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Can Voice Authentication Help Overwhelmed Agents?

Can Voice Authentication Help Overwhelmed Agents?

/ Current Issue, Operations, Technology, Remote Work, People
Can Voice Authentication Help Overwhelmed Agents?

Experience with it says yes.

Credit union contact center teams have been feeling the squeeze for several years. Even with branches now reopened, credit unions are reporting that members have become accustomed to relying on the call center and call volume remains high. Success related to membership growth can also place a strain on resources, with talent in demand.

Not only that, but there is also more pressure than ever to meet member expectations in every phone interaction. This means answering calls without lengthy hold times, ensuring accounts remain secure from fraud activity, and addressing member concerns in a friendly and efficient manner.

But the problem can’t be solved by simply “hiring more people.” So, how can credit unions like ours solve this puzzle and truly scale their ability to serve members better and faster?

What Growth Looks Like for a National Credit Union

Today, our credit union, Connexus, has just over 450,000 members across all 50 U.S. states. Our nationwide presence is due in part to our credit union having the Connexus Association, a 501(c)(3) organization, in our field of membership. This allows anyone, regardless of their location, to apply for membership by making a $5 donation to the Connexus Association.

...contact center teams have been feeling the squeeze...but the problem can't be solved by simply "hiring more people."

We have 15 branch locations spread throughout Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois. We also provide our members with access to over 5,000 Shared Branches as part of the CO-OP Shared Branch network. Our members enjoy fee-free access to over 67,000 ATMs in the CO-OP and MoneyPass ATM networks.

Our ongoing rise in membership has been a combination of organic growth, strategic partnerships, and mergers. Expanding at a robust pace has proven rewarding and has required continuous innovation as we seek to scale an excellent experience for every member.

Moving to Fix Technology Scaling Problems

Over the past decade, our Member Contact Center (MCC) headcount has increased ten-fold. We now have about 100 consultants to handle incoming calls. They rely on a robust tech stack including:

  • FiServ’s XP2 (core banking processor)
  • Cisco UCM + UCCX (call center telephony)
  • Salesforce (CRM)
  • Alkami (digital banking)
  • Tethr (phone call analytics)
  • Qualtrics (voice of member)
  • Calabrio (call recording/review)
  • Alacriti (loan payment)

We shifted our workforce home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since that time, we changed our organizational approach and are now a remote-first organization. This means we have not brought our MCC employees back into the office.

We found that we could still operate with great efficiency in a remote environment. And being remote-first also allows us to hire talented individuals who may not be able to relocate to central Wisconsin.

...we needed to reduce hold times... [and] using technology was the smarter alternative for us.

Our growing member base is served by this cohesive but remotely operated contact center. While this is an efficient approach, it also means it is impossible for our consultants to simply “recognize” each member as they would expect in a local Connexus branch. So, in late 2019, we decided it was time to pursue a technological solution to this challenge.

We use these five main channels of communication:

  1. Phone
  2. Branch visits
  3. Online chat
  4. Message Center (messages sent to us from members within our Digital Banking platform)
  5. Virtual appointments

The phone is, by far, the most popular method of communication for our members. We expect it will continue in that position.

In analyzing our channels, we heard loud and clear that we needed to reduce hold times. One significant factor causing long hold times was the time it took to properly authenticate members. Addressing this issue would naturally help abandonment go down and deliver meaningful improvement in member satisfaction scores.

To accomplish the goal of shorter hold times, we could add more people to answer the phones faster. Or we could leverage technology to shorten call times.

Continuously adding more people wasn’t necessarily the best solution because it was unlikely to be sustainable. Also, while it had the potential to reduce hold times, it would still maintain the same friction in our original authentication process when members finally connect with a consultant. Using technology was the smarter alternative for us.

Passive Voice Authentication Emerges as an Easy Win

Passive voice authentication came to the fore as one of the easiest paths for this digital transformation. It would allow us to enhance the role MCC consultants have, making the authentication process easier on them and much easier on our members as well.

Replacing security questions with biometric verification would create a positive, less disruptive experience, and make it easier to solve members’ issues quickly. It would also address our concerns with the evolving tactics fraudsters have begun using in attempted account takeovers. We settled on passive voice authentication as the technology that would work best for our credit union.

How Does Passive Voice Authentication Work?

This type of voice verification uses a sampling of a member’s voice captured (with their consent) during live conversation with a consultant.

