There’s not a question of if robotics will impact contact centers; the question is how they will impact them. One the one hand, some people believe that robots will one day take over the complete job of the contact center agent. On the other hand, some people believe that robotics, no matter how advanced, will never be as skilled as humans are at dealing with customers. The true future is somewhere in between the two schools of thought.
Two Types of Robot Technology for the Contact Center
There are two primary types of robot technology that contact centers utilize:
- Robotic Process Automation (RPA): RPA refers to software that mimics work that is usually done by humans. This software costs less to run than the cost of live agents and it’s often more reliable and accurate than work performed by humans. To employees who carry out a lot of administrative processing and repetitive work, RPA may be seen as competition.
- Artificial Intelligence (AI): AI, a type of software that’s considered to be more clever than RPA, can understand unstructured data, like emails from customers. (While RPA may be able to understand some customer emails, they need to be structured, such as a form with specific fields.) Additionally, AI can evolve and self-learn; it gets smarter as it continues to carry out tasks.
While RPA and AI perform quite differently, the effect on the contact center is the same: agents are no longer required to perform certain tasks. However, this doesn’t mean that all elements of the contact center can be replaced.
The Benefit of Telephone Customer Service
Multi- and omni-channel contact centers offer various types of communication, including email, online forms, live chat and social media. Despite these numerous communication channels, many customers still opt for the telephone. There are benefits to speaking with a customer via the phone, including:
- Complex issues can be worked out on the phone, where as they may not be able to be fixed over email or live chat.
- Agents can take subtleties, like tone, into account.
- There’s a good opportunity for First Call Resolution.
- Up- and cross-sell opportunities can be quickly identified and acted upon.
- Angry customers may have a better chance of being calmed down when speaking with someone live.
Overall, the more time a contact center agent spends speaking with a customer who’s upset or who has a difficult, in-depth question or problem, the higher their satisfaction rate will be. However, when agents have to spend time on less-urgent queries, they don’t have time to personally handle urgent calls. This is where AI and RPA can work together to ease the burden placed on agents.
How AI Works Alongside Agents
When AI software is part of a contact center’s help desk, it works alongside the team of live agents. This way, it can continue to learn how to handle customer queries. If a query comes in that the AI software is unable to deal with alone, it knows to direct it to a live agent. It will then listen to how the agent handles the query and learn for itself how to deal with that type of issue. In the future, the software may not need to pass the query along to an agent because it’s learned how to handle it on its own. While AI won’t likely be able to handle every type of complex issue, it will be able to field several queries so that agents can spend more time on the most challenging issues.
How RPA Provides Back-End Assistance
While AI and live agents are directly working on customer queries, RPA can do a lot of the maintenance and processing on the back-end. For example, instead of the agent spending extra time to wrap up a call, enter customer data and send notes to various departments, that work can now be automated thanks to RPA. Again, like AI, this type of automation frees up the agent to speak to more customers.
How AI and RPA Work Together
AI technology is able to read emails and queries from customers and extract important information. That information is then either directed to a live agent to deal with the issue personally or it’s passed along to RPA for processing. AI does more than find facts and data in emails, too; it also can figure out the customer’s sentiment, including sarcasm.
Let’s say a customer emails customer service to say that the WiFi connection wasn’t working on a certain train that traveled from City A to City B. AI will be able to understand the issue at hand and extract important information. It will work with RPA to find out if other people have made similar complaints, if the emailing customer has filed this complaint before and if they are a VIP who should be given extra attention. Once the customer’s query is routed to the agent, they’ll get the original customer email along with all other relevant information. Or, if this is a common complaint that techs are already working on, the entire process can be automated by auto-refunding customers for their train tickets.
Contact centers benefit the most from a combination of AI, RPA and human agents. With the advancements of human-free processing, information is processed quicker, cheaper and more accurately than before. Live agents are then available to speak with customers who truly need one-on-one attention.