While it’s cliche to say that this year has been unprecedented, the reality is that 2020 made businesses face challenges that have never been seen before. Given the constantly changing restrictions, unexpected financial struggles, and fear that comes with living through a pandemic, it’s natural that customers had more questions than usual. Despite both parties fighting to navigate this new terrain, customers still expected customer service representatives to have all of the answers on the spot – even to new questions that only existed because of the pandemic.
Let’s look at the travel industry as an example. When the pandemic hit, airlines and hotels were inundated with customers demanding answers about rolling over frequent flyer miles, always-changing flight schedules, and refunds for vacations booked. Travel companies were forced to suddenly adopt new policies, like waiving cancellation fees or issuing refunds on previously non-refundable bookings, in order to keep customers happy. With all these changes happening at once, agents were left to navigate these new procedures from newly remote environments. This often led to confusion and anxiety when speaking with customers, and frustration on the customer’s end when it felt like even the experts can’t answer their questions.
This only increased the strain on customer service representatives who were also trying to navigate their new normal. A Harvard Business Review study that looked at customer interactions during the first month of the pandemic showed the percentage of “difficult” customer service calls more than doubled from 10% to 20%, which can have negative consequences. Not only do difficult calls increase the possibility of burnout and the risk of churn for customer service reps, but if customers feel like agents aren’t able to properly solve their problems, the company also risks losing them as customers – something that could be detrimental to a company already struggling with financial problems due to the pandemic.
So how have companies adjusted to help their customer service teams navigate these changes? Embracing new technology like attended automation or personal assistant bots to each agent or service representative, which many businesses have turned to for support during this challenging time. Robotic process automation, or RPA, has experienced strong double digit growth worldwide over the past year as more businesses have sought out additional support. So, what is the role of attended RPA in customer service?
A different type of automation
Companies aren’t using RPA in the way you might think. Customers still want to speak with live representatives when they call the support desk – so rather than replacing employees with robots, companies are using attended automation technology to provide each rep with a personal assistant bot that enables them to do their jobs better.
These attended RPA bots work alongside agents to provide guidance during a customer interaction, making the conversation run smoother by giving employees real-time insights, guidance and execution of various tasks such as performing calculations, summarizing important data, and updating various enterprise applications (to name a few). When when combined with AI-based speech analytics technology, attended RPA bots can also pick up inconsistent or ineffective agent behaviors, and guide them to pivot their strategy while the customer is still on the line, to change the course of the conversation to reach a positive outcome.
These bots also autonomously gather different types of data throughout the conversation, like whether the customer has previously spoken with support about an issue, to make it easier for the reps to tailor their behavior and immediately address multi-faceted questions or problems. And, robots rarely make mistakes – which means using them is likely to increase customer satisfaction overall and keep agents in full compliance.
As if dealing with new questions brought on by the pandemic wasn’t challenging enough, the current remote working situation makes it even harder to keep up. Working remotely makes communicating new policies more difficult – gone are the days when a manager can announce a change to a room full of agents who are then able to ask questions and chat about the updates. Instead, these representatives often end up shouldering the burden of keeping track of and understanding any updates to their processes, which may only be communicated via email. There’s no time for uncertainty when a customer is on the line (both literally and figuratively), which is another area where attended RPA bots can step in to provide real-time guidance and recommendations. By analyzing the conversation and gathering data from the customer’s records and cross referencing this with the latest company policies, these bots can provide links to relevant resources that will help the representative answer questions without skipping a beat.
Finding a balance for the future
Despite the many benefits of automation in the customer service field, companies and customers alike still regularly deal with “automation anxiety” about robots dominating the industry. From a customer perspective, the idea of calling a service desk and not being able to get a real person on the phone can be stress-inducing, especially as customer challenges have grown increasingly complex in the last year. That’s why attended automation is the key – attended RPA bots work side by side with human representatives, allowing human-led customer service to remain as the cornerstone of the industry.
The future is still unpredictable, and many industries – like travel – can expect long-term repercussions from the pandemic. While new challenges have abounded in the last year, technology like RPA can help smooth the transition to the new normal and provide certainty in the face of unknown. By arming customer service representatives with real-time insights and guidance, information on customer sentiment, and the resources they need to solve complex customer challenges, RPA will act as a guiding light in the future of customer service.