Automation for the Contact Centre – What, Why, Where and How

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For the next edition of our Tech editorial series, we will focus on all things ‘Automation’ for your Contact Centre – What is it? Why does it exist? Where does it go? And how do you know if you would benefit from it?

From my perspective, having worked at market leading CX solution providers, it has already landed. Many of the market leading and challenger Vendors across the Contact Centre space already have elements of Automation built into their solutions, and as you’d expect, significant investment is being earmarked for this in  their roadmaps.

So the question becomes: do you need something built by your Contact Centre provider that’s included as part of their native solution as standard, or deployed in the form of a chargeable bolt-on? And what about a third-party application integration that sits in between your Contact Centre and the rest of your IT eco-system? Or is a standalone solution that doesn’t directly integrate with your Contact Centre but maybe into your CRM/ ERP/ OMS and then build automation rules from there? 

This is obviously great for buyers as there isn’t a one size fits all approach and with this variety of options, you’re not having to buy this technology and bend your processes to fit it, which isn’t how it should be but isn’t uncommon.

Start with the challenges you want to conquer in 2023 as part of your CX strategy, and what ROI you would expect from the technologies that can help you achieve it. Once identified, you can look at where automation compliments the strategy.

So why bother? What are some of the ROI’s you can expect from bringing automation into your Contact Centre and CX strategy? Depending on what level and scale of business you are, you’ll have your own desired outputs and strategies to make this happen.

Companies have already begun adopting chatbots and virtual agents to handle routine customer enquiries and provide immediate responses, improving efficiency and reducing wait times for customers.

Automation can be used to collect and analyse customer data to provide more personalised experiences. For example, automated systems can use data on a customer’s past interactions with a company to provide more targeted recommendations or personalised support.

Another way to take advantage of automation when collecting and analysing data is for customer feedback, providing valuable insights into customer needs and preferences. This can help companies improve their products and services and provide a better overall customer experience.

Providing self-service options for customers, such as online portals or mobile apps is growing exponentially. This can provide customers with more control over their interactions with a company and improve the overall customer experience. Companies of all sectors are looking to either increase their digital customer channels or make them the dominant routes, so having convenient and easy self-service via email, chat, socials, SMS, WhatsApp is vital as this migration happens.

As mentioned in my last article, finding the balance between human interaction and automation will likely be a topic in many studies, roundtables and at expo’s in the coming years. As mentioned above, there isn’t a one size fits all approach, and I suspect we will see differences based on things like industry and size of business.

Automated systems can be used to triage customer enquiries and route them to the appropriate channel or agent, reducing the time customers spend waiting to be connected with a human agent and improving efficiency. Zooming out, this ties in nicely to the wider conversation of process automation. It can be used to automate routine tasks such as data entry or order processing, freeing up human agents to focus on more complex and high-value interactions with customers.

A 360-degree view of the customer journey is increasingly paramount to understanding your customer experience and the business processes you undertake to deliver value to your customers. This insight can help formulate your longer-term plans by finding efficiencies in your technology stack relating to the Contact Centre and wider IT eco-system, or improving collaboration within a business by sharpening processes within the Contact Centre and your wider teams.

So far I have focused on the Customer Experience, but Agent Experience benefits just as much. Reducing workload by handling routine tasks such as basic customer enquiries or data entry is huge because it can lead to reduced stress. Secondly this ties into the benefit of increasing job satisfaction by letting the agent focus on more rewarding and high-value interactions, like handling difficult customer issues or providing more in-depth support and advice, which can provide a sense of fulfillment to your agents.

Targeted training and support can be provided by the monitoring and analysis of agent interactions via automation tools to identify areas where additional training may be needed. This can help improve their skills and feel more confident in their work, lowering attrition rates.

Finally a better work-life balance is possible by providing customers with support and assistance on FAQ’s outside of normal business hours, reducing the need for agents to work late shifts or overnight. This can lead to a better work-life balance for agents and improved job satisfaction.

I am a big believer in the power of automation and the impact it will have on Contact Centre environments. Having been part of buying cycles where time related outcomes can pay for the solution single handedly, this may not seem possible, but the Guardian recently reported that a loss in productivity for UK Contact Centre’s is £11.4 billion monthly based on industry average wages for 2022. 

Are there any downsides to adopting automation? And if so, what should you be concerned about? My main points would be decreasing human interaction which I think is likely to be a topic in the coming years about what is the right balance between automation and human interaction. I personally haven’t seen a definitive study highlighting a perfect amount of adoption but this could change as we get more data across different industries and business sizes. 

Lack of personalisation, inability to handle complex issues, implementation costs and lastly, technology failures all come to mind. Automated systems are not immune to technical failures or glitches, which can lead to frustrated customers and lost business so please bear this in mind as you factor automation into your CX strategy and technology roadmaps.

This can lead to nervousness, but I think whether your company is an early or late adopter, or somewhere in between when purchasing new technologies, you’ll likely be embracing automation at some point.

Successful projects tend to start small with low level tasks or a small batch of customers. Identify low-risk areas such as your most common queries. Focus on efficiency rather than replacing human agents, provide transparency by letting customers know they are dealing with automation and how they can escalate to a human. Monitor performance by analysing customer feedback to  reduce negative experiences, and invest in training so it is clear how this fits into the customer experience, supporting a smooth transition.

Companies will need to be mindful however of the potential impact on job security as the technology becomes more advanced and take steps to support agents adequately through the transition as the industry evolves.

In summary,, automation is amongst some of the most cutting-edge technology available to the UK Contact Centre market. Overall, there are many potential use cases for automation in customer experience. 2023 is shaping up to be the year the UK leans into it, in my opinion. By focusing on areas where automation can provide the greatest benefit, companies can improve efficiency, provide more personalised support, and deliver a better overall customer experience which ultimately delivers on board and investor goals.

James Connors
Director at Quetzel

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