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The power of voice – how combining authentication & voicebots help customer experience in the call centre

By Miroslav Jirku, VP of Marketing, Phonexia 

Some brands, such as HSBC and Santander in the UK, are already using voice biometric authentication rather than passwords or PINs to allow access to account information quicker and both more conveniently and securely. Similarly, others are starting to use conversational voicebots to solve customer service queries before escalating to a human agent. But the clever part is when these two techs are combined – and it’s only months away – because call centres see dramatically reduced call times, safer authentication, quicker resolution, and happier customers.

Covid-19 has certainly brought biometrics to the forefront – whether voice, fingerprint or facial recognition – and demand is strong from finance, utilities and telco organisations as it helps with remote working and things like secure access to your finances and account information.

 AI-based conversations without the queues

Consumer expectations are growing and people right around the world are becoming used to dealing with new automated systems, such as voicebots. The boom in voice assistants such as Alexa or Siri shows how smooth consumer interactions can be, and so businesses are exploring solutions internally for staff and externally for customers. So we are all getting used to speaking with AI.

Voicebots are on the rise, and for good reason: as they are a massive step up from the traditional (and tedious) IVR. Consumers find the new voice interface intuitive and the conversational bot convenient as you can speak to it hands free and without key presses.

People hate queuing, whether in a store or on the phone, and importantly voicebots remove such inconveniences. There will be no more “you are number 5 in the queue…” as your call is immediately answered and a friendly voice is ready to help.

While it’s a big growth area, at the moment voicebots are still a bit primitive and are only used for narrow scenarios – for example, banks ask some questions, you answer and they put you through to the right department to speak to an agent. But change is definitely on the way, broadening use cases.

Combining voice authentication with bots

Voice authentication over the phone is still quite new, but a welcome development as it speeds up access to your account information and transactions. Some banks are already using it effectively to check voice biometrics by asking a security question, or the caller just speaks and their voice will be recognised. So your voice becomes your password.

Most interest comes from a range of sectors such as finance, telcos, utilities – particularly led by banks and wealth management, insurance, retail financing.

Today some brands are using a single technology, either a voicebot OR voice authentication – both widely available in the market.  But companies can achieve massive benefits both internally and externally by joining these two together. We expect this combined approach to be adopted quickly, bringing massive changes within the next 12 months – this adoption is accelerated, no doubt, by Covid-19.

Voicebot tech, powered by AI, has and continues to be developed rapidly. With an easy drag and drop interface it’s simple to program a chatbot and then add a voice interface, so it can speak a human language, it can listen and transcribe, and uses some logic for providing voice answers. Some voice solutions, such as Phonexia, are working with NLP platforms such as IBM Watson to power their chatbot logic.

This moves text-based chatbots up a level – the move to voicebots is a more convenient interface for customers. Speaking to robots in call centres will become normal, and expected.

Voicebots also learn. So by the second and third call the bot remembers what you spoke about last time and assumes you know this and uses this intelligence. It’s convenient for customers – they don’t have to answer the same questions and it doesn’t cause offense. After all you are calling your bank and they are supposed to know you – similar to good old-fashioned customer service, like in a branch (remember them?).

So a combined solution can authenticate you, and can communicate by itself – providing both content and context.

Access to bots is available without authentication for basic tasks. When voice authentication is required the business would need to collect a voiceprint – then they can compare your next call against this biometric information and know it is really you.

A good example of how authentication and voicebots will transform convenience over the phone is managing plane travel. When you want to change a booking – this first needs authentication to verify the customer, then a voicebot could solve the problem and make the change immediately. After all, it’s not complicated, it’s just altering a database and applying some logic. Normally it’s difficult to get through over the phone – this technology makes a convenient future for customers.

Saves time & improves call centre morale

Call centres have severe problems with staff churn. It’s no surprise that the more mundane tasks are depressing for agents, with multiple authentication questions before they can even start. Instead of ‘date of birth’ and ‘mother’s maiden name’, with biometrics you can cut straight to the problem. It takes away mundane tasks, speeds up some processes, shortens calls by 20+ seconds, or significantly more,  just on authentication – so agents can solve the problem more quickly.

Many simple enquiries won’t even reach a human agent thanks to AI-driven self-service, reducing wait times and speed to resolution for customers. This means those live assisted human conversations are becoming more high value and important than ever.

In addition to being better for call centre staff, it helps managers too by improving efficiency and reducing costs. The whole call centre can save £thousands by shortening calls. It’s also more convenient for customers – improving their experience, without queues, and providing higher security. Unusually higher security means a lower customer experience, but not with voice authentication.

Managing change & the CX

When the telephone IVR was first introduced people didn’t like it – but the cost savings were too big to ignore. The CX was poor, but this was a secondary concern. However, when moving to a voicebot system, it provides a better CX for the new generation of call centres.

The move from IVR to voicebot is dramatic. People simply like it more: it’s more intuitive, having a conversation is more human, overall it’s more natural. As long as it’s programmed effectively!

It’s convenient for customers if they have lost a bank card or locked their SIM card, for example. By simply using their voice – without needing to remember PIN or password – they get quick and secure help. It makes perfect sense to use this tech in call centres where interaction is through the phone. For a bank or telco it means quick resolution – especially when time is of the essence, such as blocking lost cards etc.

In summary, both call centres and consumers need to get ready for this change. Authentication combined with voicebots are both on the way in the coming months.

Your competitors are evaluating these too – don’t get left behind. They will be cutting costs, becoming more secure, and their customers enjoying better experience.

Brands will begin integrating these two AI-driven techs in the coming 12 months, most likely led by financial services, as the benefits are too big to ignore. Not just cost savings and better security, ultimately it’s all about delivering a better customer experience.