This sample is converted into a voiceprint that represents the unique characteristics of the member’s voice. During subsequent calls, our MCC consultants use a simple on-screen interface to match the member’s voice to their previously registered voiceprint, verifying identity with a very high degree of accuracy.

One of our main goals was to provide an authentication experience that was as effortless as possible for our members, as well as our consultants. Active voice authentication solutions ask members to call in and repeat the same phrase multiple times in order to properly establish a voiceprint for enrollment. We wanted to eliminate this effort and allow the authentication to occur passively through the course of natural conversation.

The Voice Authentication Journey

When we’re evaluating business providers at Connexus, we look not only for companies that have industry-leading technology, but also those that will serve as a true partner. We selected Illuma Shield™ from Illuma, which specializes in credit union call center voice authentication. We felt a genuine, value-added partnership with the team from Illuma from day one.

In addition to serving our primary need, which was to eliminate fraud via biometric authentication, Illuma has helped us stay on top of industry trends in this space. They constantly use feedback from us and other clients to shape the future of their product, demonstrating their willingness to serve as a real trusted advisor to credit unions.

After technology and budget due diligence, we started a pilot with Illuma Shield in summer 2020. This initial program consisted of eight consultants in our MCC, and 30 Connexus employees who called in to test the system in a variety of ways.

It’s great to be able to deliver “wow” moments at the start of a call instead of the frustration caused by traditional security Q&A... Our MCC team is also benefiting by being able to move directly into problem-solving mode instead of worrying about potential fraud.

This extensive stress-testing included making standard calls on a cell phone or landline and calling in from public places that naturally have more background noise. It also included recording voices and playing them back through a tablet or another cell phone.

Throughout this testing, the Illuma product reacted exactly as expected to accurately verify live callers. It also reliably identified instances when those testing the system were attempting to defeat the verification process.

Prior to launching Illuma Shield in our MCC, we did need to train our consultants on the new product. It was a very different way of approaching authentication than they had dealt with in the past.

However, the system is intuitive, so we were able to quickly and easily train our consultants on the new process. In fact, we surveyed both our MCC consultants and employee callers at the end of our pilot, and the results were overwhelmingly positive.

Based on the success of the pilot, we underwent a full implementation in early 2021. We have been using Illuma Shield as the primary authentication method in the MCC ever since.

Impacts on Member and Consultant Experience

Our Member Experience team reports that members are often amazed that they are being authenticated simply using the natural sound of their voice during the introduction of a call. It’s great to be able to deliver “wow” moments at the start of a call instead of the frustration caused by traditional security Q&A.

We sometimes need to explain to members that their voices are as unique as their fingerprints so they can grasp how the voice biometrics system works. Most are eager to enroll once they understand the benefit.

Our MCC team is also benefiting by being able to move directly into problem-solving mode instead of worrying about potential fraud. They can feel confident that the member they are talking to matches the identity in our system.

What Contact Center Metrics Have Improved?

  • 84% reduction in time to authenticate, (12.5 seconds now versus more than 90 seconds with traditional Q&A).
  • 65.5% higher Agent Impact Score (AIS).
  • 26.3% greater member satisfaction (based on positive sentiment scoring).
  • 22.6% lower member effort (per sentiment from call analytics).
  • 97% reduction in member dissatisfaction level (reduction in negative sentiment).
  • Over 14,700 FTE (full-time equivalent) hours saved on authentication and redirected to creating value for members in the first 16 months of using voice authentication.
  • To date, no instances of fraud have been attributed to a failure in voice authentication.

Digital Transformation Around Member Experience

We believe there is a strong advantage in being an early adopter of voice verification and other member experience technology. Our strategic vision hinges on being a trusted credit union.

This means we must have an easy way for members to reach us, be properly authenticated in a secure and frictionless manner, get the help and answers they need faster, and be positioned with products that position them for financial prosperity. Voice authentication plays a role in furthering our goal of creating an exceptional member experience.

For other growing credit unions like Connexus, now is the ideal time to address contact center scalability using technology that enhances productivity, security, and member experience.

Chad Rogers

Chad Rogers

Chad Rogers is the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for the Wausau, WI-based Connexus Credit Union. Over the past 11 years, he has helped the organization grow from a membership of ~75k to ~460k while guiding an internal team that has expanded ten-fold to serve this growing member base.

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