The future of voice

The future of voice

This is a guest post by Michal Hrabi, CEO of Phonexia.

No-one could have predicted the extent to which the world could work remotely – when pushed – and, now we are enjoying the benefits, it highlights how technology plays a key role providing secure logging on to systems, remote collaboration and biometrics (particularly voice). All this was only possible because companies and governments fast-tracked implementation projects in just weeks that would have taken months or years pre-Covid-19.

Voice biometry has progressed from a simple security add-on to being an enabler for remote communications. And with good reason – the best voice biometrics engines are extremely fast and can verify the speaker after just three seconds with 90%+ accuracy.

Just two months ago there was a big difference between countries in adoption, or getting ready for the adoption, of voice biometry. Some countries were already under attack from hackers and fraudsters in the voice channel – especially where a lot of communications take place over the phone – especially USA, UK and Western Europe. These countries were gradually adopting additional security layers to try to prevent fraudsters attacking their weakest customer touchpoint – call centres.

But fast-forward to now, with Coronavirus, and the digitalisation of society is speeding up frantically. Through necessity, whole nations have made step-ups in a matter of weeks that may previously have taken years. For example, using tools for remote communications, companies are providing new remote services, and Governments are trying to collect and support data through online channels and call centres – rather than in person. This digitalisation is speeding up understanding of the need for voice biometrics for many companies. If they want to communicate over the phone the experience must be good and should be cost-effective, as well as provide the additional security layer that was missing.

Cost savings through voice verification

Cost-cutting is another key driver for automated voice verification. It can shorten each call by 20 to 90 seconds.  These costs are going to be even more important to companies in the coming economic crisis. In a call centre example with 50 employees : call duration is average 3 minutes; authentication is shortened by 20+ seconds; 5,000 calls per day; saving 28 hours daily – that’s equivalent to a total saving of at least $2500 daily.

Voicebots and a voice-first future

Going a stage further, helpful voicebots mean up to one third of a call can be automated, enabling further cost savings for companies.  This is an important piece of the puzzle which, together with authentication, offers the verified caller a self-service mode where they can solve their problem over the voice channel. And it’s not just for information retrieval, but for proper transactions. For example with ecommerce brands, currently many of their call centres are overwhelmed by people calling about the status of their orders, and they have needed to take on extra agents to deal with it. Research shows that up to one third of calls are routine and thus can be automated by voicebots.

Today, it’s just simple use cases that can be solved confidently, but the future potential is huge. In fact, there will soon be a ‘voice-first’ future – not just externally for customers, but internally too. Imagine voicebots that can provide real-time supported communications, such as corporate information during a meeting. Help can be provided from a ‘live’ voice assistant – like an auto-completer when doing a text search. For example, a smart speaker can be doing that job and transferring the data to the nearest display in the office – or imagine the latest interactive displays where your desk or window will become the ideal screen for your enterprise digital assistant. These enterprise digital assistants are powered by voicebots safely accessing your company knowledge base – which obviously need to be in a secure cloud or on-premise.

This type of technology has applications across many sectors – use cases are appearing constantly as coronavirus is forcing the issue around the digitalisation of society. Utility providers, for example, could use this for their field service technicians – a daily assistant voicebot can help them dictate notes directly into their ERP system via voice.

Another example is health assistants for dentists and doctors. Some practitioners are already working remotely during the Coronavirus outbreak and can consult with patients over the phone. Introducing a voicebot can help with basic requests, and escalate to doctors if required, once a caller has been authenticated.

It makes a compelling case for decision-makers. If companies can increase the amount of service work staff can do by 10-15%, securely and cost-effectively, then why wouldn’t they.

Voice from a security background

The current voice technology available in the market often has its roots in the security sector. The help that Phonexia gave to Germany’s Federal Criminal Police (Bundeskriminalamt), for example, is connected to the current commercial threat environment.

Not long ago a group of hackers stole personal data and managed to hack 300 accounts. By creating profiles targeting older people – eg birth dates, addresses etc – they tried the spear-fishing technique, pretending to be real customers calling into a bank call centre.  A similar technique was used during a DDOS attack on a bank to disable their internet services – so transactions had to move to the voice channel. During the chaos, agents are panicking and more likely to not follow the correct security procedures with callers – an ideal time for criminals to strike.

In both cases, Phonexia helped to identify scammers, through speech technologies, and they used it as evidence for supportive material for a judge – to show the likelihood of the criminal being identified.

Of course with increased social engineering, more fraudsters will try to hack through the weakest touchpoint – and if it’s just a few simple questions, that’s still the call centre. There are still enough people that don’t use internet banking to make it worth the hackers’ while.

Such proven tech from the police sector brings power to customers in the commercial sector, so they can protect themselves from criminals. The tech beneath is essentially the same, but with an extra layer on top to make it easy to deploy.

Fraud grows in a recession

With the level of fraud expected to grow significantly voice verification can also help prevent consumer blacklisting. If hackers steal a personal identity it’s easy for them to attempt to get a loan over the phone. Here, voice verification can help protect both the loan providers AND customers – better risk management can therefore provide better interest rates for customers.

We have already seen banks closing branches as they rely more on apps, remote transactions and telephone transactions. They also need to protect themselves – when a bank calls you to check for potential fraudulent transactions – they need to know it’s really you they are speaking to. Also, with more contracts being signed remotely, this could be done over the phone with some verification of the identity and voice signature.

Companies should however know that they must not rely on one biometry to ensure total security – there must be multiple layers.

In summary

Following the Coronavirus outbreak, people see it’s possible to do more things remotely. They are starting to think of new concepts, taking the same service but looking at it in different ways – and creating a totally new service. And the voice channel has a potentially huge part to play.

As a voice automation and security tech brand, we are helping to make the voice-first future happen. We want to have a global impact and provide voice robots to help people do their daily jobs where a personal touch is needed…and this is not far away!

About the author

Michal Hrabí is CEO of Phonexia which develops global technologies for voice identification, voice verification, and voice analysis. Michal joined Phonexia in 2014 after spending many years as an entrepreneur and business advisor.

DISCLAIMER: Biometric Update’s Industry Insights are submitted content. The views expressed in this post are that of the author, and don’t necessarily reflect the views of Biometric Update.

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