Inland Revenue Department NZ talks voice biometrics

One million New Zealanders have registered for the service that speeds up call wait times

Call resolution times for Inland Revenue Department (IRD) of New Zealand customers who have registered for its biometric service take one minute faster than those who have not registered, said IRD contact implementation service manager Jared Mortlock.

Speaking at the Biometrics Institute Asia Pacific conference in Sydney, Mortlock told delegates that it launched the voice biometric service in 2012 to help reduce call wait times.

This is because clients usually interact with the IRD by calling the call centre. He added that it doesn’t have a “big store presence” and can only offer restricted online services to clients.

“New Zealand has 4.5 million people but there are 6.1 million individuals registered for tax purposes. There are reasons for that, such as people who temporarily lived in New Zealand,” he explained.

According to Mortlock, approximately 2.5 million clients contact the IRD on a regular basis.

“We’ve got 1 million clients registered to use voice biometric and it has sped up call times.”

An IRD client who is registered on the biometric service can have their call usually answered a minute faster than those who have not registered, he said.

“That difference in time is entirely down to the verification module,” he said.

In addition, the IRD call centre representative does not need to ask identity questions as the person has already been verified via voice biometrics.

“The rep doesn’t need to have those conversations which prove who the person is. The client can go straight into the conversation.”

Mortlock added that the IRD has a list of “frequent callers” who need to contact it for a range of services. Ninety two per cent of these frequent callers have taken up the voice biometrics service.

Read more: NAB targets customer service with voice recognition

“What we found is that one customer called us 942 times in 2013. For someone like that, having a faster call is very valuable.”

On average, he said the IRD call centre expects to receive 1.6 calls per person every year.

To stop fraudsters phoning up and playing a recording of someone else’s voice, the IRD conducted extensive testing before deployment.

It retains digital recordings of the 1 million clients who have registered for voice biometrics.

In addition, the IRD uses a series of three authentication tokens to verify people when they phone it.

“About 80 per cent of people who use biometric authentication pass on the first token. We keep a recording of the person identifying themselves and play that silently to the verification system in the background. A lot of customers pass without even knowing they have been verified through biometrics,” said Mortlock.

If the IRD’s voice authentication system can’t verify the caller, they get transferred to a customer service consultant.

Mortlock added that it has factored in that people’s voices change as they get older. For this reason, people aged less than 16 years-of-age can’t enrol on the voice biometrics system.

“We do that because it is a period of your life where your voice changes,” he explained.

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

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