CX Insight Magazine

October 2022

A Semi-Automated Call Center: How To Actually Make It Work

by Execs In The Know

Human talent remains the critical element of any AI initiative.

For decades, contact centers have leveraged advanced technology — from first-generation call-routing systems to interactive voice response (IVR) systems and chatbots that millions of customers still communicate with today — to offload repetitive, Tier-1 requests from agents.

Innovations in technology, particularly the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud-based services, have empowered businesses to make smarter decisions and proactively shape seamless end-to-end experiences that meet both the customers’ ever-evolving needs and expectations, and those of agents.

Let’s take a look at how semi-automated solutions are revamping the call center, helping redefine customer experience (CX), and the ways you can make it work for your business.

The AI-Enabled Contact Center

Adapting to remote work environments, rising query volumes, and increasing customer demand continue to increase the threat of agent burnout and churn. Leaders need to depend on technology to allow agent productivity while also prioritizing their well-being.

In fact, contact centers can be seen as a sandbox for AI-powered CX. There are a range of emerging tools that are being put to the test to not only amplify retention and loyalty, but, ultimately, profit. With the explosive growth of cloud-based solutions and machine-learning tools, robust semi-automated capabilities have been put in the hands of agents.

Semi-automated operations offer a balance between human-powered contact centers and fully automated solutions. There are still many aspects of the contact center that automation cannot handle effectively. Instead, you can semi-automate processes and allow your agents more time to focus on those tasks that require a human touch.

Division of (Human) Labor

The pandemic has changed — and dramatically heightened — customers’ expectations forever. No longer will customers tolerate endless hold times or hand-offs. One bad experience is really all it takes to lose a lifelong customer.

More than ever, great customer experiences depend on the human factor. While increasingly powerful algorithms and deep learning models shape the machine that drives modern AI, human talent remains a critical element of any automated initiative. You can’t expect to automate your entire call center process.

In our 2022 Self-Help Solutions: Exploring Consumer Experiences, Preferences, and Opinions report, consumers were persistent in their desire for easy access to live help. So, it’s no surprise that more than half (57%) of consumers do not feel that brands make it easy enough to get live help. It’s clear to see that brands must prioritize live agent access regardless of how much they intend to invest in and develop self-help solutions.

Based on our previous consumer-focused research, the areas where consumers want agents to improve have remained consistent over time. They demand better communication skills (listening, specifically), more reliable follow-up, greater empowerment, and refined knowledge when it comes to the products and/or services they support.

As detailed in our October 2022 CX Leaders Trends & Insights — Consumer Edition report, 34% of consumers say the soft skills and agent attributes that are most critical to creating an exceptional experience when working with a brand to resolve an issue are good communication and listening.

These days, when you do talk to a live agent, incredible AI tools bring them up to speed before they even get on the line. Agents now know who you are and what you’re calling about.

Empower and Upskill Your Agents

Pre-pandemic, the role of the contact center agent was already evolving.

When deciding on automation tools, you must consider how they will affect both your agents and overall operations. A key foundational element to achieve successful AI implementations now and into the future is to upskill your teams to ensure they know what AI can do and to keep their skillsets and knowledge current. These two things alone relieve human agents of huge burdens and time.

With the growing adoption and application of AI, robotic process automation (RPA), and increasing use of text and speech analytics, agents have replaced many of the repetitive aspects of delivering on CX. Now, agents
are finding themselves liberated to focus on delivering differentiated service to customers when it comes to empathetic, human-to-human connections.

However, when using more complex technology and considerable empathy skills, agents require completely new skill sets, including emotional intelligence, analytical and problem-solving skills, understanding the hidden sentiment in customer interactions, and more. In addition, they must also be empowered to act appropriately to deliver long-term, positive customer outcomes. At the end of the day, agent empowerment drives customer delight. Agents are a significant part of the AI story and critical to the adoption of its technology in contact centers.

When you reskill agents, it gives them the chance to handle more complex calls and even provide customers with high-touch experiences, such as personalized offers. Moreover, agents who experience higher value work can see a clearer path forward when it comes to advancement within the company.

To manage complex and high-value interactions, agents should not only be likable, but have high cognitive ability and strong interpersonal skills. Forrester estimates that, collectively, organizations have earmarked an extra $8 billion for hiring agents with the capabilities to excel in this new environment.

Traditional vs. Non-Traditional Training

Did you know that the average 500-seat call center allocates $2 million a year in staff hours to coaching agents? McKinsey data suggests this substantial investment does not always have the intended outcome.

That’s because traditional training approaches don’t meet the demand of today’s training needs. Typically, training is a scheduled activity between leaders and agents, though scheduled training is often overlooked for more urgent matters. By integrating traditional and non-traditional training approaches, agents can benefit from the most advantageous deep learning experiences, while also reducing the burden on those who are training them on complex topics.

For contact centers, that means approaching training in ways that reflect the dynamic nature of the environment and supporting the learning mediums that agents prefer. One method is to apply speech and text analytics, which allows trainers to analyze the bulk of interactions coming in on the ground floor to determine what each agent can improve upon.

By tracking interactions in real-time with speech and text analytics, training becomes a proactive rather than passive exercise with each customer interaction. According to our CX Leaders Trends & Insights: 2021 Corporate Edition report, 69% of CX leaders expected “Support to be among their top three areas of investment in 2022, with “Recruiting, Hiring, Onboarding, and Training/Coaching” a distant second, at Technologies” 32%.

Simplifying Agents’ Jobs, Maximizing Customer Experiences

Incorporating semi-automation is the perfect solution because it simplifies your entire operation. You only have so many agents, and those agents only have so much time. Making use of automation tools makes the most of your agents’ limited time and frees them up to handle more pressing problems.

If you have been on the receiving end of a poorly automated process, then you know how painful it can be for the consumer and the agent. Using semi-automation to simplify your agents’ jobs and maximize your customers’ experiences makes strong business sense, especially knowing that customers aren’t entirely opposed to automated processes. A recent survey from Tidio shows that 62% of consumers would prefer talking to a chatbot than to a human agent if they need to wait 15 minutes or more for an answer.

Semi-Automation Is the Next Frontier

For all the hype around AI, there are still companies that have not fully embraced it in their call center operations. Nonetheless, adoption rates are expected to soar in the coming years.

As previously mentioned, retaining human talent as a critical element of your automated initiatives, empowering and upskilling your agents, incorporating non-traditional training, and maximizing CX by simplifying your agents’ jobs are the first steps. It is clear that AI is transforming the way we design, build, and deliver CX, and we anticipate that it will continue to be a key capability for years to come.



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