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Optimising human-machine relationships to enhance customer and employee experiences

(Image credit: Image Credit: Georgejmclittle / Shutterstock)

We live in a world where our experiences drive our choices. Businesses are no different. To differentiate themselves, they must provide experiences that resonate with customers and boost loyalty. This includes delivering quicker, information-rich and more accurate customer interactions, in which Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can play a key role.

The maturity of RPA technologies, combined with the growing acceptance and demand for automation, has turned attended automation in the contact centre into a must-have. The Covid-19 crisis has come as a catalyst, forcing rapid innovation and large-scale agility to cope with remote business operations, remote employees and surging customer interaction. Here, attended automation will help maintain service consistency and process efficiency. However, the role of customer service representatives is far from extinct. Recent research found that over half of consumers who start their customer journey with AI are transferred to a live agent, highlighting the importance of human interactions. That said, customer preferences are continuing to change. Driven by Millennials and Generation X, the demand for digital interactions is increasing, all of which means striking the right balance between robots and humans is key.

Organisations must leverage robots as workforce multipliers and optimisers to achieve the optimal balance between the efficiency and accuracy of machines and the personal warmth of a human touch. And, to ensure this kind of human touch positively impacts the customer experience, it is important not just to free agents of administrative tasks, but also to optimise and engage employees by giving them the tools they need to succeed. With more time and better skills, a more engaged workforce will be better equipped to deliver the experiences today’s customer expect. Automation, and attended automation in particular, pivots service representatives into an even more value-rich role.

Empathy needed

What customers don’t see when they reach out for support are the challenges that the agent they are interacting with is facing. Typically, agents can be faced with multiple laborious manual tasks that prevent them from interacting with customers, leading to unnecessary frustration and increased waiting times. These tasks include recaps after calls, manually inputting formulas that are to be filled in twice or more, compliance-related tasks and updating documents that have to be completed manually and individually. All these additional responsibilities take up precious time and push agents away from more connected one-to-one, human-like interactions. In times of surging interactions like the ones we face, these tasks can take up a very large part of an agent’s day.

The role of RPA must be re-evaluated and optimised to minimise manual tasks that add little to no value to the customer experience. Automation technology is key to improving efficiency, boosting productivity and saving money by assisting with many of the error-prone manual tasks that are still carried out by contact centre agents. However, robots cannot replace the personal touch, which sit, now more than ever, at the heart of quality customer service. By freeing up agents’ time through automation, they will be able to focus on delivering this human touch. But this isn’t the only benefit of automation, as it will also help empower and engage agents more effectively, in turn further improving the customer and employee experience.

Prioritise employee wellbeing

So how will investment in attended automation technology improve customer experience while empowering agents to achieve their key performance metrics and goals in an engaging way? This investment into the wellbeing of the employee has numerous ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ benefits.

For example, by enabling employees to focus more time on interesting tasks, automation minimises staff churn. It also provides employees with on-the-job training in real-time, producing higher retention of training objectives. Attended automation also reduces training costs through the reduction of classroom training, as well as provide employee assistance in turbulent times, as seen in today's Covid-19-driven reality... enabling the introduction of new operational processes.

As contact centres empower and engage their agents, the quality of the human interactions – which now occupies most of their time when helping customers – will also increase.

The route to an improved customer experience

Attended automation is designed to work in sync with human employees, as well as with unattended RPA bots operating in the background. By implementing this technology, contact centres won’t just free up the agent’s time to facilitate faster and more accurate problem-solving. They will also enable better trained and more motivated agents to fully focus on higher-value tasks that humans are best at, and ultimately improve the customer experience.

With an engaged and optimised workforce, contact centres will be better equipped in a landscape where the customer experience has become a key differentiator. The business landscape is also becoming ever more competitive and customer expectations are rising, which means flawless interactions are now critical to customer loyalty. This can be assured if customers face engaged, empathetic and competent agents who can focus their full attention on providing the right level of support in a timely manner. In today’s new working environment, efficiency and cost control is as critical as ensuring empathy. These challenges would be undoubtedly overwhelming and intimidating for agents to face alone without automation. In many sectors, such as healthcare and insurance, the quality of the interaction is also measured by the level of compassion the agent is able to demonstrate. Being able to understand the customer’s needs, as well as showing care for his or her problem, is a strong differentiator.

Attended automation can be extremely powerful, making contact centre processes faster and more accurate, and giving more latitude to both agents and customers to enjoy better and more effective interactions. On the short run, automation will keep your newly remote agents engaged and on-target as they face surging demand resulting from the Covid-19 crisis. On the long run, better equipped agents will experience their work in a more positive manner, increasing employee satisfaction and decreasing associated costs such as high staff churn.

John O’Hara, President, NICE EMEA