Automation – core to the future of CX operations
In recent years, the exponential advance of technologies that impart intelligence to automation has shaken the very core of how we deliver CX. We’re moving away from a traditional, labour-intensive model to a technology-assisted model that optimises productivity and cost effectiveness, and requires a more skilled workforce.
The technology is here, so embrace it. Operations will become increasingly automated, but these changes won’t happen overnight. It’s therefore possible – and wise – to take a methodical approach to transition.
Build your robotics CX team and educate the entire organisation about the changes. Start with simple tasks and move to more complex ones, using a combination of robotic process automation and artificial intelligence (AI). Above all, upskill your people so they’re equipped to perform new, different, and higher-order tasks.
Technology is catching up with the demand for digital
Robotic process automation is quickly becoming an integral part of the new CX delivery model. Technologies like predictive analytics, machine learning, and cognitive computing are becoming more powerful. We’re no longer speculating about this technology in CX: it’s already here. AI is burgeoning and may even become a primary CX channel. Machines are certainly taking over in some areas, but not all.
We’re now on the other side of the hype cycle, as we have the computing power to deploy algorithms for narrow AI – intelligence that performs a particular task, like reading text or recognising speech. At some point, general AI will bring everything together and the role of human agents in CX will evolve to primarily managing escalations.
Don’t fall for the hype
It’s just a matter of time before quantum computing creates a new reality that takes us far beyond current capabilities. But there won’t be a ‘Eureka!’ moment we can look back on as the tipping point when technology replaced humans altogether. Rather, we’ll see a steady transition.
We’re still a few decades away from AI that connects narrow channels, understands unstructured data, senses and adapts to small changes in the environment, and generally works in a more human way. What’s important now is to sift the reality from the hype and approach automation and AI in a strategic, systematic way.
Human intelligence will play an increasingly important role in CX
AI is here to stay, and it will increase, but that doesn’t mean we’re eliminating the human element. Far from it.
Human productivity is now being challenged from the bottom up. As more tasks are handled by machines, agents will be doing more than simply fetching and analysing data. They’ll be expected to perform more free-thinking, higher-order tasks, like gathering and understanding unstructured data, looking at patterns, and having more meaningful conversations with customers as they solve complex queries. In effect, humans will move up the value chain.
Lower cost to serve, higher value to customers
As a result, the per-person cost of the human workforce will increase; however, the overall costs of delivering the CX service will decrease.
With the assistance of AI, we’re able to offer more value to customers in the form of new or enhanced services. The more we offer, the more customers will expect us to deliver. We’ll continue to see an increase in queries handled as customers are able to contact organisations and get information more easily than before.
Overall transactions will go up but, as many tasks are handled by machines, service delivery will be proportionately lower.
Successful automation deployments require planning and expertise
Automation can result in higher productivity, lower costs, and improved governance and reliability. But to implement these technologies successfully, you’ll need a robust strategy and a centre of excellence where experts from different parts of the organisation – technology, operations, security, and so on – can innovate with new, functional models and iterate to excellence.
It’s relatively easy to run a proof of concept on a few processes in isolation. It’s when you start trying to scale and integrate projects that you encounter bigger challenges, like network integration when migrating to or integrating with cloud-based platforms, security protocols, or realising your IT team isn’t equipped to support automation.
Having a centre of excellence will help you avoid glitches like an operating system patch that changes an on-screen display, resulting in a bot failing to locate a customer’s name on screen.
It’s also important to use CX metrics to build intelligence and measure the success of your robotics and AI deployments.
Are you doing things better, faster, and cheaper? It’s the quality, not quantity, of automation that counts.
Conduct extensive testing at the boundary
AI deployments are set to triple in the next two years. The inherent danger of these models is that the rules engine they automatically build – their ‘brain’ – can’t be deciphered easily by humans, so you can’t be sure what the model will do. It’s therefore vital to conduct extensive testing to see how the machine processes information for different use cases.
Secure your bots
With bots going out to read data and post results, you’ll need to secure various pieces of software across the firewall. And if your bots are going outside the firewall, you’re a lot more vulnerable to attack.
Security experts and industry bodies, like the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineersi for example, are looking at ways to secure and certify bots. But, because this technology is so new, the security capabilities aren’t there yet. Our advice is to proceed with caution.
Manage your blended workforce holistically
Rather than treating your digital and human workforces as separate entities, see them as one unit. Use dashboards to manage and requisition bots as well as human agents, and allocate tasks to them as part of the same workflow, using the same workflow management tools.
Make your workforce bot-savvy
As routine tasks are replaced by automation, you’ll need people who can implement and run the bots, check that they’re working properly, and update them based on the changing needs of your customers and organisation.
If this all seems a bit futuristic and overwhelming, remember that this shift in activity is nothing new – it’s something that’s happened throughout the course of history. For example, between 1942 and 1945 the number of telephone operators in the US dropped from 750,000 to 22,000ii because of the introduction of automated exchanges. Employment in the industry grew overall, however – it was just this segment of labour that shrunk.
In CX operations, we’ll see an increase in digitally assisted human work, with fewer people answering customer calls and more people implementing and managing bots.
We believe it’s the organisation’s responsibility to train people to be experts in how to configure and work with bots. Organisational change management is critical here: jobs will change, and it’s up to you to develop your people and move them up the curve.
ii Harsh,Women telephone workers and changing technology, U.S. Department of Labor, WB Bulletin 286, 1963
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