Independent Contact Center Consultants: Bridging Strategy, Technology and Operations Since 2004

Plan for Virtual Assistants

There is a great deal of buzz in the contact center air about “bots” and Artificial Intelligence (AI) and their potential to make agent-supported contacts go away. Yet for many centers, agent-handled contacts still dominate – and will for the foreseeable future. Accordingly, our Future of the CC Survey put Robotic Process Automation (RPA – aka Agent Assistance) as the second “top technology” for CC’s of the future.

Quite a few opportunities leap to mind for transforming the agent experience and improving their capacity to perform tasks and serve customers better:

  • Provide tools that shorten training time while accelerating agent time to proficiency
  • Create systems that make simple, repetitive tasks much faster and easier
  • Streamline difficult tasks by making it easier for agents to discern the proper process steps and/or access just the right information
  • Provide reminders for important process steps to promote first contact resolution
  • Prompt for sales opportunities that could benefit the company and the customer

agent assistance

Too often, centers seeking to improve the agent’s world focus on a basic knowledge base – via SharePoint, an internal portal, or some sort of Wiki. While that has value, it doesn’t go far enough. A good Wiki/KM provides superior search capabilities, a strong mechanism to add information and answers (and weed out bad ones), and guide agents toward answers. I’m a big fan; I’ve written several articles and white papers on KM. And now I’ll add one more reason to pursue it.

A bot/VA/RPA leverages KM and does more. It provides workflows and guidance for process steps. It can prompt the agent to do the next thing as well as trigger other departments to attend to their responsibilities. A bot/VA/RPA can help with routine or complex processes. And it supports compliance, too. Align your KM efforts with your automation efforts so everyone succeeds.

Exciting ideas paired with great design and supporting technology will only be as good as the implementation and support that goes with them. Give due consideration to the resources and professional services that you’ll need to develop and optimize your process automation tasks. While vendors often lead the charge in the development phase, both IT and operations will need to play a role to ensure the solution meets your internal requirements and can be sustained long-term. Likewise, plan for vendor support post-implementation to optimize the solution if you lack the subject matter experts or internal resources to do it yourself. And keep in mind services may go beyond design and implementation; they may include using the vendor’s tools to help uncover process improvement opportunities!

Find vendors that fit your requirements. Review analyst reports from Gartner, Forrester, Ovum, and the like. (They are all writing about this hot area!) See what your existing vendors offer. Explore a variety of sources, including:

  • Vendors that target RPA (e.g., Jacada)
  • Vendors that sell performance management tools (e.g., NICE)
  • Vendors that sell CRM and BPM (e.g., Pegasystems)

Consider offerings for “attended” and “unattended” process automation. Attended solutions work with agents; unattended solutions are fully automated (e.g., an event can trigger them). Some vendors offer both self-service and assisted service, so assess their broader offerings as appropriate for your vision.

As you are working through the design process, making decisions on vendor partners, and sharpening your pencil to capture the design, implementation, and support costs, be sure to identify all the benefits that will sweeten the bottom line and garner approval from your customers and agents. Factors to consider include:

  • Shorter training time and time to proficiency
  • Reduced turnover, especially early attrition tied to the “O-factor” (Overwhelmed!)
  • Shorter handle time
  • Higher first contact resolution
  • Improved employee engagement by eliminating mundane transactions and simplifying complex ones
  • Better customer experience resulting in higher loyalty and increased value, typically captured in customer sat and NPS score
  • Improved access to information and data that boosts both assisted service and self-service

You need the efficiency and the agents and customers need the improved experience. A bot that helps your agents (not replaces them) may be just the answer!