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Voice biometrics replaces ID check at AHM

Health insurer Australian Health Management deployed a biometric voice recognition system that has enabled the firm's customers to avoid any authentication-related questions which usually precede an account query or claim.
Written by Munir Kotadia, Contributor on

Health insurer Australian Health Management deployed a biometric voice recognition system that has enabled the firm's customers to avoid any authentication-related questions which usually precede an account query or claim.

AHM, which has 128,000 members and is Australia's eighth largest insurer, has been using the voice recognition system for three months and the company claims that both customers and call centre agents are happier because they no longer need to go through the laborious authentication process, which requires the customer to recite their name, date of birth, address and more.

Customers who have registered to use the system simply say their ID number to the voice recognition system, which then automatically puts the caller through to an agent, according to Melinda Charlesworth, operations manager at AHM.

"When [registered members] call, they just say their membership number and then they are put through to an agent. The agent sees their membership number, sees if they are verified or not and knows who they are speaking to," said Charlesworth at a luncheon in Sydney yesterday.

Another benefit of the system is that it also relieves the call centre agent from having to ask repetitive and annoying questions every time.

"The agents love it because they are not having to say, 'before we start, can I have your date of birth etc'. instead it's, 'hello Mr Jones, how can I help you'," said Charlesworth.

The voice recognition system was developed by VeCommerce, an Australian company that was acquired by call centre operator Salmat last year for just under AU$30 million.

According to VeCommerce, the technology is already being used within military and governmental departments as well as by organisations such as betting firm UNiTAB and financial services giant Suncorp.

VeCommerce managing director Paul Magee admitted that voice recognition solutions have not been implemented very well in the past. However, he claims that if they are used for the correct purpose they can prove extremely useful.

"The biggest bugbear that we have when trying to promote speech recognition as a mainstream activity is peoples' concern about customer satisfaction. Automated service makes enormous sense as long as we use it where it is convenient and easy.

"If I ring an organisation and it asks, 'how can I help you?', and I can say 'I am up to my knees in water because my kitchen is flooding', and the machine can understand enough of what I have said to put me through to the right person, you virtually eliminate the issue of going into a contact centre and being shuttled from one person to another because you pressed the wrong button," said Magee.

AHM's Charlesworth also pointed out that the system helps improve security because it no longer relies on asking questions that may not be very secret.

"The person trying to steal your information in health insurance isn't the guy on the street, it is your ex-wife, neighbour, brother or friend. These are the people who know the answers to your secret questions so asking your date of birth, pets name or address isn't going to cut it.

"Your ex-wife probably named your dog so she knows the answer," she added.

Telstra likes it too
Telstra also backed the solution by yesterday announcing a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that will allow it to work with VeCommerce to develop similar solutions for its enterprise customers.

Agnes Sheehan, director of Telstra's Contact Centre and Collaboration Solutions Group, said the MOU is a sign that Australia's largest telco understands the potential of this solution and will be offering the technology to its largest customers.

"[The MOU] is about taking our relationship to the next step. It's like going on a couple of dates first to see if you like each other. We have been on a couple of dates and decided we can work together and add value together.

"If we are to be a leader in this space we need to differentiate from the old Telstra and the new Telstra and it is very much about going out there and working with our customers to provide them with hosted as well as CPE (customer premises equipment) and co-hosted solutions.

"We have been working with VeCommerce in NZ very successfully ... we have sold a number of joint solutions to [the departments of] Work and Income, Inland Revenue and Student Services," said Sheehan.

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