By Richard Farrell, CIO at Netcall
Customer care is at an inflection point: demands are higher and resources are limited. According to a McKinsey survey, organisations’ existing capacities are being challenged by higher call volumes and more complex and challenging enquiries. Employers are also struggling to retain customer care agents, who are being poached by competitors or feeling dissatisfied in their work.
So, how do customer care leaders overcome these challenges?
Many are turning to artificial intelligence (AI) – a component of intelligent automation (IA) – to drive productivity and returns on investment (ROI). I had a discussion with a Forrester analyst on this topic and we talked about how AI is not a panacea to all customer experience (CX) issues, however, when used effectively and strategically as part of an intelligent automation platform, the results are transformative.
We concluded that, as with many things in life, it’s about knowing your ‘why’. Why are you automating? Other key questions include: What are you automating? Why now? And what results are you looking to achieve?
Without these answers, any intelligent automation initiatives will be wayward, unfocused, and largely ineffective.
Why are organisations adding intelligent automation to their contact centre stack?
In today’s world, every contact centre is run by performance numbers. Leaders need to make agents more efficient and customers self-sufficient to support the bottom line amid tightening budgets and staff retention issues.
What are organisations getting wrong?
A lot of the time, organisations don’t understand the capabilities of AI or IA, or how this technology can benefit them. Most people only think of self-service when they think of AI. They don’t realise the full potential of an intelligent automation platform, which can include complementary technologies like robotic process automation, machine learning, low-code application building capabilities, all in addition to AI.
These complementary technologies can permeate processes throughout the contact centre, not only driving efficiencies and ROIs, but also improving the customer and employee experience. With free-moving data, no longer siloed away in legacy infrastructures, agents are able to work more productively and get more out of calls, faster, thanks to having the right data at their fingertips.
By using artificial intelligence combined with custom machine learning models, organisations can analyse data at scale, gaining rich insights that promote value-adding decision-making. These insights can then inform what robotic process automations and low-code applications organisations build next. This ensures the highest value automations are implemented first.
The importance of strategy
Any intelligent automation implementation is going to struggle, however, if organisations don’t do their due diligence first. Many businesses treat AI like a “magic elixir” that will resolve all their ails. While the power of digital transformation is immense, like any plan – it needs direction.
The companies that have seen the most success started with a specific problem they needed to solve. Why? Because by starting with a specific problem, they automatically had to answer those key questions mentioned earlier.
From there, they continue to digitally transform their contact centres through tactical steps, each designed to resolve a unique issue. They don’t develop a long-term roadmap right away, they take the customer, agent and data feedback and insights to better understand what is and isn’t working, what can be improved upon, and what will add value. It is with this information that a useful and productive automation roadmap can be created.
Flexibility and adaptability are the name of the game here. Yes, strategy is important, but in an ever-changing market, plans need to be malleable, they need to be reviewed, and they need to be adjusted to ensure that they are still working towards pre-determined goals.
The human element is still critical
When organisations go about incorporating intelligent automation into their CX operations, some make the mistake of undermining the essential human component of customer care. According to Forrester’s research, there is still significant demand for customer service from human workers, depending on the inquiry. When it came to basic customer inquiries, like those related to identification authentication or order management, over half of respondents preferred entirely automated channels. However, when it came to more complex, emotionally charged inquiries, like those related to escalations or dispute resolutions, over 90% wanted some type of human-based support, with 71% preferring entirely human support, either in-person or over the phone.
It’s a balancing act, whilst it’s true that customers are increasingly demanding the benefits of digitised CX, such as personalised services and seamless, interconnected customer journeys, people also don’t like an overly automated experience. They want the convenience of digitalisation for quick and easy resolution of simple inquiries, and they want the support that digitisation provides agents, so that they can deliver better service. But that human element remains essential for them.
Intelligent automation enables agents to be as efficient as possible, for example, following a call, RPA can handle assembling the post-call notes and follow-ups, giving the agent time back.
Over time, we’re likely to see the proportion of agent-assisted CX work, whereby automations support human agents, go up. However, humans should always remain a key part of the CX mix.
With automation, CX agents will have less mundane and repetitive tasks on their plate and will be given back the time needed to process complex inquiries and cases at a faster rate.
It’s all about finding that sweet spot, utilising the right resource – human or digital – in the right proportion to address each unique task. Even in this, AI-decision making capabilities can help devise the most effective distribution of work across agents and automations, again illustrating that it’s all about human-digital collaboration to bring about the best results.
IA infused CX done right
When done right, the results achieved from integrating IA throughout the customer care unit are transformative. Time and time again, I have seen organisations resolve major problems, create a better experience for their customers or citizens, foster a more fulfilling work environment, all whilst also saving on costs and promoting innovation.
Dreams, the UK’s leading bed and mattress retailer, needed to connect its multiple CX systems that didn’t interact, creating information shortfalls when it came to customer service. With IA, the company was able to provide its team of over 70 agents with consistent and accurate data on demand. This made it easier for the team to manage peaks in demand whenever they occurred, and ensured customers were delivered a consistent and seamless experience.
With an AI-powered conversational messaging solution, 78% of citizen interactions were resolved by a web assistant at Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council, which enabled workers to focus on the 22% of citizen interactions that were complex and high value. This not only reduced the pressure on the council customer services team, but it also drastically increased their call volume capacity. With IA solutions, overrun and under resourced councils across the UK could reduce workloads whilst also bettering service and saving costs.
The big picture
As we move forward, IA is only going to become increasingly common. The costs of deployment and maintenance and the time to value, have all gotten to place that makes intelligent automation an accessible solution.
Businesses and organisations can free-up resources to help meet their targets and objectives, while enhancing CX. The ease of a low-code automation platform makes it possible for organisations to digitise despite the difficulties sourcing enough digital talent, meaning organisations can utilise their in-house workforce without overworking their IT teams or expending excess financial resources.
We’re in the middle of an epidemic of worker burnout, with record-setting churn rates. Intelligent automation gives workers the support they need to prevent overwork and focus on engaging, high-value tasks. IA will reinvent how we think of work and facilitate what workers are increasingly demanding: more fulfilment combined with better work-life balance.