Australian Tax Office extends voice biometrics to mobile apps for citizen engagement

Expansion of the government agency's voice recognition technology use is just one example of how voice-activated technology can be used for consumer interactions

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has extended the use of voice biometrics technology to its mobile app in a bid to provide more consistent multi-channel experiences to citizens while boosting security and productivity.

The agency claims to be the first to implement a multichannel voice biometrics authentication process, which it says will improve the overall experience across its contact centre and mobile app for tax payers.

Already, more than 1.5 million people are enrolling a voiceprint, a process launched across the ATO’s call centre last year. The second phase of work has been focused on extending this use of voice authentication to online services accessible via mobile interactions.

The ATO is using voice recognition technology from software vendor, Nuance. Once a tax payer has chosen to participate, they only need to enrol once to be able to use their voiceprint across any digital channel or service.

“The ATO is committed to delivering a contemporary digital experience for our clients and feedback has shown an overwhelming acceptance of voice biometrics in the call centre, making it a natural next step to bring this ease of access to the mobile app,” said ATO assistant commissioner, John Dardo.

“Voice biometrics solutions have made the authentication process more convenient for taxpayers and service agents via the ATO mobile app. We’re proud to be the first organisation to provide this type of innovative mobile experience for our clients.”

Privacy and security has been a big motivational factor for rolling out voice authentication technology at the ATO. The agency and Nuance pointed to a 2013 report from Opus Research, which examined the vulnerability of various authentication methods and found voice biometrics compared favourably to other types of security processes such as PINs, passwords, security questions and physical tokens.

It’s also a big win for productivity. Prior to launching voice recognition, 76 per cent of the ATO’s 7.2 million calls annually required an ATO agent to verify the caller’s identify, costing 75,000 hours of time each year.

That in turn has led to a positive impact on citizen engagement, including improved contact centre feedback, and a reduction of 40-45 seconds in the average time repeat callers are on the phone with an agent, the ATO said.

Nuance’s voice recognition is also being used by several banks and telcos globally including Santander Mexico, ING Netherlands, SK Telecom, Royal Bank of Canada and Turkcell.

It’s also providing the basis for a host of virtual intelligent assistants. For example, in a recent interview with CMO, Sweden banking group, Swedbank, explained how it’s using an intelligent virtual assistant technology based on Nuance’s offering in this space, called Nina, to help its call centre interact with customers.

Within one year, Swedbank claimed significant improvement in customer retention rates as well as shorter average time spent on calls.

Voice recognition for consumer engagement has also stretched into the advertising sector, with Universal Sony Home Entertainment employing a voice-activated interactive mobile advertising campaign to mark the launch of its film, Her, on DVD, Blu-Ray and UltraViolet.

Last year, Coles also conducted an in-home customer trial of Hiku: A device that incorporates voice recognition capabilities for users to add items to an online shopping list.

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