Although that sounds positive, the reality is that most customer service operations are stuck in the past, for reasons we will examine shortly.
“Your call is important to us.”
Too often, the customer experience of using CSCs is less than ideal. For example, customers contact CSCs for information — to request or cancel a service, make a billing query or register a complaint — and the minutes start to tick by. The call may be held in a queue awaiting the next available agent. When the call is eventually answered, the operator needs a frustrating array of security information and, upon learning more about the query, may need to forward the call to another agent to process the request. Worst of all, this time and effort can still result in the original reason for the call not being adequately resolved.
There can be a lack of clear communication — perhaps from poor agent training. Or, there are excellent agents who are unable to resolve a customer query the first time because they have insufficient information on their screens. Many customers complain of inconsistent follow-up or no follow-up at all, and inappropriate product or service proposals that fail to fit their needs.
If these problems are annoying for customers, they can be devastating for the companies involved. Call centers are often a company’s primary interface with its customers. Long calls aren’t just costly in financial terms — they also impact the business in terms of reputation, brand and quality. Frustrated customers walk away and find an alternative provider, perhaps even airing their grievance on social media.
Call centers are under pressure
The traditional call center operating model is no longer fit for purpose, particularly when call centers are faced with a sudden upsurge in customer interactions, resulting in the kind of message that frustrates the customer, such as “we are experiencing higher call volumes than normal at the moment.”
Through our experience in this sector, EY-Parthenon teams have identified the following challenges that companies face when tackling the progressive improvement of their customer service operations:
- Deconstructing overly complex processes resulting from the different requirements of a broad portfolio of products and services, and a diverse range of customer segments — from residential consumers to small offices/home offices (also called SOHOs), subject-matter resources and large companies
- Interacting with multiple systems, including legacy systems, that have been implemented over time and are difficult and expensive to adapt to changing business requirements
- Depending on a high number of call center agents — with vastly differing training, experience, knowledge and skill — to manage the complex business processes and systems, resulting in overall high operating costs for call center operations
A fragmented approach leads to a fragmented solution
Years of ad-hoc and tactical investment in technologies and outsourcing have delivered fragmented and partial automation of call center processes and operations. It’s clear to see why — the tactical investment has not been supported by effective deployment to re‑engineer the underlying business processes.
Organizations need to stand back and take a clear view of the entire business, with careful analysis of where the problems are and how they impact other areas, and with clear objectives for improvements.
In other words, what is needed is a strategy — with technology at its heart. Technology becomes the main enabler of the overall business transformation, which needs to encompass these four key elements:
- Review entire business processes to spot the problems and bottlenecks, and identify where technology can make a significant improvement
- Use data from the wealth of information available on customer interactions to identify the most efficient workflows
- Adapt and integrate the technology to the requirements of the re-engineered business processes
- Engage with the call center personnel throughout the transformation program, as they are the ones who will largely determine its success
Technology is integral to the intelligent automation of customer service operations, but it cannot be the starting point. The first step is to define the strategy that can help deliver the radical transformation of a company’s operating model. The second step is to help design and implement the appropriate technology to help enable an integrated intelligent automation solution.
Although the main objective is efficiency, there are other benefits, such as improved quality and customer satisfaction — all leading to greater customer retention and brand preference.
For example, the aim may be to deliver a consistently positive customer experience. Reasonable goals would be an improvement in customer satisfaction, loyalty and retention. We would also want to see a reduction in costs with faster first-time call resolution, and more effective use of virtual agents for both text and voice conversations.
The resultant strategy requires digital transformation that is guided by business transformation. EY-Parthenon teams experience of working with clients on the scope for digital transformation of customer service operations identifies three areas of focus for a call center’s operating model:
- Speech and advanced analytics to identify the factors and root causes that can improve the overall quality of service and improve customer satisfaction
- Intelligent automation using appropriate technologies, including robotic process automation (RPA), to reduce the average call-handling time, the manual input duplication and errors, the number of applications managed by agents and the back-office processing burden on call center agents
- Virtual agents, such as chatbots or conversational bots, to recognize and leverage the increasing consumer preference for engaging with text- and voice-based systems
To automate the workflow that drives customer interactions, EY teams need to conduct an in-depth analysis of the various interactions and steps for both the front office and back office, especially as many activities are interconnected. These are the crucial workflows that enable efficient and satisfactory first-time completion for each interaction. Increased technology allows us to relocate back-office processes into the front office, where problems can be solved in real time.