At least COVID 19 has given many of us, either desired or enforced, the opportunity to reflect a little more. Perhaps it is the saved commute time or a more relaxed home environment.
It has led me to ponder that given the actual and anticipated rapid growth in technologies in the workplace such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics, chatbots, machine learning and Robotic Process Automation (RPA), who is managing this new “workforce”? Both Gartner and Fortune report that more than 50% of CEOs believe digital transformation is accelerating, not slowing. Who is managing the customer experience as these new technologies accelerate and traditional servicing channels interact? Who is managing the seamless external omni-channel seamlessly inside an organisation?
What is AI?
A branch of computer science dealing with the simulation of intelligent behaviour in computers. The capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behaviour.
Naturally, collaboration across an organisation is essential in the development and implementation of these technologies including IT, Operations, Finance, Business Transformation but an effective “workforce” needs ongoing care, sustainability, monitoring, reporting and continuous improvement. Who will be doing that once the enthusing implementation is over?
Customer service and operations teams have lived with new technologies for some time, maybe we can learn from this. Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and call routing systems are commonplace and I recall implementing many in my time. There was excellent collaboration with IT and operations, detailed planning, voice talents, anticipated deflection, testing, every element and everything planned and well thought through. A couple of years later, who is looking at success and dropout rates, option tweaking, usage and do we have any customer experience measures?
What is IVR?
Interactive Voice Response (IVR) is an automated telephony system technology that interacts with the callers, gathers the required information and routes the calls to the particular appropriate recipient.
This week I called a household name Fund Manager linked to a major financial institution. The IVR had delays, loud clicking and different voices on each of the trees. I duly entered my customer numbers as requested and went to an agent and was frustratingly asked for all the same information again. The agent, equally frustrated told me “none of that information gets passed through, sorry”. Is the IVR part of digital workforce management? If so, who is managing it? I suspect in this and in most cases, no one is managing it, leading to a terrible experience.
Most of the new telephony systems are less IT department dependent as they are cloud based, quick and easy to install, offer natural voice capabilities and IVRs built and tweaked at the desktop by the contact centre administrator. I do not want to oversell the ease and lack of complexity but rightly, the management and changing of your telephony system no longer requires the time, complexity, project management and cost of the past. Same could be said for welcome messages and hold music but let’s not get started on that here. The advancements and competitive environment for telephony systems has enabled rapid and local business change within the contact centre and IVRs should now be considered part of the contact centre workforce, its digital workforce.
I have been part of many revamps and debates on company websites where ownership, content and functionality are a wrestle between IT, marketing and customer service. Who funds development, what’s on the home page, how easily can a customer access information they need versus what a company wants to cross sell? Easy access to information, forms, FAQ, payments in the age of self-help, are all critical components of customer access and should also be part of your digital workforce. How effectively is this being managed?
Social media servicing has often been a tussle between the communication/PR team and customer service. Who can respond to comments, how quickly do you have to respond, how do you find a balance between intervention and allowing the community to speak? Increasingly social media servicing is sitting alongside or integrated to the service teams who equally manage complaints and thousands of service enquiries every day. But the management of the channel is often shared leading to confusion.
Email, the neglected channel in most organisations, unfortunately is often unmanaged with freeform text, triaging, multiple mailboxes, poor monitoring and reporting and often the source of complaints from customers as “I never got a response”. Who is managing this persistent channel element?
Chat generally appears to have been implemented and maintained reasonably well in the clients we see. They have quality systems to support, ideally integrated with the phone system and reporting. They also have shared or dedicated resourcing with quality assurance and customer feedback. Management ownership more typically is sitting with the contact centre.
What is a chatbot?
A chatbot is a computer program that simulates human conversation through voice commands or text chats or both. Chatbot, short for chatterbot, is an Artificial Intelligence (AI) feature that can be embedded and used through any major messaging applications.
The contact centre, by comparison, is generally extremely well managed. Calls are planned and forecasted to 15-minute intervals, call queues are managed real time, tracking, monitoring and reporting with detailed KPIs, abandonment rates, % answered, average waits, longest wait and multiple agent measures from log in - log out, average handling time, hold duration and in most cases, calls recorded and even customer measures on agent performance. In the main, contact centres in Australia are managed exceptionally well. They are supported by strong leaders, team leaders, and systems and platforms that support them. Procedures are mapped and many with Knowledge Management, there is quality assurance, coaching and ongoing training and process improvements to ensure agents are up to date with process, product and system changes. There is never any doubt about who is managing this workforce and what is expected of them.
While there has been much hype and predictions about the future of technologies, there is a risk that this be left to the IT department to lead and innovate. The adoption and use of these technologies are a now not a “later issue” to think about and will have a profound effect on the customer experience. CX leadership of this new digital workforce is critical.
