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August 05, 2013

The Evolving Role of Process Automation and the Customer Service Experience

Give contact centers credit. In their effort to improve customer service and increase the effectiveness of how service is provided, many centers have made significant investments in technology as well as people. One payoff has been contact center automation and the efficiency it produces for managing customer interactions. Yet, bottom line, the pressure remains to improve service processes overall and reduce costs at the same time.

To that end within the service chain, the process improvement focus is shifting from front line agents to back office support staff, subject matter experts, field service teams, etc. – components that indirectly serve the customer, but that directly impact cost and service outcomes. Can automation improve the way these indirect resources perform? Certainly it can. The key is to extend automation and its best practices from the contact center to customer service processes and touch-points throughout the organization.

Process automation via the organization’s communications platform

In the contact center, interactions of all different media types are initiated, routed, delivered and processed efficiently using processes automated via the communications platform. Information can be handled similarly. Think of routing a customer’s account record alongside an incoming call so the agent gets a “full view” of that customer and can tailor service accordingly. Where service processes often break down is outside the contact center, in the hand-off of post interaction work activities to other areas. An emerging trend therefore is to leverage the organization’s communications infrastructure to drive process automation across the enterprise, uniformly and consistently, as opposed to deploying various automation products at different stages of a service process and expecting them to work in sync.

Using a communications platform’s ACD and “push” technology, for example, organizations can route and assign process work anywhere in the enterprise in an intelligent automated manner. In particular for post interaction work processes, an organization can leverage its communications platform to support complex logic operations such as parallel tasks, conditional branching, wait steps and similar functions. With a single system to automate and manage every touch point of an interaction – from the time a customer first connects with an agent through all the knowledge workers involved to provide service – the service process is more holistic, and far more likely to produce an improved outcome.

Make no mistake, however. Any sustainable process improvement for customer service involves more than just technology. Factors such as the culture of the organization, historical service performance and customer feedback, corporate objectives, the industry a business is in and associated regulatory considerations can influence which processes to address, and how those processes are redesigned or modified.

Interaction delivery processes to improve post interaction workflows

To handle incoming interactions with greater precision, an automated contact center process can typically integrate a rules-based workflow to match a customer’s issue to an agent’s skills and availability. Post interaction work, in most cases, is less structured. Beyond the agent, a customer’s issue is often circulated to a pool of knowledge workers as a broadly defined request type, such as a “Billing Question.” With little insight as to the history of the request, its status, who should handle it and what’s required to resolve the issue, managing the request after the initial interaction can get cluttered and leave a customer frustrated. One potential solution is an interaction delivery process.

Applied to post interaction work outside the contact center, interaction delivery best practices can be used to accurately route requests to the appropriate servicing entity in the enterprise, such as a knowledge worker in Accounting. Post interaction work delivery can be based on operational business rules for servicing objectives (e.g., Response Time) and resource availability. Criteria for a specified customer and their request can also identify the knowledge worker type responsible for servicing the request. In almost all cases, delivery logic is executed via automation.

On a service level, an interaction delivery process for post interaction work can help ensure that accurate results are being provided to the customer, since those results are coming from a qualified resource assigned within the organization. On a cost level, by eliminating additional interactions from a customer to request an update on their issue or rectify inaccurate information, the business reduces both the direct and indirect cost to “re-service” the request. Mostly, by automating service processes end to end and consistently meeting objectives such as Response Time and First Call Resolution, the customer experience is a more positive one.

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Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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