Smarter Automated Processes Can Enable Contact Centers to Lower Costs and Improve Service

Contact center agents are hired to be fast, accurate and efficient problem solvers. They have to rely, however, on the technology they're given, even if it's outdated. Fortunately, a new generation of contact center process automation solutions can help agents do their jobs better, enable companies to save money, improve the customer experience, and boost accuracy and compliance.

Companies and contact centers that use yesterday's technology are putting themselves at a competitive disadvantage. The experience of a major U.S. telecommunication company illustrates the consequences of using outdated systems. The company was using a legacy order validation process. The process involved four discrete systems, 432 manual steps, and 96 validations. Unsurprisingly, the average processing time was 30 to 45 minutes.

It's clear that providing good customer service under a legacy system not designed for today's multichannel, complex IT environment can be difficult, if not impossible.

Agents Need Quick Access to Customer Info

One of the key challenges agents face is having fast, easy access to all the information they need to resolve a customer's issue. Often, this information spans multiple products, services, systems, knowledge bases, pricing schemes, and other data, all coming from multiple discrete sources and databases.

The problem of disconnected data and disparate sources is complex. The internal systems of many companies have gaps. Mergers, acquisitions, or divestitures can exacerbate the problem. Trying to unify a series of internally disconnected systems across multiple companies is a huge undertaking.

Even the way some contact centers are structured can add obstacles. The center may accommodate both voice and chat communications, but customer communications for each channel are captured in different systems. If the information agents need to solve a customer issue can't be found in one place, they must toggle among different screens to access billing, order management, payment, or other departments. With data widely dispersed, agents may need to manually enter information, which often leads to errors.

Another major hurdle to fast, efficient, accurate service is that very little of the data the agent needs, such as late fees, are calculated automatically.

All of these obstacles to accurate, real-time resolution lead to longer average handling time and lower first contact resolution. This hampers productivity and adversely affects the customer experience. Long waits are unacceptable to customers. If they have to wait for the agent to access relevant information in multiple locations, customers are likely to be dissatisfied.

How can companies better handle the problem of complex and diffuse information coming from different sources? One solution is to take advantage of smarter automated processes and interfaces that bring together seamlessly all the information an agent needs to quickly and efficiently solve a customer problem.

Smarter Process Automation and Integration

These technology-based solutions work by automating all types of data and information, integrating applications and the platforms on which they run, and simplifying process steps. In many cases, it's possible to create a single, user-friendly automated interface that brings together relevant information from discrete sources.

With this process automation and new front-end interface in place, agents can be significantly more productive, improve compliance, reduce errors, and deliver better customer service. Additionally, the system can be deployed across multiple customer service channels.

Some companies have found that they can achieve cost efficiencies of 10 percent to 15 percent for voice and 25 percent to 30 percent in back office with this type of system.

For companies that are concerned about maintaining customer data security and privacy, the interface does not access the core IT system, including any internal codes, databases or other sensitive areas. With the noninvasive technology now available, a company can realize substantial benefits without having to change or upgrade its IT systems.

The results can be game-changing. In the case of the U.S. telecommunications company mentioned earlier, deploying an integrated process automation system with a single interface resulted in multiple benefits, including cost reduction of 67 percent; 200 percent increase in agent productivity; improved data accuracy, from 85 percent to 100 percent; decrease in manual processing steps to 37 from 432; a shorter training period; and optimization of agent time and resources. With the new system in place, processing time dropped to 10 to 15 minutes, a huge reduction.

Is This Solution Right for Your Contact Center?

How might a company implement such a system for its contact centers? While some companies may endeavor to develop and implement a system on their own, others will find that it's easier and more cost-effective to work with a specialist in this area. If they choose to go that route, the specialist will typically get to know the company and develop a need-gap analysis and conduct in-depth mapping that captures existing work flows, process inefficiencies, and bottlenecks. The next step is designing and deploying a process automation system that streamlines workflows and business processes and shares data across multiple systems and applications. The rollout includes testing in the live environment and training.

With better processes and integration, customer service across channels has taken a giant leap. Contact center agents often have a difficult and challenging job. Process automation solutions can make agents more productive, bring cost savings and efficiencies to companies, and set a new, higher bar for customer satisfaction.

Ram Mohan Natarajan is the senior vice president of business transformation at Firstsource.