The freedom of speech

Despite the irrepressible rise of the online portal, there is an expanding range of services that consumers are required, or simply prefer, to access via the phone, either as a discrete function or as an adjunct to an online transaction. Such interaction has grown in volume by 350% during the past decade, with further exponential growth to come, according to contact centre analyst ContactBabel.

But with 90% of all such calls still being answered by an operator, the costs of verifying the identity of callers have ballooned proportionally. The mere 22 seconds it takes a caller to provide a card or other ID number and password to the operator – the process known as agent-based verification – costs the UK and US combined a staggering $11.34 billion annually. Just resetting a forgotten password, which in some sectors occurs in as many as 50% of calls, can cost an organisation up to $25 a time, says ContactBabel.

In a bid to reduce both the cost and irritation of this oft-frustrating process, several major organisations, including Dutch banking giant ABN Amro, are now harnessing voice-recognition technology to automate the telephone verification process.

In a major trial of 25,000 users, the bank developed a two-factor authentication model, in which users answered a single, unique question to verify their identity via a stored biometric print of their voice. Following an 83% customer approval rating, the bank has now rolled-out the system, provided by voice-recognition specialist VoiceVault, to its four million Netherlands customers.

  “Voice recognition technology has improved vastly during the past three years”, says Steve Morrell, analyst at ContactBabel, “meaning deploying the technology over the phone is no longer a problem.” As well as dramatically reducing call centre costs, the system also improves security and smoothes the consumer experience.

For this reason consultancy Frost & Sullivan believes the voice verification market has reached a turning point, and will be worth more than half billion dollars globally by 2011 – growing over the next five years at a compound annual growth rate of nearing 50%.

Ian Cowley

Ian Cowley is the managing director of printer cartridge company By taking a systematic trial and improvement approach, Cowley and marketing director Sean Blanks have created a Sunday...

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