Is Single Sign On really good for customer experience?

Lots of organisations have multiple websites and online services that require users to have an account with a user ID and password. Often these sites and services were developed in isolation to each other and then the idea of providing users with Single Sign On (SSO) comes along and organisations begin working on how to offer SSO across all platforms, and often in the name of providing good Customer Experience.

Is SSO good for Customer Experience?

The idea of using a Single Sign On service seems like it should be good for customer experience. SSO should make it easier for your customers to access services using only one set of account details, which makes it easier for them to remember. But I’m not so sure. It seems to me that it breaks one of the core principles of good customer experience: allowing the customer to choose how they interact with the service. From the customer’s perspective it could also be seen to be affecting the principle of being transparent as to the user, they effectively already have an account on a site that they might have never even visited (even though actually they only have one account with the organisation). 

I’ve also seen poor customer experience resulting from using a central website as the Identity Provider (IDP) for other websites and when a customer tries to reset their password on one of the satellite sites and is taken to the main site to do but then left to manually search for the site they were originally on. Creating dead-ends isn’t good for customer experience.
Done well, SSO should be good for the organisation as it provides a single-view of the customer and their behaviour, but achieving this isn’t an easy task. And what is good for the organisation should be good for the customers of a customer-centric organisation, but again, achieving this is a difficult thing to do.

SSO Vs. Social Login

Social Login (using Twitter, Facebook or Google) is often used for sites like Medium, but this is different to SSO. Social Login has the benefit of making the user feel in control of the account and that the site that that are logging into isn’t holding and info on them (other than user behaviour data such as which pages they’ve visited). Social Login differs from SSO as the external site (e.g. Twitter) serves as the IDP but only as a way of identifying the user, not as a way to hold information such as delivery address about them.

What’s the solution?

Maybe sites that are part of the ecosystem of online sites and services for an organisation should offer customers the option of logging into a site using their account, but this isn’t really SSO as the point of it is that once you’re logged in on one site you can move between sites and will be already and automatically logged into those too.

Maybe if services like Twitter or Google allowed users to hold billing and delivery address details against their accounts then organisations could benefit from providing Social Login to their customers and still use the data provided by the Social IDP for things like order fulfilment. Then maybe the solution is for organisations to have a mind-shift in how they think about customer identity and data to focus on dynamic user behaviour data rather static user identity data.

Maybe the solution hasn’t been invented yet and is an opportunity for a service that allows customers to be in control of their accounts and their personal data, and that allows organisations to authenticate against it as an IDP.