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How automation will enhance the call centre experience

We’re more used to automation than ever before. There may have been some grumbling about the self-service checkouts that have become the norm in many supermarkets, but it turns out many people are happy to scan their own shopping in return for the speed that these kiosks offer. Inside the home, it’s a similar story—despite scare stories about always-on surveillance by tech giants like Amazon and Google, people are using Alexa and Google Home every day to adjust their heating and play music.

Now that automation has a foothold in everyday lives, people are likely to be far more welcoming of similar technology in other situations. Familiarity, in this case, breeds acceptance—someone who tells Alexa to update their shopping list, then asks Siri the way to the store, and uses an automatic checkout is not going to balk when they call their bank only to be confronted with an automated service.

Banks and other service providers have in the past been reluctant to automate their call centres. Customers calling with complaints could be more likely to get frustrated at not being able to speak to a human, and those calling with enquiries may end up complaining about having to deal with a machine. But automation and voice recognition are now more than sophisticated enough that they should reconsider—and ubiquitous enough to be just one of many such interactions.

The potential for automation in the call centre
Call centre agents need to be trained to help customers with a wide variety of enquiries. For financial services organisations, this could range from a simple balance enquiry to in-depth questions about a mortgage application. However, it’s far likely to be the former. 80% of enquiries received by a customer service team will be on 20% of the topics they cover. As such, call centre staff are usually divided into specialist teams, so complex enquiries can be passed on, leaving front line staff free to deal with the bulk of calls.

This has a number of effects. One is that customers are more often transferred, and even if all of the right customer details are transferred perfectly, there is always going to be a certain amount of friction as the customer waits and a new agent picks up the enquiry. When a transfer is done badly, it’s a major pain point for the customer as details that have already been explained need to be repeated.

It can also be damaging to call centre morale if the same queries are dealt with time and time again. This isn’t the greatest use of staff who have been trained to deal with a range of enquiries. By automating these basic enquiries through a voice recognition system, fewer calls have to be transferred, staff can make better use of their training and—of course—waiting times for a call centre agent can be slashed.

Call centres tend to use basic metrics to judge how well they are doing, such as the number of people in the queue and how long they need to wait. If simple enquiries are automated, there’s an opportunity to not only offer a better experience, but also look at more sophisticated metrics to judge how effective customer service is.

Automation for the people
Automation is often looked upon as something that is a danger to jobs, when in fact what it more often does is change the nature of them. Here, the most basic and rote of tasks become automated: For example, when customers call about their balance because they don’t have easy access to an ATM and their smartphone is out of charge, they no longer have to speak to a person, they simply ask for their balance and receive it. Meanwhile, if other customers have a number of transactions they don’t recognise and need more detailed information, they can be transferred to an agent for this.

The result is a far more personalised service all round. Modern interactive voice response systems don’t listen for keywords and offer stock responses, but instead use AI-powered speech recognition to allow callers to speak naturally in their own words while intelligently capturing intent. By integrating voice with other channels the automated system can proactively identify callers and create a personalised experience that anticipates customer needs, making it more likely that customers will self-serve. Meanwhile, without the same time pressure to deal with dozens of rote calls every day, call centre agents can better attend to customer needs—“Is there anything else I can help you with today?” becomes a genuine question rather than asked out of necessity.

Finally, automation through interactive voice response is not just a way to lessen the pressure on call centres, but may be what younger customers actually want. For those aged 40 and under, using a phone to make calls is a source of anxiety. According to one survey, 81% of respondents felt that they couldn’t simply pick up and dial. Instead, they would need to gather up the courage to make a phone call, being far more used to communicating through text than over the phone. Where call centre automation used to be seen as a source of customer frustration, it’s now exactly what a growing demographic wants—a trend that the financial services sector should embrace.


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