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Why Focus on People in the Age of Automation?

boost call center agent engagement Technological innovation has transformed the way companies do business, but transformation has not been spread evenly across organizations. For example, innovation has enabled Amazon to suggest products you didn’t even realize you wanted and deliver them within hours, but a lack of innovation in contact centers means you and I still spend 43 days of our lives on hold.

Investment dilemma

Most contact centers generate costs but not profits, so they are not high investment priorities for most businesses. Traditionally, centers have been slow to adopt new technologies largely due to budget constraints. Labor costs absorb roughly 70% of a contact center budget, and there is little left for investment in technology—whose ROI is difficult to measure and whose benefits may take years to have an impact.

This labor vs. technology investment dilemma is self-perpetuating: Contact center attrition rates are notoriously high, as inefficient processes cause agents to feel overworked and underappreciated. Many agents turn over each year, and onboarding a replacement can cost up to three times an agent’s salary. As a result, short-term budgetary concerns prevent businesses from investing in the very tools that could help solve their main long-term cost problem.

Technology as transformer

How can businesses break this logjam? By freeing up more investment resources for innovation. Clearly, those additional resources can only come from reducing labor costs and addressing chronic issues like agent attrition. A technology able to free significant financial resources for innovation by reducing labor costs would transform the contact center. Intelligent automation is that technology.

Here are three examples:

  • When it comes to improving handle time, it’s impossible for humans to manually track and proactively address instances when agents spend too much time in after-call work or leave customers on hold for too long. But with intelligent automation, business rules are put in place to monitor these metrics and remind agents when they cross specific thresholds. This helps them stay on track to meet their KPIs, and also helps maintain consistent customer experiences.
  • When an agent takes a call right before a lunch break, it delays the break and creates extra work for the WFM team, which must manually enter the exceptions across the entire agent population. With intelligent automation, ACD and WFM metrics are evaluated so that automation can proactively send agents to lunch early. This helps maintain agent engagement and eliminates manual work for the WFM team.
  • When agents select the wrong AUX state—whether by mistake or as a call avoidance tactic—manually identifying outliers is challenging and coaching agents on this behavior weeks after the fact is not effective. With intelligent automation, agents are notified in real time and the savings derived from reducing inappropriate use of AUX state is significant.

When added together, these gains from intelligent automation can reduce labor costs in a modern contact center, and the technology will only improve. Intelligent automation finally offers organizations a way to reduce labor costs and free up additional resources to invest in innovation. It also provides a consistent work experience to both remote and in-center agents; this unique ability to ensure location-agnostic consistency will be a major advantage as pandemic restrictions fade and businesses move part of their customer service teams back on premises.

Intelligent automation acts as a “virtual manager” to frontline agents. By linking multiple systems and monitoring agents and center activities, it supports service-level continuity and agent development. This helps agents maintain focus on delivering consistent, empathetic experiences to each individual customer.

A version of this article appeared in My Tech Decisions.