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Voice recognition system allows Manulife’s clients to skip PINs and passwords

By Susan Yellin | October 05 2015 07:00AM

Amid a “mobile mindshift” taking place among digitally connected consumers, Manulife Canada has introduced voice biometrics and language technology that will make calling its contact centre a more convenient and secure process for both financial advisors and their clients.

At a news conference in early September, Manulife announced that passwords, PINs and security questions can now be replaced by voice technology that will let advisors and clients access their accounts by phone through new voice recognition software. Once the voice is verified, the system will quickly route the caller to where he wants to go. 

The software will analyse the more than 100 behavioural and physical traits of a person’s voice, making each person’s voice distinctive, said Marianne Harrison, president and CEO of Manulife Canada.

“Your voice is your password to get into the system. The system also recognizes the caller’s spoken instructions to make sure the customer is routed to the right spot,” Harrison said, noting Manulife gets 28,000 calls a day into its call centres. “It’s almost like a fingerprint in terms of the (unique) characteristics it goes through.”

When customers call in to get information about their account, their voice is compared with their voiceprint and if it matches, they are granted access.

The new system, available in both English and French, is part of Manulife’s goal to achieve better customer service by investing and using new technological innovations, she said. 

Manulife, the first company in Canada to use this new voice recognition system, is partnering with Nuance Communications Inc., a Massachusetts-based firm that provides similar systems to 6,500 companies, including U.S.-based FedEx and British-based Barclays Bank.

Harrison said Manulife knows from talking with clients that they find it a hassle to go through PINs, passwords and security questions or hit frustrating number prompts that send them to the wrong department, only to have to start all over again. It can take as long as four minutes just to get through. 

Robert Weideman, general manager and executive vice president of Nuance, said prompts had forced the user to adapt to how the system worked, but that’s now been turned around so the technology adapts to the user and is more natural. 

“Our systems can get in the 90, 95 percentile of actually understanding what we call ‘intent’ – what it is the person is trying to get done. And we can improve that accuracy over time.”

Good customer service drives loyalty and provides the opportunity to sell more products and services to these clients, said Allegra Burnette, principal analyst at Forrester, a global research company based in New York. On top of that, said Burnette, satisfied customers are great advocates for the company, recommending the firm to their friends and families.

A survey undertaken in the U.S. from 2007 to 2014 shows a positive shift in company customer service relationships, overcoming hurdles by successfully solving customer concerns and problems and speaking “the customer’s language.”

Mobile mindshift

All of this has been driven by a “mobile mindshift” that has seen consumers more digitally connected than ever – whether it’s to work, restaurants or retail outlets.

Customers now expect immediacy, simplicity and context – which translate into convenience, said Burnette.  “I am not sitting there waiting to be talked to. I am actually actively engaged.”

Weideman said people naturally get frustrated if they happen to get one of the answers wrong during the authentication process or they have to be transferred to someone else and go through the system all over again.

While Manulife refused to say how much the new system cost, Weideman said it will produce a “significant” return on investment for the insurer as well as save time for customers.

Harrison said Manulife is also investing in other technological strategies, including a new online application process with underwriting decisions made in one business day; a new emerging technology for the investment division in which people bring new ideas to the table and solve challenging problems; as well as new products and services for investors that use artificial intelligence.

“We are using predictive analytics to help us understand the next best solution for our customer and making sure we understand their needs – even if they don’t necessarily know what their needs are,” she said.

Available to advisors

The new voice service has been available since July to Manulife Bank customers, and more recently to financial advisors. Many advisors call in to ask for products, place new business or check on existing mutual or segregated fund business on behalf of their clients, she said.

Some advisors and/or their assistants call in 20 times to access the information they need, said Donna Carbell, senior vice president at Manulife’s Customer Experience Canadian Division. “So for them the new technology is quick. They can avoid ‘press one’ and ‘authenticate password’ [etc.]”, said Carbell. 

“I think from an advisor perspective it helps get them more focused and gets them to where they want to get to quicker,” added Harrison.

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