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Will self-service eventually replace the live agent?

When you call your bank or mobile phone provider with a simple balance inquiry or change to your data plan, chances are you’ll be directed to a self-service channel where you can get quick, no-hassle answers to your questions.

It has become very common for companies to route high-volume, low-complexity questions to self-service channels, either by directing customers to a website or having them call into an 800 number and be routed through an IVR.

These channels work for the contact center because they require fewer agents on the floor, which is cheaper, but they also have an important customer experience component. With the “easy” stuff, self-service enables customers to get what they need and get it fast.

Self-service is often faster and simpler, but is it possible that these channels will eventually replace the live agent altogether?

Self-service on the rise

It’s true that more and more companies are routing low-level inquiries and transactions online or through automated IVRs. In fact, some of the modern industry giants like Google and Amazon have always had a model of handling inquiries through self-service or service through less expansive channels.

Even when customers have a question or transaction that cannot be handled on their own, these companies encourage them to access support through e-mail rather than call into the center.

Though e-mail inquiries still require an agent to handle, they are still cheaper because they can be more easily moved offshore.  Also, agents handling online inquiries can generally multi-task, handling several customers at the same time. 

More pressure to perform

But even with these cost savings, there will always be some transactions that cannot be handled through self-service channels. Customers will still have some situations in which they need to talk to a live agent.

It would be hard to service your mortgage online, for example, outside of simply making a balance inquiry or a payment, and complicated transactions such as opening a home equity line of credit still require live interaction with a knowledgeable agent.

Additionally, though self-service options sometimes provide customers with an automated “pitch” for additional products and services, cross-selling and up-selling generally remain the agents’ job. The fact is, very few people purchase additional products and services without having a verbal conversation with someone first.

As self-service options are made more available to customers, the transactions that remain for the call center agent have become more and more complex.

If call centers push the “easy” stuff through self-service channels, the more difficult issues are left for the agent to handle. Not only does this require agents to be more knowledgeable, but the pressure is on for them to deliver outstanding customer service with every interaction, because there are fewer customer interactions overall.

More training, coaching and preparation

As transactions via live agents increase in complexity – and the pressure for agents to make the most of every interaction and customer “touch point” also increases – agents will require more training and coaching to ensure they have the skills they need to deliver exceptional customer service.

More complicated transactions also mean that the type of inquiries and transactions agents handle will become less repetitive and predictable. As agents are called on to answer a wider variety of questions, they must be able to draw from a larger skill set. 

Not only will they need more training and coaching, they will also need access to better real-time tools and knowledge bases so that if they don’t know the answer to a customer’s question, they can quickly find it.

This requires a certain level of “situational” training so that agents are able to diagnose problems and figure out how to best help customers on their own.

With fewer calls coming in, agents can also be trained to service more than one channel – e-mail, phone and chat, for example – so that when volume in one channel unexpectedly spikes, they can respond in real time and immediately handle those types of calls.

Less manual processing & more real-time improvements

Current intraday automation technology enables coaches to recognize agent performance improvements through real-time observations and follow-up, providing proactive feedback to improve agent performance.

Rather than sifting through reports and metrics to find agent performance data and analyze metrics, this technology automates the reporting of performance metrics and uses business rules to trigger the delivery of critical information to supervisors.

Individual agents who need additional training and coaching are automatically identified through the monitoring of relevant metrics before customer service is negatively affected. These agents are taken out of the queue for that specific call type, and targeted training is pushed to the agent desktop during natural downtimes in call volume. When call volume spikes, agents are automatically returned to answering calls before service levels are negatively impacted.

Automatic alerts and notifications also let supervisors know when agents need assistance or have been on a call for too long so that they can coach them in real time. Agents’ skill and queue associations are automatically updated when they complete training and certifications so that they can immediately be assigned to the proper queues and begin taking calls.

For customers, this means always talking to an agent who is best equipped to serve them.

Predicting the new customer reality

As self-service channels become more popular, contact center agents – your company’s frontline workforce – will have fewer opportunities to interact with your customers and solidify your brand.

The truth is, self-service channels are effective for some types of interactions. But whenever you move a simple transaction to self-service, you only have a prediction of how it will impact your center. How it will impact the business in reality is unknown.

The key is to be able to adjust quickly. As customers are encouraged to serve themselves on low-level transactions, agents will have to make sure that when a customer does call in with a more complex issue, customer experience is preserved.

About Intradiem

Intradiem, formerly Knowlagent, is the leader in intraday automation solutions for multi-channel contact centers. Intradiem’s customers achieve an invincible customer experience with a real-time workforce.  Intradiem’s solutions automate manual processes such as intraday task management, intraday staffing, reskilling, channel balancing, and real-time alerts to ensure front-line workforces are poised to react to whatever the market throws their way. More than 450,000 contact center, field service, retail, bank branch, and back office employees around the world use Intradiem’s solution every day. For more information, call 888-566-9457 or visit www.intradiem.com.

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