Opinion

Computer says yes: Why automation will make contact centres more ‘human’

BPOs are in the human workforce management business. You may bill against your agents’ time, but what you’re really selling is people – skills, languages, empathy, industry knowledge, process knowledge, and local knowledge, internationally.

Yet, the contact centre typically has an annual attrition rate of 30-45 per cent, according to some estimates. Every three years, you have to retrain an entire new workforce, without it impacting customer service. Hence why you are clearly not in the capacity business – this is about people, first and foremost.

With that in mind, how do you measure quality today? Average handle times? Sales conversions? Customer retention? These output measures for your customer enterprise are important, but if you’re in the human workforce management business, how can you demonstrate the quality of your human workforce? How ‘human’ is the work you’re asking your agents to do on behalf of your enterprise customers? And how is technology shaping the human experience in the contact centre?

These are some of the questions that we posed to a group of European BPO leaders, hosted recently at an industry roundtable at Automation Anywhere’s new London HQ. The views offered were as diverse as the solutions proposed, but we all agreed that with the rapid recent development in automation technology, the question must not be: “How can technology replace the human,” but:  “How can technology enhance the human experience?”

To kick off the conversation, we were treated to fresh data on tech adoption in the contact centre by leading industry analyst Peter Ryan, of Ryan Strategic Advisory. He pointed to Europe – and to the UK in particular – as having one of the most sophisticated contact centre markets in the world, where enterprises are open to taking risks and trying new technologies.

However, Peter’s analysis warned that cool tech for the sake of cool tech will not fit the bill in today’s market. The hangover from the early days of speech IVR technology in the 2000s still lingers today, as consumers recontact frustrating experiences (“Two tickets for Lord of the Rings, please” – “OK… that’s… three… tickets… for…Finding Nemo”), and the technology’s unreadiness for the market fuelled observational comedy routines around the world.

Today, it must be about adaptable technology – tech that can work with changing customer expectations and preferences on the front end, and with both new and legacy processes and systems on the back end. The technology must be able to meet the demands of tomorrow. IVR has progressed significantly recently, and as consumers become more comfortable with it, enterprises will want to deploy it more and more. Meanwhile, chatbots are deployed by 40 per cent of contact centres today, up from 25 per cent just one year ago, according to Peter Ryan.

Deploying advanced technology in the contact centre is a key priority for enterprises, but this is amid shrinking or static budgets since the 2009 credit crisis. It’s no wonder, then, that automation is among the top priorities for contact centre leaders, as indicated by Peter’s data.

Now more than ever is the need for intelligent workstations, able to seamlessly connect voice and non-voice, human and automated interactions, front end and back end, legacy and new systems and processes, in the cloud or on-prem. And, crucially, placing the human at the very heart of it all.

This is the future that we imagine for the contact centre, which we shared with our guests at the Automation Anywhere event. A future where the role of the agent is stripped of the burden of administration and enhanced with intelligent automation to instead focus on their uniquely human capabilities – reasoning, creativity, empathy. When customers do wish to interact with a human, those people should be able to make human decisions and provide a human quality interaction – liberated from rigid processes and clunky software.

Academic research by Goldsmiths, University of London, commissioned by Automation Anywhere, shows that organisations augmented by automation technologies are 33 per cent more likely to be ‘human friendly’ workplaces, in which employees are 31 per cent more productive. It also showed that more ‘human’ workplaces get the most out of automation investments.

We see the role of the customer agent – augmented by technology – becoming one of the most important and most highly skilled of the enterprise. Perhaps one day the contact centre itself will be replaced by a global, mobile network of agents delivering the highest quality service from the poolside or golf course! Automation in the contact centre isn’t about deflecting contacts or taking people away. The most forward-looking BPOs are combining their core competency of human workforce management with leading intelligent automation, to augment and enhance the human experience in the contact centre – offering their enterprise customers an unprecedented new benchmark for quality.

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