Automation in the Post-COVID Contact Center
By Ed Finegold, contributing analyst
Automation is playing an increasing role in communications service providers’ (CSPs) contact centers, driven by a continued focus on improving customer experience (CX) and the massive impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, as a new webinar from Blue Prism will explore in detail. Because the COVID-19 pandemic has hit contact centers hard, CSP’s have an accelerated need to implement automation that will help contact center agents shed repetitive tasks that don’t contribute to better metrics or a superior CX.
The rapid shift to WFH
Stay-at-home orders have forced CSPs to shift most contact center agents to work from home (WFH). T-Mobile US, for example, shifted 12,000 agents across 17 contact centers worldwide to WFH. Shankar Arumugavelu, group CIO at Verizon says 20% of the operator’s contact center agents were working remotely before COVID-19. Once the pandemic hit, however, his team “had to shift 20% to 100%” across multiple geographies and tens of thousands of employees.
The sudden shift to WFH exacerbates many of the biggest challenges contact centers face:
- Contact center agents are still navigating back-end complexity but have more access challenges because they’re now remote.
- Training new users to master this complexity is more challenging in a remote setting, and turnover remains high.
- Call volume has increased as have costs.
- Important metrics like hold times, repeat calls and abandoned calls have spiked.
- And permitting remote access to systems that house sensitive customer data increases the risk of exposure and breach.
While battling these issues, first principles still apply. Hold times must become shorter. Resolutions must be achieved more quickly. Customer interactions must deliver positive Net Promoter Score results. And it all must be done efficiently through the constraints of agents’ home internet connections.
Digital workers arrive to help agents and customers
More than 75% of CSPs saw intelligent automation playing important roles in their CX before the pandemic, according to a recent TM Forum survey. Now, in the fast paced, high-pressure post-COVID-19 setting, where agents are working from home, intelligent automation is proving to be a key tool for increased process automation and performance.
Automating repetitive tasks
A key role for intelligent automation in the contact center is to automate processes agents traditionally perform manually. A simple example is automating the multiple manual logins and queries an agent performs to pull up customer account information.
A more complex example is automating the issuance of a customer credit in the correct billing system as a background process, rather than one the agent fumbles with while trying to keep a customer engaged and confident.
Digital workers are proving to be highly effective for automating these kinds of repetitive, complex, and error-prone tasks. These software robots can access systems and data more accurately and securely and execute multistep tasks faster than human agents.
The time saved by automating these tasks improve key time-based metrics, like average handle time (AHT) and can free agents to focus on positive customer interactions. Cutting seconds or minutes out of these core processes also enables contact centers to handle more cases while reducing the cost to serve the customer base.
Adding security by design
Using bots to automate these manual systems interactions also adds a layer of security by design because most agents no longer require direct access to systems that house sensitive customer data. Every digital worker interaction with such systems is logged and auditable. This enables better compliance with increasingly stringent security policies and data privacy regulations and reduces the risk of exposure, breach or misuse of credentials.
Enabling automated omni-channel interactions
Digital workers may also bolster an increasing trend toward omni-channel automation. For example, many CSPs are using smart chatbots across web, app, social and messaging channels to take on more front-line customer care and support responsibilities. Digital workers play a useful role in connecting chatbots intelligently to backend processes and data stores, enabling chatbots to respond quickly, execute more complex tasks and deliver a more personalized CX.
96% of CSPs say staffed channels like contact centers will remain important to their customer experience (CX) strategies, which in turn means automation will continue to be needed to make staff-driven interactions faster, more productive and more positive.
Our new report “Intelligent Automation in the Telco Contact Center,” focuses on the how CX transformation and the pandemic are impacting CSP’s contact centers; how contact center agent roles are changing; and how CSPs are using intelligent automation to reduce costs, minimize security risks, improve the agent’s job, and deliver a better overall CX.