Top 6 Reasons You Should Consider Voice Authentication

Offering voice-based authentication as a complement to SMS-based authentication isn't just about offering your users a choice, it's fast becoming a business requirement for larger corporations and best practice for any web property looking to serve the diverse needs of their global users.

Here are six real-world benefits of voice-based authentication. Some are financial, some karmic, but collectively they make a compelling argument for adding voice authentication to complement your SMS-based authentication model.

  1. Give your users choice.  As a best practice, the leading global web properties give their users the choice of receiving an authentication code via SMS or voice call.  While SMS-based authentication is much more prevalent, we should not forget that some people may actually prefer voice-based authentication.  In fact, 53% of adult cell phone owners questioned in a survey conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project on Americans and Text Messaging said they preferred receiving a voice call to a text message.a  Plus, the voice option equips your end users with an easy alternative if they experience any SMS delivery issues.
  2. Reach more users.  While landline usage is declining, 48% of US homes still have and use a landline (according to a study by the Centers of Disease Control who looked at phone usage in H1 2012). Moreover, some users do not have SMS plans and are charged per message and many older users are simply not comfortable using text messaging.
  3. Reach more markets. In certain countries, even in large markets like Japan, SMS is inherently challenging.  Therefore, offering a voice option is sometimes the only way to reach these markets.  For companies looking to reach a truly global user base, voice messaging is a practical alternative and complement to SMS-based authentication.
  4. Meet ADA Mandates. Consider the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) whose charter is to ensure that everyone regardless of disability has an equal opportunity to enjoy consumer and business services.  So, if your organization is ONLY offering SMS-based authentication, how are you helping serve the needs of the blind. Approximately 2.5 million people in the United States are “legally blind” and, many of them have some residual vision. Only about 5% of blind people use Braille for reading; many people who are legally blind are able to read large print.  Plus, there are millions more who have “low vision” with some significant impairment that substantially limits their ability to see well under different circumstances.  Given the increasing popularity of two-factor authentication, SMS-based authentication is a genuine challenge for the blind who cannot easily read the one-time passcodes delivered to their mobile phones.
  5. Lower your helpdesk costs. If your business relies exclusively on SMS, some end users will end up requesting SMS messages to their non-SMS-enabled phones or they will call a help desk to request an authentication code.  Based on our experience with the world's largest web properties, this translates into more calls to your call/support center and negatively impact customer satisfaction. As a result, companies pay extra costs on two fronts: they pay for the extra SMS messages and for the support costs associated when customers call a help desk to request their one-time passcodes.
  6. Add some personalization. Customers can customize the voice message by using their own voice talent or the voice of a familiar character (e.g., an online gaming company using the voice of a popular character to deliver the one-time passcode). As more companies explore creative ways to add stickiness to their online service, personalized messaging is a novel and cost-effective approach.

OK, I'm sold on voice-based authentication, now what? Once you decide that you want to complement SMS-based authentication with a voice option, make sure to ask these questions of any potential vendor:

  • Do you offer voice-based authentication? This may be a little obvious, but many authentication providers and SMS aggregators only offer SMS.  Offering the voice option means that the vendor should have invested in the infrastructure, the network and carrier relationships to delivery a quality service.
  • Can you deliver the voice messages to the countries where your users are located? Ideally, the solution provider has a global footprint, but it also means localizing the voice messages into the languages and dialects of your users.
  • Can you detect the phone types of your users? With PhoneID, TeleSign can detect the phone type so companies can send SMS messages to SMS-enabled phones and voice calls to landline phones.
  • Does the provider have connections to Tier 1 global providers? How do you know if you're dealing with Tier 1 global providers?  You can often hear in the quality of the voice call.  With Tier 2 providers, you will often experience latency (i.e., delays on the call), jitter (refers to the variability of the latency), and packet loss.  Just as it's important to hear what someone says in the order they say it, it's also important to hear all of what they're saying. If you miss one out of every 5words or 5 words all at once, chances are you're not going to understand much of the conversation. This is packet loss.  This happens when voice packets are dropped by network routers, switches become congested (lost packets), or packets are discarded by the jitter buffer.
  • Does your provider offer failover routes for voice? Like SMS, you want to use a provider who employs failovers at an operator and country level so if one carrier/operator is experiencing difficulties, you can immediately failover to another operator to ensures optimal delivery rates.
  • Does your provider auto-correct phone numbers? Often when users are prompted to enter their phone number for authentication they forget to account for regional peculiarities.  For example, you need to drop the leading zero in the UK, but you need to add a “9” to the area code when placing a voice call to Argentina.  Believe it or not, this auto-correcting can improve deliverability by as much as 20% in some markets.

Adding voice-based authentication as an option to SMS delivery just makes plain business, practical and ethical sense. After all, it's a matter of winning over your customers by equipping them with rock-solid security and excellent user experience. The good news is that you no longer have to sacrifice one for the other.


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