Commerce is becoming ever more linked — between nations and across time zones and gadgets.
Amid all the change in commerce and payments (already), can Amazon’s Alexa help transform the call center?
It’s no secret that voice-activated commerce is a space marked by giants, especially by a trio you no doubt know: Google, Apple and Amazon. The latter’s Alexa seems to dominate headlines, with a skill set that grows exponentially. Voice technology is meant to streamline a consumer’s consumption of everything from information, to, well, things, of course.
In an interview with Semafone’s Global Solutions Director Ben Rafferty, whose firm is among the scheduled participants in PYMNTS Voice Challenge with Amazon Alexa, the executive noted that voice-activated assistance has “really started to blossom in the last couple of years,” and artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning have given speech recognition a boost.
Semafone believes this will have a big impact on its core customer base – contact centers, he told PYMNTS. Rafferty said that voice-activated technology helps these centers coordinate calls and streamline processes which have traditionally been handled by humans.
As Alexa’s skill set, currently numbering over 25,000 activities, continues to evolve, a more tailored and personalized experience can be created using this technology.
Contextual commerce, linking the call center and the voice-activated realm, might be illustrated by a simple example: You’re a consumer watching television — via smart TV, naturally — and you see a product you want more info on. You can either contact an actual person about it or use AI to do so.
This voice technology use case is an interesting one, he said, if one uses Amazon Prime, for example, to watch a program.
“There could well be in the future context listening for Alexa, who actually understands what you are asking about and prepares responses based on your viewing,” said Rafferty.
The challenge Semafone sees in a contact center context is the “clunky experience” in place with almost any organization that sells something on the internet.
In addition to a web/eCommerce presence, a retailer usually also has a call center, said Rafferty, which is staffed, of course, by humans.
A consumer may dial into a call center to make a payment, solve an issue, check on their order, or simply because they’ve been unable to complete a transaction online, for whatever reason. Oftentimes, more data — of the personal sort — is needed to purchase an item. What usually happens is that consumers end up reading their credit card information over the phone to a call center agent, which is a clumsy and risky endeavor. For example, a “rogue” agent could copy down the payment card data for personal, fraudulent use. Or, numbers read by the customer may be captured on a call recording system, which could be breached. In addition, if sensitive authentication data (SAD) is stored on a recording, the call center is no longer compliant with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS).
Consider the automated prompts that require users to punch in their credit card information each time they move through a transaction (which is one way to circumvent the human interaction, but hardly efficient). These interactive voice response (IVR) systems can lead to poor customer experiences and cause callers to become frustrated and hang up the phone – potentially losing a sale for the merchant.
These “broken processes,” as Rafferty termed them, could perhaps be remedied by using Alexa to pay for things over the phone — without having to provide credit card data in the aforementioned ways — through smart devices and home systems, keeping the whole thing “within the Amazon ecosystem.”
Such streamlined transactions and data sharing might wring the complexity out of the path to purchase experience, as well as simplify regulatory compliance, said Rafferty. Call centers must comply with PCI DSS standards, and legislation and mandates abound on a global scale, governing how payment information is shared — which amounts to a “legislative mire,” including ACH rules, EU GDPR and PSD2, among others.
“It is really natural to use Alexa to securely store customer information, especially payment details,” he said, which not only satisfies consumer protection goals but also helps contact centers and merchants sidestep legislative complexities. When it comes to card data, you are “not manipulating it; you are not transacting it; you are not transferring it or collecting it.”
Forget about mitigating or transferring risk; this removes risk entirely, Rafferty emphasized.
The channel shifts entirely: What would have been a telephone-based, card-not-present transaction becomes an eCommerce transaction, which will carry a much lower risk profile.
As developers seek to boost authentication efforts with card credentials, it is a “natural use case to use Alexa as a mechanism for delivery for multi-faceted authentication tokens.” There is the ability to make a payment over a phone call using Alexa to authenticate the context information.
Rafferty also spotlighted the concept of incoming call authentication via Alexa, which can be used to build consumer trust and strengthen relationships between companies and their consumers.
In this case, a bank might telephone a customer to offer a periodic checkup on the individual’s portfolio, mortgage rates or 401(k) plan. Financial institutions are all trying to build relationships based on outbound calls and offer personal assistance, he said.
But “most people will not take a phone call from their bank. This is a growing and significant global problem,” Rafferty told PYMNTS. “Consumers are getting wise to spoofing and hacking … the phone is now seen as less secure.” And relationships cannot be built based on outbound calls which refused to be answered, as the recipients (the bank customers) cannot authenticate the caller.
Here, Alexa can be used to authenticate the bank by a consumer simply asking, “Alexa, who’s calling me?” Think of it, perhaps, as Alexa your security guardian.