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The Unexpected Impacts of Digital, Bots and Chatbots

The predictable but unexpected impact of digital, bots and chat bots Digital channels have grown exponentially in the last fifteen years. Customers are keen to use well- structured digital solutions that are convenient and save time. The growth of on-line shopping and on-line sales and service is accelerating and customers clearly like it when it works well. Many pure digital businesses like Amazon, Google and Ebay have some of the highest net promoter and customer satisfaction scores. As digital solutions have grown many organisations are providing chat solutions to support these channels, particularly complex sales processes like insurance or home loans. Chat bots are emerging as a way of automating simple responses and triaging complex requests. In addition, the latest forms of robotic automation are starting to automate data based repetitive tasks. What we have observed is not all companies are ready for some of the consequences of these changes and have customer support models that haven’t yet adapted to these new modes of interaction. In this paper, we’ll explore the predictable impact on contacts and operations. We’ll cover how queries change, the impact on contact complexity and the potential impact on offshore solutions. The change in the nature of contacts

Digital solutions for sales and for service often change the nature and cause of customer contacts. In banking and telecommunications, mobile and digital applications provide customers access to transactional

iinformation faster and in more detail. Customers have adopted these solutions enthusiastically for the convenience and informational power they obtain. In response, they query things that previously they may have seen once a month on a statement. Instead of asking ‘what’s my balance?” they ask “what’s that transaction?” and “why hasn’t this transaction appeared yet?”. Therefore, immediacy has raised knowledge and expectations and now confront support staff with new types of queries. To serve customers well, agents need more information on how long processes take, how they will appear to the customer and how to ascertain more about what the customer can see.

In situations of digital sales and “product application” the issues tend to be about process visibility and transparency. As customers send in forms, or attach documents and proof, they want acknowledgement of receipt and ask “have you received that” and “when will it be processed”. Some of these questions can be prevented but it requires greater transparency and proactive contact. It involves simple things such as acknowledging receipt of documents the customer has sent. For long running processes initiated by customers (complex orders or product applications) proactive messaging is needed to manage customer expectations. Amazon is the master at this as they keep the customer informed of order progress.

Customer expectations need to be set and managed across any long running process. Well constructed proactive messages can address those customer needs. For example, “thanks for sending the XYZ form, we will apply it within 3 business days and email you when complete”, achieves multiple goals because it provides certainty and manages future expectations. One structured message can prevent multiple downstream queries. The third area of new queries is how to do things on digital platforms and how they work. Customers are looking for support and guidance in using digital solutions. Front line staff therefore become first line support for the self-service applications and hence tools like chat can be a more natural mechanism than higher effort mechanisms phone calls or emails. Customers are on the site looking for help and see chat as a method to obtain assistance. Chat can also be turned on or off per customer behaviour on a given page, allowing customers to seek assistance when required. Chat bots can behave in a similar way. Click to call is another option depending on the complexity of the process.

The need to get help of any kind, however, is also an indicator of a problem.

It could be customers don’t understand the page or things don’t work as they expect.

Organisations need to analyse chats and chat causes as a source of potential improvement. Just as we say “the best service is no service” we also think that “the best chat is no (need for) chat”. Even if the answers can be automated, the need for answers is still a potential source of customer frustration and wasted customer effort.

In summary, we think the changing nature of contacts is predictable and controllable. Mature businesses like Amazon analyse contacts continuously to remove the underlying drivers of the contacts. Others are using chat bots and machine learning to automate the potential responses. Organisations need to be ready for these new types of contacts and the skills required to respond but they should also look to eliminate the causes.

The Rise of Complexity and Duration

For many years, we have observed a predictable implication of greater self-service use. As self-service increases, the complexity of what remains in manned channels usually increases too. It seems unsurprising. Digital and mobile applications tend to automate simple enquiries and transactions. What gets left behind are the more complex enquries or problems that a customer can’t solve for themselves. That includes products and services not working well or queries and processes too complex to enable a self-service solution. While volumes of interactions may fall, the handling time tends to increase.

This growth in complexity is something that many organisations have observed. We’ve seen it across industries from on-line retail to banking, insurance and energy. A further challenge is that, as contacts get more complex, the skill set needed to resolve them also increases in sophistication. It becomes harder to isolate simpler contacts suitable for new agents.

To respond to this added complexity requires changes across all operating model dimensions. Let’s look at some examples; from a “resourcing perspective” it means that operations are looking for staff with better problem- solving skills as well as more technical understanding to support customers in a digital environment. This complexity change has implications for induction training.

New staff require a longer induction and more support “on the floor” to handle more complex queries post induction. Another answer we use is structural. New staff are trained to identify calls they can’t handle and forward to experienced agents who can. We find a tiered model can handle complexity better than one with universal agents. Greater complexity also means that complex processes need to be well documented and often re-engineered. The resulting process and knowledge materials need an effective knowledge management solution. This assists agents find and document solutions.

In summary, the net impact of this “upward creep” of complexity is a need to rethink almost every aspect of the operating model so that it is aligned to the new levels of complex work.

Bots and Chat Bots Eat offshoring

Robotic process automation (RPA) and chat bots are flavour of the month. Companies are looking at RPA to automate routine data entry tasks such as taking data from electronic forms and loading it into systems or validating complex data sets e.g. underwriting. Some companies estimate that up to 15% of their “data processing” could be automated. Chat bots are starting to be used in association with web sites and digital processes to answer common queries from the site. We’ve seen them used to help answer queries related to on- line processes and to triage contacts to live agents. These two trends also drive up the complexity mix of the work that remains.

A further implication is that these types of automation will challenge the work that many companies have pushed offshore. The repeatable, low value data entry has often been migrated to locations such as India. Similarly, simpler routine enquiries are the types of contact that lend themselves to off-shore contact centre locations. The net impact of these latest types of automation is that work will come back “on-shore”

but now delivered by automation. Robots can run 24 hours a day, require little managing and deliver predictable performance. We believe they will gradually eat into the value of using cheaper off-shore labour. We’d suggest anyone considering off-shoring should be looking closely at alternative automation solutions. It may also be appropriate to consider any existing off- shored work to see if automation will be an even cheaper solution with better customer outcomes that is easier to manage.

In conclusion, the impacts of digital, bots and chat bots are significant for existing operations as well as offering customers faster processes, greater resolution and channel choice. These solutions have predictable outcomes including new and different contacts and greater complexity of manned interactions. There is also an opportunity to further automate simple interactions and routine data entry. Therefore, to get the full benefits of all this automation, organisations will need to consider many aspects of the way they operate as work becomes more complex and the nature of customer support changes.

If these ideas are of interest and you’d like to discuss them further, please contact us via email at or call 03 9499 3550.

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