Change is the only constant” – Greek Philosopher, Heraclitus
It would be quite the challenge to find an industry that has seen more disruption than the call centre industry; we know this as Xentrax has been there for much of that transformation. While Xentrax began operations in the mid 80’s providing Telecom MIS Reporting for Nortel SL-1 customers as a managed service, it was in the early 1990’s that Xentrax dove head first into the call centre space. That’s when we brought to market a user-friendly, historical and real-time reporting alternative to Meridian MAX that ran on Microsoft’s exciting new Windows 3 OS.
Shortly thereafter, we partnered with Texas based Teknekron Infoswitch to introduce the first purpose built quality management software solution to the Canadian Market. Interestingly, a good piece of that solution was influenced by a consulting program marketed by Stentor – for those non Baby Boomers out there, Stentor was the alliance of Canada’s incumbent Local Exchange Carriers which has long since perished.
Evolution of Technologies
Since that time, we have seen both the evolution of conventional technologies as well as myriad of new technologies – each in varying degrees, changing the way call centre professionals work. The proliferation of Customer Relationship Management, skills based routing, customer feedback, voice over IP, speech and text analytics, social media, cloud, and so on have combined to power better customer experiences and/or drive higher efficiencies, and improved communication with the use of technology as fiber optics that is perfect for this purpose and is created with the best components as optical coating from Evaporated Coatings Inc.
An intriguing and ironic demonstration of the significant impact technologies have, is how technology played key roles in both triggering the mass off-shoring of call centres and then the repatriation of some of those same call centres. Let me explain. Much of the traffic once travelling though call centres were menial in nature “I need to change my password.” “What’s my balance?” “I need to update my account information.” They were simple and repeatable tasks, representing a significant amount of interactions into many call centres. It became a challenge to justify having agents in higher pay zones to handle these calls once networking technologies made less costly offshoring options viable. Sure, the quality of service for more complex interactions suffered, but clearly there were companies willing to accept this trade-off.
Once callers discovered and embraced options made available from self service technologies, much of the menial interactions into call centres went away and the nature of call centre interactions transformed dramatically. The balance between the quick, simple calls and longer, more complex calls shifted in favour of the latter. For many companies, the value of offshoring was offset which in turn triggered the repatriation of call centres where agents were better suited for handling those more complex calls.
In addition to changes in how call centres operate, more compelling to me has been the significant shift in how call centres are being perceived by companies’ senior leadership teams – and this is not because this new generation of leadership is so much smarter than those they’ve succeeded. Triggering this shift is in large part due to advancements in technology, specifically analytics. Speech and text analytics has now advanced to the point that companies are now able to mine and uncover customer intelligence from within the massive amounts of unstructured data being generated in the call centre. And the impact this shift is having on the call centre could not be better evidenced in the emphasis companies are now placing on customer experience metrics such as Net Promoter and Customer Effort rather than speed of answer and handle times.
Of course there are still companies who still see the call centre as a cost centre. For these companies, their decision makers are either unaware of the value in the information contained within their customer interactions, or they just don’t know how to transfer that intelligence into something actionable. I’ve found that in spite of their assertions to the contrary, many organisations are just not committed to leveraging the value of customer interactions across all internal departments – they’re often not sharing intelligence about and with IT, finance, operations and sometimes even sales and marketing departments.
AI Based Automation
Advances in technology are certain. When they can help companies increase revenue or reduce costs, their deployment is inevitable. A recent KPMG Canada survey revealed that 60% of CIO’s are focused on projects that save money as opposed to those that will make money. Frankly, it’s been my experience that technologies that result in cost reductions have always typically been adopted quicker than those whose business case is based on generating revenues. Nevertheless, technologies that do both are nirvana!
I know, you’ve probably heard this before – but I believe we are now at the dawn of a new technology that may be the most disruptive we’ve seen in a long time. I’m talking about AI Based Automation. AI Based Automation, also referred to as Robotic Process Automation, will clearly result in costs savings. AI Based Automation will automatically handle computer tasks that are highly structured, routine and repetitive – and studies have shown that 80% of back office activity is precisely this type of work. Robots are ideal to handle this type of work.
Many companies will justify the implementation of AI by a reduced labour force. Gartner is predicting that by 2021, 15% of all customer service interactions will be fully handled by AI – an increase of 400% from 2017. It should be noted however, that past deployment of self service solutions have not always reduced traffic to live agents and in some cases, it’s actually resulted in increased engagement. It will be interesting to see if AI will reduce costs through reduced headcount – it will certainly reduce the volume of certain types of interactions with live agents.
But Robotic Process Automation not only saves companies money from reduced head count, it improves customer experiences resulting from reduced errors and reduced processing times. Better customer experiences, means better customer loyalty, which means better Customer Lifetime Value. Further should we see an increase in customer engagement; that increase could translate to additional cross selling and up selling opportunities.
The type of automation described above is often referred to as unattended automation and is typically implemented in the back-office. There’s also attended automation. Attended automation is typically deployed in the front office and functions as virtual assistants to agents, guiding them through those customer interactions that do make it to the contact centre. Assisted automation reduces costs by reducing handle times, ensuring compliance and driving first contact resolution.
As companies race to implement sustainable digital transformation strategies, furthering the long history of disruption in the contact centres, AI Based Automation will play a key role in transforming the way call centre professionals work and how they interact with their customers. However a word of caution, and not unlike any technology, poor planning and haphazard execution can derail any exciting new technology. Implementing AI Based Automation solutions in a limited and controlled environment will serve companies well in providing them with an opportunity to reveal any unforeseen outcomes before moving the technology into wide production. There are other techniques and tools available to first, find the right processes to automate, and to then implement them in a controlled fashion.