Voice prints: the future of contact centre security

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You'll never have to remember your mother's maiden name again

Running through our personal details on the phone every time we need to make a transaction can be tiresome.

And from a security perspective, it's a vulnerable method of authentication with fraudsters able to bypass the checks once they have our data.

That's why Craig Pumfrey from security firm NICE Systems believes the burgeoning technology of biometric voice prints will soon be the staple method of identity verification over the phone.

We spoke to Pumfrey to get the low down on an intriguing technology.

TechRadar Pro: What is the problem with current methods of authentication and how does RTA work?

Craig Pumfrey: The traditional methods used to authenticate customers over the telephone are painstaking for both parties, typically account for 50% of the total call duration and fail to put up much of a fight against persistent fraudsters.

For contact centres who handle thousands of calls each day, shortening the authentication process can represent a huge saving. Real-Time Authentication (RTA) is a new technology that can reduce the authentication process by 75% (from a minute to less than 15 seconds).

This means the contact centre can handle even more calls in the same time, which is great for the customer as they may not be held in queue for so long, and when connected they no longer have to remember a password and other 'memorable' information such as their mother's maiden name.

RTA uses voice biometrics to take a 'voice-print' of the customer. So, when the customer calls and introduces them self their voice is automatically matched against the stored voice print. If verified the agent is notified and the customer record is presented on-screen and he/she can begin to help the customer.

TRP: How accurate and secure is a voice-print?

CP: One of the key benefits of RTA isn't just the speed at which it can authenticate a customer but also the accuracy. A human voice is made up of more than 50 physical and behavioural traits such as pronunciation, emphasis, speech rate, accent, and unique physical traits of the vocal tract, etc. The very best impressionist or even an identical twin would not be able to fool the system.

TRP: What happens if the voice on the call doesn't match the voice print?

CP: If a match is not detected the agent in the contact centre receives an immediate notification on-screen and they then take the caller through a further set of security questions to verify they are who they say they are.

Non authenticated customers will also be matched against a list of known fraudsters and a warning will be displayed to the agent if a match is found.

TRP: How easy is it for an organisation to introduce this solution?

CP: The vast majority of contact centres record every telephone interaction with customers for training and compliance purposes, so adding RTA is a relatively straightforward process as the foundations are already in place.

Furthermore, as all of the work is done at the back-end the agent speaking to the customer isn't required to learn any news skills, so roll out of the solution can be done very quickly indeed.

Within just one day of deployment an organisation can have thousands of customer voice prints stored and be using them to verify the identity of their customers.

Crucially the solution can be used for both inbound and outbound calls. There is nothing worse than an organisation call you and then asking you to prove your identity before they continue!

TRP: What sectors are currently looking at this type of technology?

CP: The early adopter of this technology has perhaps unsurprisingly been the finance sector. However, with the need to authenticate customers over the telephone growing every year (in 2007 it was 53% and last year 61%) we expect this solution to be implemented across a wide range of markets such as insurance, travel, retail and telecommunications.

In fact, any organisation that needs to verify the identity of its customer over the telephone quicker, easier and in a more secure way will benefit from RTA.

TRP: How do you enrol customers to the program (i.e. acquire voice prints)? And what are the typical enrolment rates?

CP: Passive enrolment is the key to the success of implementing RTA, as the customer doesn't need to do anything. Previous calls made by the customer, which the organisation has on record can be used to build the initial voice print database.

The system will continue to passively enrol customers to the system on an ongoing basis growing the voice print database on a day to day basis.

Desire Athow
Managing Editor, TechRadar Pro

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website builders and web hosting when DHTML and frames were in vogue and started narrating about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium.