Automation in Contact Centres – is it Hype or High-Priority?

Peter Ryan is one of the most recognised international experts on customer experience (CX) globally. A stalwart at the respected industry analyst firm Ovum, where he spent many years leading their research into contact centres, he created his own company, the Montreal-based Ryan Strategy Advisory in 2016. RSA has taken his profile into the stratosphere and Peter is in demand as a speaker, analyst and advisor all over the world.

I wanted to ask Peter about how automation and other emerging technologies are changing the face of modern CX. I started out by asking him the obvious question, are robots really taking over the contact centre?

Peter said: “I think there is a lot of opportunity to embrace automation in the contact centre, but companies need to be very careful that they don’t over-deploy automation beyond what can be achieved today. There have been great examples of automation helping contact centres to collect information, analyse it, and present information to agents all in real-time.” However, he added: “At the same time, we cannot forget that automation is a tool. Any executive needs to respect what can be achieved with tools such as Machine Learning. Automation is only going to be as good as the tools we have available at this point so it’s important to recognise that we have parameters and limitations.”

I asked Peter if an automated technology-enabled contact centre is now just an expectation of executives seeking a CX supplier? Do they just consider that these services are part of a modern contact centre or are they extras? He said: “It all depends on the kind of customer interactions the client is looking for. It’s true that when enterprises are going out and looking for the right CX partner today, there is now an element of the table stakes approach, because executives just expect these capabilities today. Always take into account though that different companies have very different requirements.”

One of the problems with emerging technologies is the hype cycle. Sometimes a new technology is seen as essential just because others are using it, rather than for any underlying business reason. I asked Peter if we are seeing this problem in modern CX? He said: “Hype is a reality and this is a big problem. Enterprises need to recognise that the needs of the end customer are evolving and working with a CX supplier is now a really important way to stay on top of these needs. Practical solutions should never be overshadowed by cool technology. We don’t want a situation where automation is over-deployed and it turns consumers against solutions because they are just not working too well.”

So how are the CX suppliers charging for all these emerging technologies when traditionally contact centres have charged by the number of agents and their time on the job? Peter said: “It’s very complex and there are a lot of moving parts. There is no set framework right now. Many companies are using a parallel pricing solution, value-add [for the technology] in addition to the FTE model for agents and I believe this will become much more common. Many executives are going to be struggling with this for some time to come because there is no set way to do this yet.”

Peter finished with a final comment on the need for new business models to emerge, especially supporting the idea of gainsharing. This is where it is in the interest of the client and supplier to achieve a reduction in headcount or greater automation, rather than automation always reducing the revenue of the supplier. He said: “It is in the interest of the supplier to automate if they have the business model right. I think this really requires a lot of trial and error because we are talking about evolving business models. It’s a cliché, but the service companies really need to think out of the box here. They need some creative thinking if they are going to offer solutions that blend automation with traditional agent-based services.”

It’s a valid point. Using traditional CX service contracts it would never be in the interest of a supplier to automate and reduce the number of agents working on a contract, but these blended models are emerging. If CX suppliers can bill for the agents being used on a project, but bill separately for the value they are creating then there is scope for them to explore the use of emerging technologies and automation.

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Mark Hillary is a writer with a focus on technology and CX. He is based in São Paulo, Brazil. You can reach him at Search iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, or your favourite podcast app for ‘CX Files’ or click here to listen online.

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