Contact Solutions: From IVR to Antifraud

A mountain of data enables new line of business for call-center company

By Katie Flood

Michael Boustridge “Operator…operator…OPERATOR!” If you’ve ever found yourself on a phone call to customer service that sounded like this, you’re not alone. Many inept interactive voice response (IVR) systems leave frustrated customers begging to speak with a real person who can solve their problem. Such phone calls represent a huge cost to companies, both because they have to pay customer service agents to handle them, and because many customers choose to drop their company altogether out of frustration with poor service.

Enter Contact Solutions, whose aim is to help businesses provide such excellent self-guided service that their customers never feel the need to talk to an operator. Over the last ten years, their IVR platform has provided billions of calls to their clients. They also recently launched My: Time™, a mobile customer care solution that allows customers to access a business’s customer service from their mobile devices at their convenience and in the manner of their choosing, whether by voice, text, email, photo or even video.

Every time a customer interacts with Contact Solutions’ IVR or mobile platform, the company collects and analyzes data from that interaction in order to personalize future interactions. For instance, on John Smith’s first call to his cable company, he presses 1 to select English. The next time he calls back from the same phone, Contact Solutions’ IVR system will “remember” his previous selection, so the call will automatically be in English, and John will not be asked to select a language again. The system will also remember his other selections from previous calls to customer service and route him to these options first, rather than forcing him to go through the entire standard menu all over again. This creates a much faster and more helpful experience for the customer and prevents the frustrating “operator” scenario, thereby saving Contact Solutions’ clients millions of dollars.

Today, Contact Solutions has several billion phone calls worth of data, and the company has realized that its data collection practices and analytics expertise can go beyond improving customer service to helping its clients fight fraud. CEO Michael Boustridge explains that Contact Solutions’ unique approach to personalizing the customer experience means that “we know [our clients’ customers], so we have a rich data stream that can protect [customers] from identity theft or someone taking over [their] account or using [their] debit or credit cards.” So, if a customer acts outside of her regular behavioral patterns in her interactions with customer service, Contact Solutions’ IVR system will flag the interaction and require additional verification to ensure that this person is who she claims to be.

Moreover, after so many years of accumulating and analyzing data, Contact Solutions has observed numerous customer service interactions that turned out to be fraudulent. According to Boustridge, “when you analyze all the calls and you know that there’s fraudulent behavior, you can create a threat matrix. You can test [a call] against it and flag it as a fraud.” Fraudsters will often use a bank of computers to auto-dial into a call center and attempt to breech customer accounts or activate credit cards by dialing random number combinations until they get a hit. Scammers frequently will route their calls through multiple prepaid cell phone numbers to mask the calls’ origin and elude detection.

Among the factors Contact Solutions looks at when evaluating a call for fraud are the call’s origin and location. The company uses technology that allows it to find discrepancies between a customer’s known telephone number and address and a call’s automatic number identification (ANI) and location base. Contact Solutions is also employing new technology that allows them to actually listen to calls and detect things like minuscule time delays and ambient noise, which can help identify the true origin of a call, even if it has been routed through multiple numbers. For instance, if the ANI indicates the call is coming from Florida but the system hears Russian being spoken in the background, the call will be flagged.

All of this happens in real time, thanks to cloud computing technology. Boustridge notes that Contact Solutions is partnering with third parties to ensure that the technology is in place “to do real-time analytics, real-time business intelligence, real-time detection, real-time fraud scoring, and intervention.”

Contact Solutions’ fraud prevention solution is currently in its first generation and is just wrapping up beta testing with a large client. Boustridge says that today, the company is offering it only in conjunction with their own IVR and mobile services.

While Contact Solutions’ move from customer service into fraud prevention is unique in the IVR industry, Boustridge believes it is not so much a new direction for them as a natural progression, now that the right technology has come along. “We’ve had all this data, and … now with the advent of the cloud and the advent of real-time processing capabilities, [the data] you would have had in a data center full of computers, you can now put in a computer chip in a cloud and do [fraud prevention] in real time. It’s a natural extension of what we have been doing that adds enormous value.”

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