Robotics is nothing new to some aspects of manufacturing and the IT industry, but it is relatively new in the customer experience (CX) market. The term often conjures up images of little gray machines taking over tasks previously handled by humans – machines making cars, programmed vacuum cleaners and the like. In the CX space, however, we are not talking about machines but about software that can automate routine tasks. For the time being, I don’t believe robots will take over the contact center and replace human agents. Indeed our recent research into next-generation contact centers in the cloud strongly suggests the opposite. It shows that the telephone is still the top channel of communication and that almost two-thirds (62%) of organizations expect call volumes to rise over the next 24 months. Thus agents will continue to handle large volumes of interactions, which may become more complex.
This complexity, plus demanding consumer expectations, requires organizations to handle interactions efficiently and capably or risk losing customers and/or business opportunities. This opens up the opportunity for organizations to take advantage of robotic process automation. NICE, a longtime contact center systems vendor, has offered real-time process automation since 2001, and it recently launched a new product in this market. It now has three products in this space – desktop analytics, desktop automation and its latest, robotic process automation. NICE Desktop Analytics captures information about what agents, or other designated users, do on their desktop, including systems they access, information they look up, data they enter, information they give callers, and systems they update after finishing calls. The analytics enables organizations to track the four basic components of a call – identifying the caller, identifying the caller’s issue, providing a response and completing any required after call work. The analytics component thus can identify best practices for interaction handling and agent performance, and recommend changes to processes or coaching and training.
NICE Real-Time Decisioning helps organizations improve interaction-handling processes. It can, for example, take an account code or calling number and automatically present the customer’s data to the person handling the interaction. This set can include demographic data, financial data, marketing, sales or service data, and an interaction history. It can then take data entered by the person handling the interaction to look up other relevant information; for example, if the caller is asking about a product this information can be automatically popped onto the desktop. The system includes rules and algorithms that suggest what the person should do next to ensure the best outcome of the interaction. The system can also complete some basic after-call work such as updating other systems. This is where robotic automation comes into play.
Either by using analytics or by observation, users can identify processes to be automated. NICE Robotic Automation includes tools for users to map the process, and then develop “robots” – software that includes algorithms and is driven by rules and data – that can automate the process; for example, the software can populate name and address changes across multiple systems, complete claims forms, initiate customer onboarding or send personalized messages. The tools use point-and-click techniques, so robots can be developed by business users with minimal assistance from IT. A robot can be initiated because it detects a trigger (data received) or is kicked off by what NICE calls the “robot controller,” a person designated to manage the operation of robots It then runs in a virtual environment until the process is complete, when it either picks up another task or is terminated. The system is highly scalable: The number of robots can be scaled up or down to match the number of tasks to be carried out. The product also includes multiple security options that program robots to comply with specified regulations.
At one point in my career I worked for a partner at a management consultancy who was famed for saying, “Software makes bad processes go wrong more quickly.” This is often true, and NICE’s process automation is about achieving the exact opposite – creating smart processes that run more efficiently and delivery better outcomes for customers, agents and businesses. In relation to the four components of call handling mentioned above, it can immediate identify the customer, capture the issue, guide the agent how best to resolve the issue and then reduce or eliminate after-call work. In doing this it can also reduce data entry errors, make agents’ jobs easier, improve the customer experience, help ensure that more interactions are completed successfully, and achieve something all contact center managers I know have at the top of their to-do lists – reduce average call-handling times.
Our research into next-generation customer engagement shows that these capabilities align with the top objectives organizations are focused on as they try to improve customer engagement: improve the customer experience (76%), customer service (70%) and business processes (54%), become more competitive (46%) and reduce operating costs (43%). NICE’s process automation products have the potential to impact all of these, so I recommend that companies assess how it can help in their efforts to become more efficient and effective. Does it mean robots will take over the contact center? I think not, but it can make processes run faster and smoother and free up employees to focus more on the customer.
VP & Research Director Customer Engagement