How Biometrics are Helping Telcos Turn Growing Challenges Into Golden Opportunities


As telcos focus on containing customers in self-service channels, how can they adequately authenticate those customers without interacting with them? Simon Marchand, chief fraud prevention officer, Nuance Communications describes how biometrics can help telcos turn a growing challenge into a golden opportunity to serve customers better.

Right now, telcos are under enormous pressure to improve their customer experience. Market share is harder to maintain. Customers are less loyal than ever. And COVID-19 disruption has stretched operational capabilities to their limits.

Of course, telcos aren’t sitting on their hands. They’re digitizing customer experience and deploying AI-powered intelligent automation to serve customers better while increasing efficiency and reducing costs. 

But there’s a catch. Omni-channel customer journeys that include automated interactions make life easier for customers, but they also open up new vulnerabilities that fraudsters are eager to exploit.

As the pandemic has forced telcos to move retail operations to digital, fraudsters have followed them there. This is leading to a digital crime wave fueled by stolen and socially engineered information. In the US alone, we saw identity theft double in 2020 compared to 2019Opens a new window . 

Learn More: Is Behavioral Biometrics the Answer for Digital Identity Crisis?

Securing AI-Powered Interactions

As telcos push forward with automation and expand self-service into more transactions through conversational IVRs and chat sessions, it creates opportunities for fraudsters. 

The traditional IVR doesn’t have much to offer fraudsters; they can’t open an account just by pressing 1 on a dual-tone multiple-frequency (DTMF) system, so they focus on getting to an agent as quickly as possible. But as telcos make the IVR more conversational, they’ll want to make more transactions available there.

The question is, how do you secure those transactions? If you don’t do anything differently and just add basic knowledge-based authentication (KBA) to the IVR, you’re extremely vulnerable to fraudsters, who can easily buy all the KBA information they need on the dark web. Plus, the standard signals used to identify fraudulent calls are focused on the device being used, not the human using it, making them inadequate for modern fraud prevention.

However, if you add a layer of biometric authentication on top of a conversational IVR, you get a triple win. When you’re authenticating callers in the background while they speak, customers can complete transactions quickly and easily, contact center agents aren’t burdened by routine inquiries, and fraudsters are weeded out before they can do any damage.

The same logic can be applied to chat sessions. In chat, you can add a layer of conversational biometrics, identifying individuals by the words they use, their sentence structure, their emoji choices, how they use their device. You can combine that with behavioral biometrics that focuses on how people interact with their devices, how they type, how they pause between actions, and so on. And you can combine all of these biometrics modalities with the dozens of objective signals available from a digital interaction, such as IP address, browser, and operating system. 

Biometric authentication allows you to add security without adding any friction to the experience for genuine customers. Capturing, processing, and storing customers’ biometric data, however, creates other challenges that you’ll need to consider.

Learn More: How Biometrics Is Becoming the Security of the Future

Addressing Data Security and Privacy Concerns

Even before the current boom in digital interactions, telcos were challenged to demonstrate to customers that they were taking data security and privacy seriously.

People’s main security concern used to be the massive data breaches that make front pages around the world. Today, however, people are much more conscious about how their identities are secured. They know about SIM swaps, identity theft, and account takeovers, and they’re more concerned with what organizations are doing to protect them.

Customers want to do business with organizations that go a step further to keep their accounts and information secure. Simply adding more KBA questions to the authentication process doesn’t work; it increases friction and frustration for customers, and fraudsters already have all the data they need to answer any question you can throw at them.

Using biometrics to authenticate people based on who they are rather than what they know removes these security vulnerabilities, but it requires full transparency to build customer trust that their personal data is safe in your hands.

It’s vital to be completely transparent with customers about what biometric data you’re capturing, how it will be used, how long you’ll keep it for, and any other questions customers may have. It’s also essential to be open and honest when mistakes happen. If a customer’s identity is used without their knowledge, you should proactively notify them and keep them in the loop about how you’re fixing the problem.

One last point on information security: make sure you have tight controls over who has access to customers’ biometric data. After the 2008 financial crisis, internal fraud increased significantly, and we can expect to see a similar trend over the next couple of years as the impact of COVID-19 puts more financial pressure on households.

So, it’s critical to limit the number of people who have access to customer profile data, ensure they’re under proper scrutiny, and periodically assess your controls to check they’re still relevant and nothing is missing. 

One important action to take is to layer biometrics on top of your CRM system to safeguard customers’ PII behind biometric locks. That way, employees can’t view sensitive information without being engaged with customers for a specific request.

Learn More: Behavioral Biometrics Can Tackle Bad Online Behavior Amid Remote Work Surge

An Opportunity To Do Better for Your Customers

Increased digitization and automation in CX may create opportunities for fraudsters, but it also creates an opportunity for telcos to change how they do things. 

By deploying biometrics technologies across all engagement channels, you can reduce fraud attacks and financial losses, and prove to customers that you’re willing to do what it takes, not just to make the experience better, but to offer them the very best protection.

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