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The Basics of Bringing Automation to the Contact Center

Contact center leaders want to empower agents with the right tech to make them productive and to focus them on the most important work, but these managers often hit a brick wall. They can’t deliver a quality of service that keeps their customers engaged and loyal to the brand. They can't optimize interactions, process flows, and decisions that foster relationships and trust.

Contact centers are leaning into an automation technology, called robotic process automation (RPA), that provides short-term fixes to these problems. It’s used to digitize common, reproducible agent tasks that extend the life of many of the older applications that permeate contact centers. Our data at Forrester from 2022 finds that 46% of contact center decision makers are already using RPA, and another 20% are planning to implement the technology in the next 12 months.

Here are two forms of RPA available to you:

  • Your agents likely would use RPA bots working in "attended" mode. These bots are invoked by agents in the flow of their work for common tasks like simple cut and pastes between apps, simple calculations, or automation reproductive process flows. In the case of a problem, the robot hands the work back to the agent in real time to resolve.
  • Unattended RPA bots autonomously execute scheduled back office tasks which are picked from a work queue – like claims processing or generating invoices. Typically contact centers use both types of RPA. A task can start with an agent and be supported by an attended automation, which can kick-off unattended RPA to complete the process.

The contact center is a great workspace for RPA. As you automate more tasks and processes you may find that your agents become increasingly focused on the value-added work, as well as escalations and exceptions.

You should be prepared for the following workforce changes in the next five years:

RPA will not reduce headcount.

It will just make your agents more effective. You know that your customers interact with you more often, over a greater number of channels, than in the past. They are also quickly adopting the channels they use elsewhere — like Facebook Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp, and SMS — for customer service interactions. RPA lets you keep up with ballooning interaction volumes by automating basic task work for every agent. This strategy preserves a high quality of service. It will not eliminate large swaths of agents.

RPA will focus agents on tasks that impact customer relationships.

Companies release new products and services, with more complex features at a higher rate than ever before. Your agents take the brunt of the burden of change. RPA allows them to offload repetitive tasks so they can focus on upleveling their skills and nurturing customer relationships. Beware of empathy burnout in these high-touch interactions, and you may have to plan for longer breaks and more varied work for your agent workforce.

RPA will make workplaces more attractive for new superagents.

Agents supported via RPA can be trained more quickly, turning them into highly effective, highly knowledgeable superagents. One side benefit is that over time automation reduces the speed at which companies hire for growth. RPA lets your teams be more productive. This means managers oversee smaller teams staffed with better skilled, more effective, and more satisfied agents. Managers focus on nurturing their workforce, ultimately reducing churn and making their workplace more attractive to new hires.

RPA will make you adjust your staffing. 

Reducing the handle time of interactions will affect workforce planners' ability to forecast and schedule your agents. And this will continue as automation improves and queries become more complex and take longer to resolve. However, Forrester finds that only 13% of organizations report that their WFO practices have been impacted by RPA – a percentage that is sure to grow as more contact centers adopt RPA more broadly.

Don’t overestimate the impact of RPA. RPA bots have the most value in automating tasks within processes. They are not the solution for redesigning and automating complete end-to-end business processes that are at the heart of a real transformation. when used appropriately, however, RPA has a real solid place in delivering tangible outcomes to contact centers.