Voice Biometrics Is the Next Must-Have Technology for Contact Centers

Voice biometrics, also referred to as voice authentication, is one of those wonderful technologies that can significantly improve the customer experience while saving contact centers a ton of money. It works like this: When you connect to a live agent, the software automatically matches your voice to the voiceprint on file and confirms that you are who you say you are. This can cut several seconds off handle time and gets the call off on the right foot.

Damian Smith, director of product strategy for voice authentication at Verint Systems, says biometrics "provides not just savings in handle time but also delivers a better customer experience. It relieves the agent from having to play good cop/bad cop at the same time."

At least from my experience, utility companies are ever so careful not to release precious corporate information to just anyone without first verifying that they are talking to the right party. Typical quiz questions include "What is your account number?" (who keeps that handy) "What was your mother's maiden name?" or "Who was your first-grade teacher?" This all might make sense if you're calling to execute a stock purchase, but if all you wanted was help programming your TV remote, why do you have to prove you are who you say you are?

Voice authentication is not that new. The concept can be traced back to the late 19th Century when Alexander Graham Bell's father was laying the groundwork by inventing a universal language. It first emerged as a workable technology in the 1990s and has been improving since.

The human voice is composed of a combination of elements, including the individual's accent, inflection, rhythm, as well as physical factors related to the size and shape of the person's nasal passage and vocal cords. Each individual's voice is as unique as a fingerprint. However, voice is the only biometric that cannot be lost or stolen. And unlike fingerprints and retinal scans, the human voice can be verified remotely. This makes it ideal for contact centers.

So how does it work? To get a handle on this this I called on the experts at Verint Systems. Verint designs and markets the Verint Identity Authentication & Fraud Detection voice biometrics solutions. I learned that the first step is to reach out to your customers to enroll participants. Rather surprisingly, more than 90 percent of customers are OK with the idea.

With text-dependent voice verification, the person speaks a specific passphrase. The second method is text-independent, where the user can say anything, enabling authentication to quickly happen in the background during the user's normal interaction with an agent, interactive voice response system, or application. Voiceprints are stored on site or in the cloud, in an encrypted format and isolated from other identifiable customer information. Chatbots and virtual assistants can simplify the enrollment process.

The voice authentication vendor works with companies to assure that the software integrates with their CRM and IVR systems. After installation, when a customer calls, the interaction recording system feeds the recorded voice to the authentication engine, which then performs the match, if one exists. The agent screen displays the caller's identity, along with adjacent information that might be associated with the caller.

Voice biometrics works much better than screen pops based on caller ID. Caller ID is limited in that callers could use different phones to initiate calls or block transmission of their caller ID information.

With only seconds of net speech from the caller, the authentication engine can make a determination of a match. In environments where there is a high risk of fraud, such as securities, banking, healthcare, and insurance, it is advisable to ask for a second form of identification as well.

The above example assumes the call bypasses the IVR and is routed directly to an agent. If inbound calls are first routed through the IVR, the voice authentication system can be set up so that enrolled participants can simply recite their catchphrases when their account numbers are requested.

The financial benefits of voice authentication accrue from reductions in handle time and fraud detection. Industry estimates are that voice authentication shaves 35 to 80 seconds off handle time. This might not sound like much, but if your handle time averages 3.5 minutes, a decrease of 35 seconds amounts to a 17 percent across-the-board savings in labor costs.

The more significant cost benefit comes from reduced risk of fraud. In today's digital world, credit card fraud and ID theft continue to rise. In fact, according to Experian, one of the three main credit monitoring companies, credit card fraud is the most common form of identity theft. Card-not-present fraud is a type of scam in which the customer does not physically present the card. Card-not-present fraud can occur with transactions that are conducted online or over the phone. It is very easy for fraudsters to obtain credit card numbers and then attempt to make purchases with the stolen numbers. Voice authentication vendors maintain large databases of voiceprints of known fraudsters, and their software can quickly flag attempts by these fraudsters when their voice is heard.

A Growing Market

According to published reports, the voice biometrics market was valued at $690 million in 2018 and projected to grow at 23.5 percent per year. A quick Google search reveals that there are more than two dozen voice biometrics vendors today. Obviously, a lot of companies see a promising future for the technology.

Looking to the future, we will continue to see more merging of artificial intelligence with voice biometrics. AI can add data to each voiceprint, such as the phone number, call history, and other information. This helps update customer files and enriches the data available through the CRM system. As the technology matures, it is foreseeable that at some point consumers will be able to interact directly with AI-powered bots that know their names and product and service preferences.

Dick Bucci is founder and chief analyst at Pelorus Associates.