Top secrets to competitive and effective customer care into 2023

11th January 2023

by Richard Farrell

Customer care is at an inflection point: demands are higher and resources are limited. According to a McKinsey survey, organisations’ existing capacities are being challenged by higher call volumes and more complex and challenging enquiries. Employers are also struggling to retain customer care agents, who are being poached by competitors or feeling dissatisfied in their work.

So, how do customer care leaders overcome these challenges?

When it comes to effective customer care, many are turning to artificial intelligence (AI) – a component of intelligent automation (IA) – to drive productivity and returns on investment (ROI). I had a discussion with a Forrester analyst on this topic, in a webinar called “The Secret to Creating a Next-gen Contact Centre with Intelligent Automation” and we talked about how AI is not a panacea to all customer experience (CX) issues. But when used effectively and strategically, as part of an intelligent automation platform, the results are transformative.

We concluded that, as with many things in life, it’s about knowing your ‘why’:

Why are you automating? Or what are you automating? Why now? And what results are you looking to achieve?*

Without these answers, any intelligent automation initiatives will be wayward, unfocused, and largely ineffective.

Why are organisations adding intelligent automation to their contact centre stack?

In today’s world, every contact centre is run by performance numbers. Leaders need to make agents more efficient and customers self-sufficient — to support the bottom line, amid tightening budgets and staff retention issues.

What are organisations getting wrong?

A lot of the time, organisations don’t understand the capabilities of AI or IA, or how this technology can benefit them. Most people only think of self-service when they think of AI. They don’t realise the full potential of an intelligent automation platform, which can include complementary technologies like robotic process automation (RPA), machine learning, low-code application building capabilities and AI.

These complementary technologies can permeate processes throughout the contact centre. In the drive to achieve effective customer care, they not only yield efficiencies and ROIs, but also improve the customer and employee experience. With free-moving data, no longer siloed away in legacy infrastructures, agents can work more productively and get more out of calls, faster — thanks to having the right data at their fingertips.

By using artificial intelligence combined with custom machine learning models, organisations can analyse data at scale for rich insights that promote value-adding decision-making. These insights go on to inform what robotic process automations and low-code applications they should build next. That means the highest value automations are implemented first.

The importance of strategy

Any intelligent automation implementation will struggle though if organisations don’t do their due diligence first. Many businesses treat AI like a “magic elixir” that will resolve all their ails. While the power of digital transformation is immense, like any plan – it needs direction.

The companies that have seen the most success began with a specific problem they needed to solve. Why? Because by starting with a specific problem, they automatically had to answer those key questions mentioned earlier.*

From there, they continue to digitally transform their contact centres through tactical steps, each designed to resolve a unique issue. They don’t develop a long-term roadmap right away. They take customer, agent and data feedback and insights to better understand what is and isn’t working, what can be improved upon, and what will add value. And it’s this information that creates a useful and productive automation roadmap.

Flexibility and adaptability are the name of the game here. Yes, strategy is important. But in an ever-changing market, plans need to be malleable. They need to be reviewed and adjusted to ensure they are still working towards pre-determined goals.

The human element is still critical

When organisations go about incorporating intelligent automation into their CX operations, some make the mistake of undermining the essential human component of customer care. According to Forrester’s research, there is still significant demand for customer service from human workers, depending on the enquiry. For basic customer enquiries, like those related to identification authentication or order management, over half of respondents preferred entirely automated channels. Yet when it came to more complex, emotionally-charged enquiries, like those related to escalations or dispute resolutions, over 90% wanted some type of human-based support — with 71% preferring entirely human support, either in-person or over the phone.

It’s a balancing act. Whilst it’s true that customers want the benefits of digitised CX — such as personalised services and seamless, interconnected customer journeys — people also don’t like an overly-automated experience. They want the convenience of digitalisation for quick and easy resolution of simple inquiries. And they want the support that digitisation gives agents, so they can deliver a better service. But that human element remains essential.

Intelligent automation enables agents to be as efficient as possible. After a call, for example, RPA can handle assembling the post-call notes and follow-ups, giving the agent time back.

Over time, we’re likely to see the proportion of agent-assisted CX work — where automation supports human agents — go up. But humans should always remain a key part of the CX mix.

With automation, CX agents will have less mundane and repetitive tasks on their plate. That will give back the time they need to process complex inquiries and cases at a faster rate.

It’s all about finding that sweet spot: utilising the right resource – human or digital – in the right proportion, to address each unique task. Here, AI-decision making capabilities can help devise the most effective distribution of work across agents and automations, In short, human-digital collaboration brings about the best results.

Intelligent automation-infused CX done right

Get it right and the results achieved from integrating IA throughout the customer care unit are transformative. Time and time again, I have seen organisations resolve major problems, create a better experience for their customers or citizens, foster a more fulfilling work environment, all whilst also saving on costs and promoting innovation.

Dreams, the UK’s leading bed and mattress retailer, needed to connect multiple CX systems that didn’t interact, creating information shortfalls when it came to customer service. With IA, the company was able to provide reliable and accurate data on demand, to its team of over 70 agents. This made it easier for the team to manage peaks in demand whenever they occurred, ensuring customers enjoyed a consistent and seamless experience.

Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council

With an AI-powered conversational messaging solution, 78% of citizen interactions were resolved by a web assistant at Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council, enabling workers to focus on the 22% more complex and high value interactions. This not only reduced the pressure on the council’s customer services team, but also drastically increased their call volume capacity. With IA solutions, overrun and under-resourced councils across the UK could reduce workloads and improve service, whilst saving costs.

Effective customer care: The big picture

As we move forward, IA is only going to become increasingly common. The costs of deployment and maintenance (and the time to value) are now in a place where intelligent automation offers an accessible solution.

Businesses and organisations can free up resources to help meet targets and objectives, while enhancing CX. The ease of a low-code automation platform makes it possible for organisations to digitise. Given the difficulties in sourcing enough digital talent, that means organisations can use their in-house workforce — without overworking their IT teams or draining financial resources. And as we find ourselves facing an epidemic of worker burnout, amid record-setting churn rates, intelligent automation gives workers the support they need by preventing overwork so they get to focus on engaging, high-value tasks.

IA will reinvent how we think of work and facilitate what workers are increasingly demanding: more fulfilment and a better work-life balance.

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