The Automated Contact Center Is Not a Myth...

Automation has rapidly become a popular technology across many business departments. ranging from customer service and contact center to sales, marketing, and back-office. It's not new, but with growing computing power and more sophisticated machine learning algorithms, automation has become more efficient, especially in the past five years. Aberdeen's recent Intelligent Contact Center survey found that automation is the second top technology contact center and service leaders plan to incorporate within their activities over the next 12 to 18 months.

<pAberdeen's recent Business Agility survey found that the top three reasons that contact centers deployed automation was to address the impact of COVID-19 on their businesses, reduce costs, and decrease errors from manual and repetitive processes. In other words, faced with the need to control and reduce costs, contact center leaders are leveraging automation to address customer needs. This is where the question of myth or reality comes in: Can contact centers fully address their needs by using automation only?

Results from Aberdeen's AI in the Contact Center survey indicated that firms using automation do indeed improve their CX results while simultaneously improving their operational efficiency. They use automation in a myriad of tasks, including forecasting and scheduling of agents, next-based action guidance on the agent desktop, customer workflows, and within their chat bot and other self-service interactions. When firms use automation holistically across all these activities where there are too many repetitive tasks or tasks that require minimal critical-thinking skills or empathy, they observe the greatest benefits. And those activities that require critical-thinking, such as expanding into new markets, opening new call center locations, changing metrics to measure business results, and addressing more complex customer needs, are handled by humans through agent-assisted channels such as phone, email, and live chat.

Automation isn't a myth. It works when it's implemented as part of a well-crafted AI strategy and used to manage more repetitive and manual tasks to free-up agents' and supervisors' time, allowing them to focus on areas where their skills make a difference. It also helps boosts self-service efficiency.

But the notion that a contact center can be fully automated is indeed a myth.

A fully-automated contact center means that the entirety of customer needs can be addressed through digital employees/bots without any involvement from humans in the case of escalation. It also means that these capabilities allow contact center leaders to eliminate their entire agent workforce and replace them overnight with out-of-the-box bot functionality. This idea allures business leaders as it gives the impression that they can eliminate their labor costs in the contact center and cut telephony and other technology costs without sacrificing operational needs, such as addressing customer requests.

The reality, however, is much different. Not all customer needs can be addressed through bots. While bots can be used to address simple issues, such as account balance checks, delayed payment requests, or address changes, more complex issues, like discussing the details of an account plan, adding different users with varying features on an account, or discussing and updating coverages, require human critical thinking, understanding, and empathy that bots simply don't have. Furthermore, firms operating across different markets serving customers in different languages and cultures must also adjust their service delivery to align with cultural and regional nuances with which automation struggles in the absence of direct involvement and monitoring.

So, in short, automation has become top-of-mind for contact center and CX leaders for good reason. When used effectively, automation is a critical enabler for firms to reduce costs, minimize inefficiencies, and create happy customers. However, it's important to remember that automation is an enabler and not a driver of contact center activities. It's ultimately the humans in the contact center who implement automation in the right places to achieve its full benefits. It's also humans (both agents and supervisors) who are the last resort when automation does not evolve in perfect alignment with broader market and customer needs. Humans have to step in to address more complex customer requests when automation fails to do so.

As such, we recommend companies think of automation as yet another tool within their toolbox to build an intelligent contact center and abandon any illusions that all aspects of contact center activities can be fully automated to reduce costs. This is the mindset that best-in-class organizations in Aberdeen's Intelligent Contact Center research hold, enabling them to maximize their performance and the get the most out of their technology spend, including what they shell out for automation.

Omer Minkara is a vice president and principal analyst for contact center and customer experience management at Aberdeen. Follow him on Twitter: @omerminkara.