It would be hard not to see the fundamental shifts occurring in the customer experience management realm. The old ways of doing business even five years ago are being thrown out in favor of new, more streamlined processes, many powered by automation. This is simply a reflection of today’s society, one in which technology is driving better ways in which to ensure high-level interactions. However, contact center stakeholders and thought leaders need to be careful when forecasting the demise of live agents at the hands of robots. This obituary has been written before, yet agents are still the backbone of contact centers around the world. Rather, looking for ways in which both automated solutions and agents can work in tandem will be key in driving great customer service results.
The recent efforts by Bloomberg to highlight ongoing changes in the contact center around the growth of automation provide worthy pause for thought for industry watchers. Their case study (called Why Call Center Jobs Will Disappear) of a Dominican Republic-based BPO’s strategy of growing their automated platforms was both interesting, and to some extent representative of what is occurring across customer experience operations in each corner of the globe.
This is no surprise. With low levels of unemployment in key demand markets, coupled with ongoing resistance among consumers to service from offshore and nearshore delivery points, using technology to drive interactions with end-users just makes sense. However, reasonable contact center observers will realize that a wholesale end to the role of live agents in the contact center is unlikely.
Notwithstanding the advances that have been made in automation over the past few years (and there have been many), there are a number of reasons why the idea that this technology is likely to supplant agents is not viable. A major factor is the extent to which automated solutions can interact with consumers in order to solve their problems. In some cases, for more transactional situations, these voice-based or digital interfaces can do a great job, ensuring a resolution that is rapid and thorough.
However, even the most ardent technologist will admit that for more complex, potentially sensitive situations, an automated solution can manage perhaps part of the interaction, prior to being moved over to a live agent to address the issue. Clearly, as automated technology improves and integrates with artificial intelligence, such solutions can be deployed in more challenging situations. But, with consumer loyalty at an all-time premium, few enterprises are willing to take chances in alienating end-users with solutions that are not ready for prime-time.
When it comes to live contact center agents, Mark Twain could not have said it better: “The report of my death was exaggerated.”
The fact remains, live agents are the core of today’s contact center and will be for some time to come. Whether it is handling a service issue, answering a technical support question or cross-selling an enthusiastic consumer on a new product / service, agents remain the backbone of customer experience management.
The key for enterprises and BPOs going forward will be to determine how best to align automated technology with the human element, in order to drive ongoing efficiencies without sacrificing consumer loyalty. This will be an ongoing process, and it will prove rewarding for those organizations that get it right. In the meantime, contact center agents the world over can take solace in one of Elton John’s all time classics.