Omnichannel Authentication: Balancing Humanity and Technology

For customer care professionals in this era of "omnichannel" commerce, every day is a balancing act. Leaders in banking, financial services, telecommunications, healthcare, retailing, travel and government need to balance each customer's need for highly-personalized attention with their ability to offer "individualized attention at scale" in an affordable way. Then there's the quest for equilibrium between automated handling of routine activities and instructions through self-service channels and the inevitable need to introduce human touch into the conversation at the appropriate time.

Yet the most conspicuous, and impactful, example of the high-wire, high-risk balancing act revolves around customer authentication, an activity that is core to supporting security, privacy and, ultimately, trust. The level of trust required for a company to offer highly personalized services over digital channels is strongly linked with customer identification and authentication. This terrible twosome is the bane of your best customers as well as customer experience professionals. Both want to make interactions friction-free.

There remains wide-spread dissatisfaction with the way companies authenticate. Nearly 90% of callers are dissatisfied with today's methods of authentication. They cite widely recognized issues, especially the Big Three:

  • Authentication procedures take too long

  • Passwords and PINs are getting extremely complex and hard to remember

  • "Challenge questions" are an invasion of privacy

Ironically, there is also evidence that people who complain about the cumbersome nature of strong authentication also find it reassuring when the companies they carry out business with make a conspicuous effort to validate their identity. They regard it is "appropriate" and in their own best interest. The challenge for today's digital enterprise is to balance the procedures that accompany secure, personalized services with an inherent desire for interactions to be quick.

Aligning Technology With Personal Preferences

Using a person's voice as a factor for ID and authentication directly addresses the overall frustration that people feel with current approaches to establishing secure, personalized communications links. Voice-based authentication saves time, protects privacy and doesn't tax an individual's memory. Plus there are added benefits that result because "voice-first" is the preferred starting point for people using virtual assistants on their smartphones, home speaker systems or automobile entertainment consoles.

​Companies are no longer going out on a limb as they bring voice-based authentication into their customer engagement strategies. Instead their tactic balances ease-of-use and simplicity with high levels of security. Voice has proven to be as accurate  (and often more accurate) than alternative factors for user authentication. Because a single voiceprint can be used across multiple channels and use cases, it also blends in very well with alternative technologies in common MFA (multi-factor authentication) deployments.

Enrollment was once difficult because it required people to repeat a fixed phrase three times to build a "strong" voiceprint. Reliability was called into question if enrollment was conducted on sketchy phone lines or carried out in a noisy room. Today, when 70 million people around the world have enrolled their voice as an authentication factor and thousands of authentications take place each day, we know that the underlying technology is not a problem.

Taking a passive approach to enrollment akin to NICE's Real-Time Authentication (RTA), makes enrollment automatic. A voiceprint is created in the background by capturing speech in the course of a conversation between a customer and an agent. Better yet, with a customer's knowledge and permission, voiceprints can be created from recorded and stored conversations. The latest systems can create a voiceprint with as little as 30 seconds of such unstructured dialog.

Text-independence brings speed and efficiency to authentication as well. Once a voiceprint has been created positive authentication, or rejection, of a caller's identity can be accomplished in as little as 10 seconds, based on the system listening in on the normal course of conversation. From the customer's point of view, it is a friction-free approach to establishing trust.

Technologies for Simple, Secure Engagement

​Companies that have deployed RTA in their omnichannel contact centers can assess a caller's identity in the course of a natural language conversation that starts with the caller getting straight to the purpose of the call. Agents start by asking "How may I help you?" rather than "Who are you?" or "What was the name of your first pet?"

As a result the average handle time for customer care calls has been reduced an average of 40 seconds without sacrificing security. That spells a savings of $0.40 to $0.60 on each call which, when coupled with an estimate of fraud loss, makes it easy to justify implementation and build a business case. In many instances, voice authentication can take place through a natural conversation with an interactive voice response (IVR) system. The entire interaction or transaction can take place without any human intervention (and associated operating costs).

​Yet all the talk of savings, security and ROI masks the real impact of taking a friction-free approach to authentication. It leads to higher levels of customer satisfaction, long-term loyalty and truly purposeful human involvement. That strikes a better balance between digital commerce and the real-world, while maintaining high levels of security and trust.