BNZ eyes voice prints for customer ID

Natural language responses route calls and verify identity

The BNZ bank is looking at implementing a speech-driven navigation system and voice-print customer identifier developed by its parent the National Australia Bank, according to NAB developer Sam Jackel.

The aim of the voice navigation system is to “improve the experience of our customers calling our contact-centre,” says Jackel, who described the system to the recent Genesys G-Force conference in Melbourne.

The system was trialled a year ago, initially with a small population of users and then extended to the general customer base. Now a simple welcome message and a “how can I help you today?” draws a natural language response that usually enables the system to route the customer correctly.

Customers are then asked to speak their NAB identifier and their date of birth, which takes about 30 seconds, using voice recognition to confirm the customer’s identity.

If the transaction is sensitive, a keyed entry of a user ID and pin can be used and the voice-print used as a second factor for identification.

The bank’s challenges in phone-based customer service are common to many businesses, Jackel says. They include a high number of calls having to be transferred at least once, and complexities in verifying the customer’s identity.

A BNZ spokesperson says the bank is currently most of the way through a three-year strategic plan to upgrade its contact centre infrastructure.

"Last year saw us improve our telephony platform, this year we've upgraded our IVR (Interactive Voice Response) to the latest Genesys system and next year we will be considering a number of options including biometric voice identification and automated work distribution.

“We are always looking at new technologies to improve our customer service and efficiencies, and continue to look to leverage the NAB learnings to date.”

At NAB, when a contact-centre worker picked up the phone to help they had limited insight into the reasons why the customer was calling. “With lots of different channels [such as] internet banking, cards, insurance and so forth, this was confusing to our customers and confusing to us to have to manage from a business perspective. That was probably a factor in why customer satisfaction ratings had remained unchanged for the past four or five years,” Jackel says.

The speech system lets customers phrase a query using words that are familiar to them. The system is smart enough to understand the nature of the inquiry, either immediately or through one or two follow-up questions, he says.

A customer typically took 90 to 100 seconds to navigate through the interactive voice-response system by key-pressing. If the option they want is not catered for, it would be up to at least two minutes before they are connected to a human operator.

“The customer is then asked to go through an identity verification procedure. If they don’t know their NAB ID or telephone password we used to lead them through manual ID and verification, which takes three or four minutes. Add some time in a queue. So by about six minutes, how do you think they feel about buying a product from us?” asks Jackel, rhetorically.

Those who supported the installation of the voice solution, recorded and replayed typical end-to-end customer experience sequences to the marketing staff “and their jaws dropped. They said ‘is that really what it’s like for people we’re trying to sell our services to’?” he says.

“We showed marketing it would be a much cleaner and simpler experience. From that point on we had buy-in.”

— Stephen Bell travelled to Melbourne as a guest of Genesys

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