According to Gartner's 2019 Customer Experience Innovation Survey (echoed in numerous reports), the top three emerging technologies expected to have the biggest impact on CX in the next three years include artificial intelligence (53%), virtual customer assistants and chatbots (39%) and omni-channel engagement solutions (37%).
While these predictions have been around for a while, a 2020 Bain Customer Experience Tools and Trends report found 56% of respondents are currently using Chatbots and that 80% intend to use them by 2023. Interestingly, Chatbots are quickly chasing Self-service portals where there is currently 68% use and growing to 88% by 2023. AI use is behind right now with only 41% currently but with high expectations of growing to 75% over the same time.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA), acting as a digital worker, has moved across the Gartner Hype Cycle to become more mainstream and a more common request for automation for our team. Working in augmentation with the service team and as a Backoffice digital agent they are reducing transaction times by 30% but without management this gain can be lost quickly.
What is RPA?
Stands for robotic process automation and refers to software that can be easily programmed to do basic, repetitive tasks across applications. RPA creates and deploys a software robot with the ability to launch and operate other software.
So, managing your digital workforce is a “now” issue and while I am sure there are many more, here are 5 lessons from IVR’s, email, phone and chat management that should be leveraged in implementing and growing your chatbot, AI and RPA workforce.
1. Digital workforce ownership
The customer servicing team is best placed to be the owner and have accountability for the digital workforce. Increasingly we see marketing taking a leadership role and while collaboration is evident the CX team need more than a seat at the table. My thinking is that the marketing team define policies/market branding/customer experience requirements and that the service teams deliver within these boundaries, driving business objectives and customer outcomes. It is vital that the new digital workforce is integrated with the human workforce and be managed on an ongoing basis. Therefore, the customer service team is best placed to do that.
2. Integration with the human workforce
Just as customers want to move seamlessly from mobile to iPad to phone, the internal management of the interaction needs to equally move seamlessly from digital to human workforce. The integration of these workforces will ensure that resources, funding, capabilities and change management are appropriately allocated. Additionally, it is critical that the human workforce is fully engaged as these new technologies evolve. While the human workforce will be profoundly impacted by technology, there is little evidence that it will disappear and the reliance for outstanding customer experience will be a shared digital and human workforce contribution.
3. Quality assurance and training
It is critical to avoid a “set and forget” post implementation of these technologies. To avoid a repeat of the IVR example, we can take the learning from the rigorous and detailed management in contact centres. Constant quality assurance and monitoring of both the “workforce performance” and the customer experience is essential. Is there any reason that there is not Chatbot trainer or coach whose role is to upskill, tweak and monitor performance? Organisations that do RPA exceptionally well, have established RPA management skills through training and resourcing and have dramatically improved digital workforce performance.
4. Reporting, feedback and evaluation
While Chat management, in the main, has been effective it is largely due to the reporting that has been embedded, similar and often integrated with the telephony platform. Chat volume, duration, enquiry type as a base, agent efficiency and quality management and customer experience feedback are all common features. These features however need to translate over to Chatbots and other technologies where the reporting and ongoing evaluation, post implementation, is often lacking.
5. Continuous improvement
As a result of accountable owners, robust quality assurance, reporting, customer feedback and evaluation, there comes the opportunity for continuous improvement. There is a significant risk that the “new shiny thing”, the next innovation, the next bit in the toolkit becomes more interesting than improving the existing process. The opportunity of integrated ownership across the human and digital workforce provides a greater line of sight and balance on the customer experience across all servicing channels. A change in process or improvements made on the self-service portal or the call centre can therefore be made to the Chatbot or to the automation flow. All channels and servicing touchpoints need continuous improvement.
Customer expectations, rightly, continue to increase and customer experience is the new competitive battle ground taking over from traditional price and product quality. The growing consumer trend to online and digital servicing has accelerated during COVID and studies suggest that these trends will not abate post COVID. [PWC 2020 Global Consumer Insights Survey]. The competitive battleground is here, the new technologies are here and customers appetite of the new and better ways of servicing are here. The organisations that get this right will see improved customer loyalty and retention, reduced costs to service and an integrated and engaged human workforce.
So, the CX future with new technologies is certainly exciting but the lessons from the past must be learnt. Excellent customer experience requires robust and ongoing management, care and clear ownership. I have advocated for integrated management of the human and digital workforce by the CX team and where done, I have seen this work exceptionally well. The risk of getting it wrong is too great. The question still remains, who is managing your digital workforce?
Andrew Carlton is the Lead Consultant at Customer Science, Director Virtual CX consulting and a Certified Practitioner with the Customer Service Institute of Australia (CSIA). If you have any comments, insights or would like to discuss your service transformation, contact him.