What Is Customer Identity Access Management (CIAM)?

September 28, 2021
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4 min read

Customer identity access management (CIAM) solutions enable companies to manage more than just customer information. CIAM makes it possible to manage data-sharing consent, self-service customer registration, account management, single sign-on and multi-factor authentication (MFA) across channels (mobile, web, apps, etc.). So, what exactly is it? And how does it work?

CIAM is a method of securely managing customer information and access across systems and business units. For the business, it connects disparate systems to provide a single source of truth for customer access, profile management and analysis. Meanwhile, it also gives customers better control of the data they share.

How CIAM Impacts Customer Experience

Consumer buying habits have shifted rapidly over the years. Retailers now face many challenges in order to adjust. Today, consumers expect digital-first storefronts that provide high-quality customer service through a secure omnichannel portal. Consumers are also concerned about how companies use their data. They want control over the data collected, as well as what companies share. In a 2021 Hubspot Future of Commerce survey, only 31% of consumers surveyed were willing to share any kind of data with brands.

The 2020 EY Global Survey found consumers are more invested in privacy and digital safety issues than in previous years. A CIAM helps build trust by ensuring you honor data privacy, keep data secure and only share it at consumer discretion. After all, the way a company uses and stores consumer data has a direct effect on what consumers do. If a company sells data to a third party or asks for more data than required to carry out regular business, customers feel less satisfied and may go elsewhere instead.

A CIAM solution fills multiple roles in customer identity access and information storage and management. So, what are the benefits of solutions that combine customer identity management with customer relationship management to simplify customer interactions across systems or services?

Learn more about CIAM  

Simplify the Buyer Journey

Seamless customer journeys, from registration to purchase and beyond, call for a robust CIAM solution that simplifies the buying process. For example, customers might begin the journey by signing up for an email newsletter. Sign-up asks them for just enough information, such as an email address. The CIAM solution keeps this information secure while also making it open (as required) to other systems in the same ecosystem. You can expand information collected during newsletter signup later to include purchase history, support requests or other information.

CIAM can also drive engagement by giving brands a detailed view of customer choices and habits. That way, you can base your approach to marketing on actual customer data, rather than broader metrics. Customers are more likely to move forward with a purchase when it meets their needs.

Single Sign-On Experience

Customers expect logging in to be easy, convenient and secure. CIAM solutions connect customers to multiple services through a single login. A single sign-on experience with a brand might include a single sign-on that grants access to the email newsletter profile, customer support portal and account dashboard. Consumers want the same user journey no matter how they log in (web, mobile or app).

Data Privacy and Security

You probably spend a lot of time managing your online presence. Protecting digital IDs while meeting privacy and security compliance rules can become complex quickly. After all, these rules differ from nation to nation and across regions. A CIAM is structured to make compliance easier precisely because personally identifiable information can be stored, modified and removed from within a single system.

Manage MFA

Managing MFA for enterprise employees differs from customer identity management. Employees must follow MFA login protocols in order to connect to the resources required to do their jobs. Customers have the option to choose a different brand or company. When you require customers to clear multiple complex steps to log in, they may choose to shop elsewhere instead. CIAM enables an approach to MFA that puts the customer first, as well as being secure and not over-complicating things.

CIAM solutions are evolving to provide modern forms of MFA, too, rather than relying on typical SMS or email-based authentication. Solutions that go beyond standard knowledge-based authentication may offer QR code single-use authentication, biometric login or third-party social media sign-on. A CIAM solution can even require more authentication challenges based on user risk assessment.

Social sign-on (Twitter, Google, Facebook) allows customer login without requiring separate login credentials. This simplified login journey gives customers quick access to an account, adding to the overall ease of the process.

Self-Service Information Management and Update

CIAM can also help build trust by offering self-service options. Give customers control over their profile data. Let them make updates to related information that may have been collected during other aspects of the buying process.

CIAM Service Types

CIAM software solutions can be cloud-based (public or private), or delivered through an API-first identity-as-a-service platform. Your company doesn’t have to develop its solution in-house. Instead, CIAM API-first solutions integrate with existing apps to speed deployment.

CIAM or IAM?

CIAM is similar to Identity Access Management (IAM), but with key differences. Both help meet privacy and security needs, while only one builds trust and brand loyalty.

Identity access and management (IAM) solutions are purpose-built for internal systems access control, whereas user accounts are a known quantity and provisioned by IT. An IAM helps employees access the systems they need to get work done. The user journey may be adequate, but possibly not designed for a delightful time. After all, IAM doesn’t focus on building or maintaining customer loyalty.

Most of the time, customers register their own accounts, unlike work accounts. While CIAM’s original purpose was to protect web properties and data from unwanted access, it has become a useful tool for customer relationship management, too. Some CIAM solutions focus on offering a smooth user journey to customers while providing robust tools for brands. Customer data and preferences collected throughout the customer lifecycle can give brands a detailed view of customer online behaviors. From there, they can surface ways to improve communications or remove friction from current processes.

CIAM in 2021 and Beyond

Today’s consumers are web-savvy. They understand companies need some data to do business, and they’re learning the importance of protecting that data. Consumer confidence in a brand is directly affected by the way that brand handles customer data. In the 2021 IBM Cost of a Data Breach report, compromised credentials accounted for 20% of the initial attack vectors, which totaled $4.37 million.

With a CIAM solution, you can balance data privacy and security with effective customer relationship management. It gives companies and brands the tools they need to respond to shifting market needs while providing customers with the seamless and secure web they expect.

Michelle Greenlee
Freelance Technology Writer

Michelle is a freelance technology writer. She has created technical content for a range of brands and publications, including Business Insider, DICE, GE Dig...
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