The Contact Center and Back-Office Automation Opportunity

DMG estimates that 50% of the activities performed by a customer service agent while handling a call can be automated. (The situation is different for digital interactions, but there are still plenty of savings to be had.) Another way of saying this is that the average handle time (AHT) of customer service calls in most contact centers can be cut in half, with the right technology. (This is independent of the percentage of calls that can be displaced by an intelligent virtual agent (IVA).)

The issue is rather simple. For decades, contact center agents have been asked to manually handle all kinds of activities that could have been automated, but the tasks were deemed too insignificant to warrant the investment of the required IT resources, or people just didn’t think about it. Classic examples are cutting and pasting, form completion, fulfillment of customer requests, data propagation, content launch, and more. And now, with the availability of artificial intelligence (AI), the list of agent activities that can be fully or partially automated has been greatly expanded. It now includes after-call wrap-up (including inputting the call summary), identification of follow-ups, many of the actual follow-up activities, up-sell/cross-sell opportunities, real-time guidance, and more. This is just the beginning, and the benefits will be massive for companies, employees, and customers. 

The next phase of this opportunity will be to use robotic process automation (RPA) or virtual assistants (VAs) to fully process customer requests, eliminating the need to pass work from the contact center to a separate back-office department to complete. Examples are the dispositioning of credit line increase requests, mortgage applications, home equity loans, car and boat loans, etc. For healthcare, it covers the handling of prior authorizations, appointment reminders, and claim disputes. In telecom, it would include taking care of upgrades, change of service, and addition of new lines. The point is that instead of passing work from one department to another, RPA and VA technology, enabled by real-time guidance applications at the front end in the contact center, can automate much of the handling. It is possible that this phase of the automation transformation may add time for agents, but by eliminating the need for a back office to complete the request – a second touch of the same item – the company will reduce overall processing time and cost (combined front and back-office) by about 50%. 

It’s not a question of whether or not this should be done, but how quickly companies can get it done, as the benefits are great for everyone involved. Companies will realize major productivity savings, work will get processed more quickly and accurately, and service quality will be better. This will increase first contact resolution and reduce the percentage of work that has to be reprocessed (which is much higher than most companies realize, as most do not have the systems or processes in place to properly identify and track all of the items that need to be reworked because they were not properly resolved the first time the customer reached out. This, in turn, will greatly improve the customer and agent experience as well as the perception of the brand. And it will help companies address staff shortages, as they will need fewer “human” employees and the roles these people perform will be much more interesting and of higher value, which will increase the salary for these positions. The introduction of RPA, VAs, and other business-oriented automation technologies will create new and higher-level roles in service organizations. 

This all sounds great, and the technology and applications to put these changes in place are available. You might be wondering why it isn’t happening at a large scale throughout enterprises. The answer is internal politics. This column has laid out the business case for major organizational changes in enterprises, which will lead to the elimination of up to 50% of contact center and back-office employees. (It will be necessary to hire a new class of employees who will be responsible for all of this automation and resources to drive the transformations.) Transforming functions that have essentially operated the same way for 40 – 50 years may be considered perilous to the people who’ve been doing these tasks for decades, but the risk of continuing “as is” is much higher. If you want help with these initiatives, please reach out to DMG at donna.fluss@dmgconsult.com.