Austar outfoxes its rival with biometrics solution

Voice prints encrypted

Digital subscription television provider Austar has saved a potential $29 million by using a biometric-enhanced IVR ordering system instead of the more costly PSTN configuration used by its rival Foxtel.

The system allows the company's 619,000 customers to order movies, check and pay bills, and update security levels and personal details through a two-factor IVR authentication system which has recently been upgraded with overlaid voice biometrics.

Austar CIO and director of operations, Dean Walters, said the alternative solution, represented by Foxtel as the red button on its remote control, it would have blown budgets even though it is built on older PSTN techology.

Walters said it took 12 weeks to build the system compared to two years for the Foxtel solution.

He said the cost was $250,000 instead of $30 million to deploy the PSTN alternative.

"We needed to enable a customer to order in real time in a one-way communication environment and the [alternative] solution would cost about $70 for each install and we would need to send trucks to 650,000 houses," Walters said.

Customers ordering a movie enter a six digit code displayed on their televisions into the previously IVR-based system, as a secondary authentication measure along with customer details.

Walters decided to overlay voice biometric authentication in parallel with the IVR system to recruit early adopters of the technology to the faster service.

"We wanted to add some pizazz by adding natural voice biometrics, even though the system is simple and we are dealing with low-cost transactions," Walters said, who is an avid proponent of biometrics with fingerprint scanning on his laptop, BMW, and home residence.

The opt-in system allows users to beef-up account security by assigning authorized voice prints, after reciting number one to 10 to provide the Nuance Voice Authentication Engine with a broad voice sample.

Voice prints are encrypted and stored in a central CRM database in a statistical format, rather than as a vulnerable audio file, and links to the Caller Line Identification (CLI) to identify users in real time.

"We have about a 14 percent adoption rate and the system has about a 78 percent biometric voice match," Walters said, adding that users typically have between one to four voice prints per account.

According to Walters, the biometric system saves between 15 to 30 seconds per customer service call, which he says shows great potential for the contact centre industry.

"We have a long term view in which we may roll-out voice biometrics for our whole customer base, which would have massive benefits in time, functionality and increased security," he said.

Walters said the percentage of voice print matches would increase as users opt-in to the system.

This would make the system more robust and consequently wouldn't require a challenge-response mechanism to verify customers.

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