Biometrics Can Do More Than Fight Fraud


Even before the global pandemic upended nearly everything we know about work and life, contact centers had been vulnerable to fraudsters for some time. Every time the phone rings, your agents must assess whether the caller is who they say they are, or whether someone aims to steal money, services or sensitive information. Today’s organizations are bombarded by fraud attempts. Fraudulent calls make up about one out of every 1,000 calls to a financial institution. In fact, fraud in the contact center had become so pervasive that one industry analyst wrote that it should be renamed a fraud-enablement channel.

But fraud is not an unsolvable problem. Biometrics have taken center stage in recent years for their ability to accurately and securely authenticate customers well before they reach a live agent. That’s the good news. The better news is that biometrics can do more than just fight fraud—they can enhance the customer experience for your contact center.

The Importance of Customer Experience

Let’s start by exploring a not-so-simple question: What makes a customer happy? Every organization will ultimately arrive at different answers. For a financial services firm, having happy customers means creating consistent, personalized experiences regardless of engagement channel—mobile, ATM, phone or in the branch. For an airline, happy customers are those who return again and again because of the airline’s reputation, transparency and customer service. The scenarios are many, but ultimately, customers are reaching out to you because they need help. Happy customers are those who can get right to solving their problem, and increasingly, that means being able to do so without having to prove who they are.

For example, imagine one of your agents receives a call from a customer who says they’re unable to access their account because they forgot the password. The agent asks the customer a series of challenge questions designed to authenticate the customer’s identity, including the account number, social security number, a few predetermined out-of-wallet questions, and the account’s security word (e.g., the customer’s favorite restaurant). The entire process takes about 90 seconds, but because the customer has forgotten their security word, the agent cannot verify their identity and therefore does not help the customer reset the password and gain access to the account. Worse yet, this basic information can be easily obtained by fraudsters on the dark web.

Creating Frictionless Experiences for Customers and Agents

If the caller were a fraudster, the agent may have successfully prevented an account takeover or other unauthorized access. If the caller were the legitimate customer, however, this experience has likely made the customer angry. Online, elaborate security measures remain a key source of consumer frustration and annoyance. And the truth is that forgotten passwords are hardly uncommon; more than three-quarters of consumers have forgotten account passwords, in spite of the fact that the average consumer maintains only five unique passwords. Not only are such passwords known to be inherently insecure, but resetting passwords creates a frustrating customer experience—and almost half of consumers will stop doing business with the organization after a single bad experience.

So, creating a frictionless authentication experience is essential, but it must be done in a way that protects the customer, their sensitive information and the organization itself. This is where biometric authentication helps to solve two issues: fraud prevention and customer experience.

The human voice is one of the safest ways to verify a customer’s identity. The artificial intelligence that powers a biometric solution can analyze more than 1,000 distinct voice characteristics, not only cross-checking the speaker’s device and geolocation, but also the speech patterns that are unique to each person. Moreover, the intelligence can verify that the speaker is a live human being and not a recording or other synthetic creation such as deepfakes.

Let’s return to the example of our customer who’s forgotten the password to their account. In this case, the contact center has implemented a biometric authentication solution that automatically relies on the customer’s unique attributes and traits—such as their voice, how they type or speak, and/or facial characteristics—to affirm their identity. Instead of an agent engaging the customer in a series of authentication questions, the biometric solution in this contact center has already analyzed the customer’s voice against the pre-established profile and confirmed their identity, regardless of where or from what device they are calling.

With just a half-second of speaking time, the agent can rest assured that the caller is a legitimate customer, and then can help to resolve the account access problem. Beyond a better, more satisfying authentication experience for this specific customer, consider the impact on hold times for other callers in the queue when biometrics can automatically authenticate the customer, as compared to a 90-second interrogation.

The impact on the employee experience with authentication is worth mentioning here: Poor interactions with unhappy customers drive agent dissatisfaction with their work, which has a ripple effect throughout your organization. That is, increased levels of stress and burnout can lead to higher rates of turnover. At the same time, one study found that organizations with satisfied employees are 82% more likely to provide a better customer experience. In other words, the customer experience and employee experience are inextricably intertwined.

Personalizing and Tailoring Experiences for Customers

Biometrics can also be applied in ways that help personalize customer experiences. For example, global telecommunications company Telefónica needed a way to create a better customer experience for its older, senior citizen customers. Because of the pandemic lockdowns, one director explained, “We did not want these people to be unconnected, because most of them are alone in their homes and their only link with real life and their family is through their communications.” Thus, the organization wanted to prioritize senior citizens’ calls for customer service and faster resolution.

In addition, because seniors are more vulnerable to identity theft and other scams, the organization needed a better way to more securely authenticate customers in this population. Identifying their senior citizen customers by the way they talk, tap and text has meant empowering these customers to access their accounts without the frustration of forgotten PINs and passwords—while also helping to protect their account and sensitive information. Looking ahead, this telecom company anticipates that applying biometrics in this way may help match callers with the ideal customer service agent for their needs.

Customers Expect More Than Simply Reduced Wait Times

In the contact center, creating an excellent customer experience means far more than simply reducing wait times. Today’s consumers expect far more from the brands they do business with. Customer experience and employee experiences are about the entire purchasing journey, from account activation to accounts receivable, and across every customer engagement channel. Integrating biometric authentication solutions balances your contact center’s need for fraud prevention with your customer’s demand for a frictionless experience.

Simon Marchand is the Chief Fraud Prevention Officer of Security and Biometrics at Nuance Communications Inc. He has extensive expertise in fraud prevention, detection, security and authentication in both the banking and telecom industries. Prior to Nuance, Marchand held key fraud prevention positions at Laurentian Bank, Bell and Québec’s Order of Chartered Administrators. Marchand works closely with Nuance clients to design biometric-based authentication and fraud prevention strategies that disrupt criminals while reducing effort and friction for legitimate customers.