Does Anyone Care About Voice Verification

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In my July/August column, I highlighted a Metaphor Solutions customer, Planet Payment, and its Shop BuyVoice application, which uses voice verification to allow customers to make secure retail purchases by phone. This and similar offerings, such as Voice Commerce Group’s Voice Pay application, are relative newcomers to self-service retail applications—something the interactive voice response market hasn’t seen much of when it comes to voice verification.

About four years ago I estimated that voice verification was only used in 1 percent to 3 percent of IVR applications, and there has been little overt indication that this number is changing. Or is it? Since 9/11, numerous studies have shown that consumers are increasingly more accepting of the concept of a voiceprint as a viable security option and are more confident in the technology. When I talk to vendors in the self-service arena, though, the majority still say they are seeing more inquiries about the technology, but not many deployments or pilots yet.

This is a pity given that voice verification is a fairly mature technology. Consumer awareness and acceptance has matured as well. In fact, the majority of respondents in surveys have said that as long as voice verification is easy to use and will help to keep their personal information secure, they would use it. From a business standpoint, it certainly makes sense, given that voice verification increases automation rates, reduces costs by streamlining calls into a contact center, and can be used to remind customers that their data is secure. Further, because it’s automated, agents don’t need access to sensitive information, such as customer passwords. Because of these factors, I get the feeling that we are reaching the tipping point of a much broader deployment of verification solutions.

Dozens of internal password reset applications are already in use. Progressive Insurance, for example, uses a VoiceVault solution for its 30,000 employees. In a case study, Progressive asserted that password resets were costing the company $9 apiece. With other estimates even higher, the business case for deploying verification for this one application is solid.

Beyond internal company applications, we are also seeing signs of more public-facing applications in early adopter industries, such as finance and telecommunications, and in vertical market segments that you wouldn’t perceive as being early adopters, like the government. In the travel industry, Aeroplan uses Nuance Verifier to authenticate frequent flier customers. In the telecommunications arena, Bell Canada has eliminated the need for customers to have a bill in hand or to remember PINs or passwords by using voice verification to access accounts; Leaco Rural Telephone Cooperative in New Mexico is using VoiceVerified’s technology to protect customer accounts as well.

Voice verification is also being used to help underserved population segments—those least likely to have access to a computer or to have documentation, PINs, or passwords handy. For example, FirstView provides financial services for the "unbanked, underbanked, or uncarded" market by offering reloadable debit and store cards and guaranteed checks, and uses an Angel.com verification solution as a way to secure access to customer accounts. Similarly, migrant laborers in Dubai who were formerly paid in cash, which they often would send back home, now have bank accounts, direct deposit, and cell phones to manage their money. When a deposit is made, a call to the worker’s cell phone is triggered, his identity is verified, and he can validate the amount and destination of any cash transfer.

Although we have seen some really innovative uses of verification, such as making it a part of electronic monitoring of parolees, more and more voice verification is making its way into everyday applications, from providing access to financial accounts to validating the identity of consumers making retail transactions. However, if we are really at the tipping point of more aggressive deployments, it will be these and other more broadly consumer-aware applications that will be needed for business decision makers to move first from "wait and see" to "try and buy" and then to "must have."

Nancy Jamison is principal at Jamison Consulting. She can be reached at nsj@jamisons.com or at www.jamison-consulting.com

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