Contact centres are often described as modern-day factories, and their employees just as vulnerable to automation as factory workers were in the early days of manufacturing automation in the 1960s.
As automation becomes intelligent, and conversational AI replaces the need for (some) human interactions, what will the contact centre of the future look like? Will it even exist? And what will happen to the people in those contact centres?
Everywhere we look, media headlines tell us that automation will take our jobs. But what if it makes us more efficient, and creates different jobs? It could even change the way we structure our working week. Simply Business is an insurance company that is trialling a four-day week in its contact centres – with everyone still paid the same amount – in an effort to boost productivity and promote good mental health in the workplace. Could this be the new normal?
Automation is also, to some extent, driving the repatriation of contact centres from offshore locations. Offshoring was all about reducing costs, and for companies based in countries where employee costs were high, it was far more efficient to locate contact centres in areas where the cost of business was lower. But now many transactional, routine customer service interactions can be automated, they are again investing in home-grown talent to deal with the more complex and higher-value customer contacts.
So the contact centre is changing again. Gone are the perceptions of factory-like conditions, with humans processing millions of the same mundane enquiries: where is my order, how do I return a product, can I change my payment method. All that can be done by bots, which are far more efficient and less prone to error than humans.
And machines can support humans, too, working with them to provide context to customer queries that lead to better experiences for both the customer and the customer service agent. They can show the relevant records from previous conversations, make sure the information the agent has is accurate and relevant, and even predict the likely outcome of an interaction. They can help agents resolve issues quickly, and complete their records efficiently and easily.
How do you achieve this? There are three steps for businesses to take:
1. Review your existing infrastructure. What capabilities do you have now, and what do you want to achieve?
2. Assess how automation can help you achieve your customer contact objectives, and how it fits your overall business objectives. Do you want to increase efficiency, increase capacity for agents to deal with more valuable tasks, and increase value, for example?
3. Evaluate your current sourcing arrangements. Are they future proof, or are they starting to creak?
The contact centre of the future will be a place where skilled employees deal with complex issues, solve problems for customers, drive value for their employees and have greater job satisfaction. Places where humans and robots work together, not against each other. Automation could just herald a new golden age for customer service.
Wayne Butterfield is Director at ISG
ISG (Information Services Group) (Nasdaq: III) is a leading global technology research and advisory firm. A trusted business partner to more than 700 clients, including more than 70 of the top 100 enterprises in the world, ISG is committed to helping corporations, public sector organizations, and service and technology providers achieve operational excellence and faster growth. The firm specializes in digital transformation services, including automation, cloud and data analytics; sourcing advisory; managed governance and risk services; network carrier services; strategy and operations design; change management; market intelligence and technology research and analysis.
Founded in 2006, and based in Stamford, Conn., ISG employs more than 1,300 digital-ready professionals operating in more than 20 countries—a global team known for its innovative thinking, market influence, deep industry and technology expertise, and world-class research and analytical capabilities based on the industry’s most comprehensive marketplace data.
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