate will find themselves in a stronger position to beat back fraudsters during peak shopping times. For trust and safety teams, that’s the best holiday gift they could ask for.

Jeff Sakasegawa, trust and safety architect, Sift

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