Automate your contact center without becoming “robotic”

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Architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, once quipped about technological innovation that, “if it keeps up, man will atrophy all his limbs but the push-button finger.” And Wright wasn’t wrong.

Like many other information workers, I spend my days punching buttons on my computer keyboard – most frequently the “delete email” button. Sometimes I switch things up and tap a few buttons on my phone. And then of course there’s the frequent pressing of the buttons on my espresso machine.

But all that button pressing can really take its toll on your body – or at least on your index finger. After a long day of button pressing, the first thing I do after work is ice-down my sore email-deleting finger with a cold beer.

The other day I came home to discover an empty fridge. Rather than driving all the way to the corner store, I grabbed my phone and pulled up my favorite beer-delivery app (yes, there’s an app for that).

Several clicks later, I was browsing through the menu of new craft beer offerings. Let’s see, should I try the new Guava Milk-Shake IPA or the Mexican-Chocolate Peanut-Butter Stout? Or maybe something a bit sweeter, like a Pale Ale brewed with Swedish fish? Or what about a “Unicorn Farts” Sour Ale?

Hmm, I can’t help but think that maybe the craft-beer industry has gotten a bit carried away with over-innovation. Which brings us – rather circuitously I admit – to the topic of contact-centers, and the recent tendency to try and automate everything. I’m not sure which is worse: sipping sour unicorn farts, or having a robot ask you to “please hold” while he presumably tries to isolate the reverse power flux coupling.

Hello, my name is Johnny 5. How can I help you?

As any veteran contact center manager can tell you, human labor represents the single greatest expense of running a contact center. So, obviously, anything you can do to automate the contact center and replace – or re-purpose – human agents will benefit the bottom line.

This is where productivity-enhancing tools such as chat bots can come into play. While a single human agent can often handle two (or possibly three) different customer chat sessions in parallel, toggling between customers – a single chat bot can chat with dozens or even hundreds of customers at once.

And of course, not only do chat bots happily work for free, but they also never show up late or call in sick. They don’t even take coffee breaks. And, perhaps most importantly, you don’t have to worry about them stealing your Greek yogurt – the one with your name clearly written on it – from the break-room refrigerator.

However, it’s important to balance the desire for costs-savings with the need to provide personalized, excellent customer service. Chat bots can successfully answer up to 80% of customer questions, which is amazing. And chatbots provide answers immediately, which leads to increases in metrics like customer satisfaction and net promoter score (NPS).

With the growing trend of customers ordering goods and services online, contact centers are often the only remaining point of contact that companies have with their customers. Every contact-center interaction therefore becomes a critical opportunity for businesses to reinforce your brand and drive customer loyalty.

However, sometimes customers run into unique, complicated issues that required troubleshooting from product experts. In such cases, there needs to be a smooth handover from the chatbot to the human customer-service agent.

Customers expect that when they start a chat session with a chat bot, they will have the opportunity to transfer to a live human agent if necessary. And, customers expect that the human agent will receive the full context of the interaction, including the in-process chat transcript between the customer and the bot.

Tools like Sinch Contact Center and Sinch Chatlayer offer the best of both worlds, enabling seamless “fallback” from chatbot self-service to agent-assisted full service when necessary.

Automate! But don’t become “robotic”

Unless you’ve been living on the remote planet Tatooine in the Outer Rim, you’ve undoubtedly heard about, “robotic process automation (RPA)”, a phrase which suggests images of robots standing around a breakroom water cooler gossiping about last night’s episode of Westworld while their robot supervisor yells at them to get back to work. Sadly, however there’s no actual robots involved in “robotic process automation”, only software bots (i.e., computer software programs designed to simulate human activity).

Robotic process automation is basically just the use of AI/ML software to automate the handling of high-volume repetitive tasks such as e.g., looking up customer account balances, providing updates to open tickets/orders, resetting passwords, and other labor-intensive workflow tasks.

RPA is a useful time-saving tool that can help contact centers provide faster and more consistent customer service, while at the same time, freeing agents from repetitive mundane tasks – allowing them to focus on more value-added activities. However, while AI is great for automating common, repetitive tasks, AI does have its limitations.

The popular press is full of amusing stories like this one about an AI self-driving car having a complete mental breakdown after encountering an orange traffic cone. Or, less amusing, it seems that AI-powered HR bots have ‘learned’ to discriminate against women.

Thankfully, RPA bots hopefully aren’t going to encounter too many orange traffic-cones in your contact center, but they may occasionally run into other obstacles. In such cases, it’s good to have appropriately trained, highly skilled human agents who can assist if required.

Bots and humans can co-exist peacefully

Bots and human agents have different skill sets and should be used accordingly. Bots are great at handling day-to-day request, while human agents can add a more personal touch when necessary — such as when de-escalating an angry customer.

It’s important to avoid overreliance on contact-center automation tools, but to also employ skilled human agents who can connect with customers on an emotional level when necessary.

With the growing trend of customers ordering goods and services online, contact centers are often the only remaining point of contact that companies have with their customers. Every interaction in the contact center therefore becomes a critical opportunity to reinforce your brand and drive customer loyalty.

At the end of the day, customers don’t care whether it’s a robot or a human who resolves their issue; they just care that the issue is resolved quickly, accurately, and professionally. Which I think is something we can all agree on!

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