2015: The End of the Contact Center
By Francis Carden, General Manager of EMEA at OpenSpan
Okay… That seems pretty radical and I don’t believe for a moment that we are close to seeing a world full of cobweb covered chairs, phones, keyboards and computers in abandoned contact center buildings, still reverberating with the echoes of “How can I assist you today?" However, most enterprise executives I meet seem to have a focus on driving down the cost of effective customer service. There is definitely an across-the-board belief that the cost savings will keep coming – maybe to the point where there will be virtually nothing left to cut!
Practicalities aside, most of us live our everyday lives expecting to get the best deal on the goods we buy. Where we purchase these items is usually determined by a combination of price and quality, and both of these factors are ultimately affected by the ability of those vendors to drive revenue and profits. Profits that typically get reinvested in the business so that an enterprise can stand taller than their competitors – and outlast them!
Every day, I visit executives seeking to improve customer service so they can enhance their companies’ reputations and competitiveness. With few exceptions, these executives are also expected to continue to do this while cutting costs. The only thing that’s changed in my ten years in the contact center industry (and 30+ years in IT) is that this cost cutting is accelerating.
Over the last ten years, the contact center industry has had varying degrees of success with SOA, BPM, cloud, speech analytics, screen recordings, IVR, Unified communications, WFO, etc. With all of these technologies and the millions of dollars spent on trying to improve contact center performance, why is it industry executives are still seeing widespread inefficiencies?
IT and business executives should always be reaching out to the market to innovate and drive new efficiencies, and I am seeing an acceleration in this activity across the board. So, what are they seeing and what are they turning to in 2015 and beyond?
Automation, Automation, Automation
Quite simply, it is transformation and simplification through AUTOMATION. Automation is key to executives delivering on their promises to shareholders of increasing profits. Automation is key to rapid ROI and key to improving customer service quickly while cutting costs. There are many guises to Automation:
Business Process Automation – This term has become ubiquitous to big projects, but can be effective when used as part of many smaller, agile automation projects.
Robotic Automation – This technology takes what a human does at the keyboard and offloads it to automated software robots. It’s effective because it does not change any part of the process, nor the applications, nor the business rules involved, but rather completely automates many of the keystrokes, mouse clicks and non-discretionary thinking previously performed by a human. New technologies are making this far more robust; replacing the old days of screen scraping brittleness.
Robotic Automation can make processes significantly faster as well, but that’s not always the objective. Even if it runs at the same speed as the human, it is a simple matter of turning on more robots (virtual machines), if you want to increase hourly throughput!
Desktop Automation – This type of automation is similar to Robotic Automation, but, rather than completely replacing the human, it complements them while they are working at their computers. It does this by automating key steps in the processes that ultimately require no human discretion. Again, it does not change the applications being used, nor does it require any rewrite of the applications and all existing business logic remains 100% intact. The agent is still involved to deal with the customer or what you haven’t yet automated.
Automation isn’t new to IT or business, but what is new is the quality of the products on the market and the success they have brought to customer service organizations. This approach has been used by many of the top contact centers in the world, and automation has delivered significant, quantifiable performance gains. In fact, many executives have built successful careers taking their automation successes from enterprise to enterprise as they move around the industry.
Automation is a smart decision because it solves the dichotomy faced by contact center and back office executives – “How do I deliver value to the business without breaking the bank and taking years to deliver it?” Automation is logical because, when you look at the work of contact center agents and back office workers, you quickly realize that computers are perfectly capable of performing many of the basic functions currently performed by humans. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist (or even a Six Sigma black belt) to look over someone’s shoulder and say, “Why are you rekeying that data twice,” or, “Why are you trying to upsell an irrelevant product to this type of customer?”
Automation is agile and easily scalable. You can start with a half-dozen obvious automations like “Auto Note Taking”, “Single Sign On”, “Real-time Next Best Relevant Offers”, “Auto Renew” and move onto more sophisticated automations that provide unified views, agile desktops, integration of CTI, process guidance, hot links and more. Over time, you may build hundreds of quick-win automations, all providing immediate value to the business in terms of cost cutting and time savings.
The key difference between automation and other “integration” or cost reduction strategies is that those other strategies don’t usually provide value until the project is complete, and, by then, it can be too late to adjust for mistakes. Agile automation ROI is normally so obvious and predictable, it delivers pretty closely, and very quickly, to what you expect from the outset.
Last, but not least, automation goes hand in hand with reducing errors since you are taking an element of discretion away from the call center agent while they are under pressure to perform for the customer. It can also play a key role in fulfilling certain compliance issues that might be introduced when humans are involved in the manual aspect of a call or task.
In reality, contact center executives have been screaming for this level of agility and efficiency for many years, but, to be fair to IT, only recently have the technologies come together to provide the robustness to effectively solve these issues. These new automation technologies do not stand in the way of progress, but rather accelerate it.
So, the innovative technology is here and contact centers have needs. This begs the final question… “Does this stuff really work?” The answer is an unqualified “Yes.” For years automation has been under the radar until its robustness could be proven – and now it has been. From smaller, single contact centers with 150 seats, to more expansive, multi-site service operations scaling to more than 35,000 agents, desktop automation is a catalyst in transforming processes to drive world-class service experiences. Whether large or small, the most successful organizations use a combination of Business Process Automation, Robotic Automation and Desktop Automation solutions.
Contact center managers and executives are under incredible pressure to maintain and even improve customer service levels while dramatically lowering the overall cost to serve. This mandate does not have to be a death knell for the contact center. Armed with the right automation technologies and a comprehensive implementation plan, contact centers can finally achieve optimal performance.
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About the Author: Francis Carden, General Manager of EMEA, OpenSpan
With more than 20 years of experience in running multinational technology companies, Francis joined the executive leadership team at OpenSpan in 2005. OpenSpan (www.openspan.com) is a provider of activity intelligence and desktop automation solutions that improve performance, drive revenue and increase efficiencies in contact center, back office and retail storefront environments. Read his blog at http://franciscarden.blogspot.com/ and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/FrancisCarden.