Over the past few years, dual-tone multi-frequency (DTMF) has become the standard for payments made via interactive voice response systems or live agents.
But what, exactly, is DTMF, and what should businesses be aware of when it comes to the technology? The issue merits exploration.
In simple terms, DTMF is an in-band telecommunications signaling system that harnesses the voice-frequency band over telephone lines between telephone equipment and other communications devices and switching centers. Put slightly differently and in even more basic terms, it is the signal to telecommunications carriers generated when the touch keys on an ordinary phone are pressed. With DTMF, each key pressed generates two tones of specific frequencies. One tone is generated from a high-frequency group of tones so that a voice cannot imitate the tones, while the other is generated from a low-frequency group.
DTMF touchtone payment technology lets consumers enter their own card numbers when making payments, whether live-in mid-conversation with an agent or through self-service IVR. Mobile phone networks utilize digital signals, rather than DTMF, for direct dialing. However, DTMF is still used to navigate automated systems, such as phone menus, and, in the case of payments, for entering credit and debit card numbers.
Concern about card data security is spurring businesses to implement DTMF masking as an alternative to requiring customers to verbally convey account information to an IVR system or live agent. When a DTMF masking solution is utilized with an IVR system, each touch of the telephone keypad generates a corresponding signal that is sent down the call line. Signals are intercepted before they reach the IVR; a device converts them into a data packet and transmits them directly to their final destination for processing.
In situations where a live agent is present, customers share their card numbers by inputting it into their telephone keypad. The incoming data is intercepted as described above, and agents neither see nor hear the card number. Instead, agents hear flat tones that appear on their desktop in real-time, in the form of masked digits. Once the system has verified that the information is correct, transaction data passes seamlessly through to the payment processing provider, bypassing agents and their desktops altogether.
The importance and benefit of DTMF masking is that sensitive card data is not stored or recorded anywhere. As such, compliance with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) becomes an easier process. The likelihood of experiencing a data breach also decreases dramatically—which is a plus given the risking costs (fines and reparations) incurred by businesses when breaches do occur. According to Kaspersky Labs, the average data breach comes with a price tag of $1.41 million.
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