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Voice biometrics is an advanced contact center technology that analysts and vendors have expected to proliferate among enterprises with near hockey-stick growth. So far, it hasn’t happened. 

Voice biometrics technology powers solutions that determine the identity of an individual by measuring the physical and behavioral characteristics of that individual’s voice. It certainly seems a valid business case can be made for a voice biometrics-powered solution. The technology is significantly better now than it was a few years ago, and it can be offered as a hosted model, decreasing or eliminating capital expenditure. And these days, it seems that everyone—from the government’s regulatory bodies to the average consumer—is aware of the inadequacy of passwords and PINs. 

In recent years, providers of voice biometrics engines have partnered with providers of contact center technologies. Voxeo, West Interactive, Tellme Networks, Convergys, and Nuance Communications, among others, all offer voice biometrics solutions powered by an engine either developed internally or through a partner. The fundamental problem, however, is that while enterprise customers are interested in voice biometrics and its possibilities, they, by and large, have avoided pulling the trigger on large-scale live deployments. 

It’s notable that recent live deployments of voice biometrics solutions were successful because enterprises recognized the value in improving customer service while maintaining high security standards. This will remain the case in 2010, during which time enterprises will continue to initiate pilot programs. 

The real and continuing hurdle is shifting these projects from pilot phase to live deployments across a large base of consumers. This is where most enterprise voice biometrics solutions stall. In recent years, this has been because banks have invested in their own survival rather than in cutting-edge contact center solutions. This is no longer an issue. 

However, it’s still unclear whether consumers will accept an enterprise voice biometrics solution given the still-convoluted enrollment procedure and widespread privacy concerns. The success of a voice biometrics solution will depend on the enterprise’s customer outreach and marketing. Enterprises need to educate consumers about the solution and what exactly the technology does. 

Given the uncertainty of consumer acceptance, part of me wonders whether voice biometrics will catch on first in deployments outside of the contact center. Devices such as handsets, vehicles, and laptops are viable areas for voice biometrics technology to penetrate. Consumers interact with their vehicles and portable devices on a daily basis—unlike most contact center applications. Within this context, consumers are more likely to enroll their voiceprints, even if the process is slightly unwieldy. 

While voice biometrics in consumer goods won’t be a large market, it could create consumer familiarity around voice biometrics and make enterprises more willing to adopt the technology into their contact centers. 

Ryan Joe is an associate analyst of customer interaction at Ovum. He can be reached at ryan.joe@ovum.com.

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