Automation is Intimidating…but it Shouldn’t be

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Simplifying Automation in the Contact Center

The brands we work with are convinced that automation is a key ingredient to delivering the immediate, intuitive and intelligent customer experience they aspire to deliver. But these brands also believe delivering automated experiences that fulfill that promise, is extremely hard. We can all name many examples of mediocre automated customer experiences, which feeds this perception that it is challenging to get it right.

The world has changed with consumers now more likely to begin interacting with your business via a digital channel, which means that the customers we are serving in the contact center via the voice channel, have already expended significant effort on one or several of your digital channels. Your poor agent doesn’t stand a chance – it is nearly impossible to win the customer delight game when you start behind on the scoreboard.

The necessity of delivering effective automation across digital channels is clear and the technologies are more easily employed to engage, understand and completely serve customers on the web, through messaging channels, on social media and any other digital channel. It is time to conquer the fear of automating the conversation with consumers.

Many enterprises and contact centers today have processes that are so complex, digital transformation becomes a daunting prospect.

In some cases, complexity exists because processes have organically grown to adapt to changes over years of doing business and they haven’t been clearly documented or defined. These are typically situations where agents are given tremendous freedom to decide the appropriate course of action on the fly. In other situations, there’s misalignment of the process to the touchpoint. Processes built for the physical branch or store channel, often require significant refinement to deliver an excellent experience in a digital channel. Often brands will not allow certain transaction or interaction types in some channels for this very reason. The consumer, in this situation, is forced to call into the contact center because they can’t execute a poorly rendered experience or it really is their only option. Once again, your agents will have a difficult time delighting your customers in these cases.

When processes are executed differently each time and there’s a heavy dependence on human involvement, it can be difficult to imagine automating these, even for routine tasks. We were working with a tire retailer who insisted their agents were required to close sales for unusual tire purchase situations, but a review of the call and chat transcripts revealed agents are having the same conversation over and over again, with just small variations.

However, when brands consider automating these processes, they often talk themselves out of it due to the overwhelming effort required. Even if you are able to define the process and design an automation solution, the coordination with the entire organization to support automation from the back office functions to IT to marketing, is massive. These layers of complexity combine to create a broad and deep chasm for businesses to cross. That’s the reality for many businesses, but automation really doesn’t need to be intimidating.

The key is to simplify your automation approach.

Here are three ways you can cut through the complexity:

  1. Automate in small chunks
  2. You shouldn’t try to solve the whole problem in a single project. While it is important to have an ambitious vision for delivering service that supports your brand promise, you don’t have to get there in one leap. Agile organizations fare better in making steady progress and arriving at superior outcomes. Break the problem into smaller chunks, tackling narrowly scoped improvements to the customers, the initial release, and all subsequent releases. The journey will certainly draw suggestions or complaints that more should be automated and instantly available, but you also will win over some customers and deliver benefit to the business in a short period of time. You’ll quickly be able to see how automation works in your organizational setting, so you can refine your approach, build confidence and expand automation iteratively from there. Grow your organization’s automation tree one small solution at a time, in simple steps that are easy to introduce and measure.

  3. Don’t rip and replace
  4. You shouldn’t have to go and reorganize your website, retrain your agents or reprogram your IVR (Interactive Voice Response). Rather, identify a simple automation opportunity, codify it quickly, and turn it into a user-friendly digital experience that shows up on every channel that your customers use to connect with you, and helps agents deliver better outcomes.

  5. Implement a feedback loop
  6. Each automation piece should be transparent and measurable, enabling you to gather insights that help you build better and better automations. Improvements should not only be easy to gauge but also effortless to implement. The technologies you deploy to support automation should be designed to speed and simplify the iterative improvements to existing and new applications. Take an agile, DevOps approach to automation, by focusing on continuous adaptation and improvement.

And once you have wrapped your head around how to simplify automation, it’s vital to be aware of – and guard against – the following mistakes.

What NOT to do when you embark on your automation journey:

  • DON’T treat automation as a one-off project with a static timescale. Transformations powered by automation are living projects that require continuous care, monitoring and improvement. You need to keep adjusting your assumptions, metrics and approach if you want to keep delivering on evolving customer expectations. Fortunately intelligent automation is a gift that keeps on giving, which each iteration delivers incremental benefits to consumers and the business. Most consumer brands will quote fully-loaded customer service costs of $5 – $10 per interaction. For fully digital native brands that have always automated their processes, the variable cost to serve is in the pennies. There’s a lot of gold in the hills of continually improving your level of automation for customers.
  • DON’T automate just to keep up with the latest tech trends. You need to conduct a considered analysis of cost and benefit. What are the top things your customers want to accomplish when they come to your digital channels. Aim your automation efforts on those needs. Begin with a clear view of your desired outcome and work backwards to design your solution. If you don’t appropriately model what you’re going to automate and the benefits it will deliver (in terms of time saved or efficiency gains, for example), you will struggle to realize true value and maintain momentum in your automation program.
  • DON’T design automation without process visibility. If you don’t bring in the expertise of people who understand the environment, systems and processes that automation will impact, you run the risk of delivering elegant automation solutions that make no actual difference on the ground. The best project owners for your automation initiatives are the people who understand the process pain points you’re addressing—and know how to fix them.

Take your customer experience to the next level

We still see many organizations trying to “boil the ocean” when defining where to focus their digital transformation efforts. This can lead to innovation paralysis because the outcomes ascribed to the project aren’t realistic. To make progress organizations need to have a clear understanding of where automation can improve the customer journey and then set clear short term goals that will have an immediate impact on the customer experience.

Image courtesy of 123RF.com

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