Automation can help retain customer support service levels while accelerating change

Businesses are continuing to battle the ongoing ramifications of the pandemic. With a second national lockdown currently in place for England, due to last until early next month, and with further uncertainty ahead for UK businesses – both from the pandemic and final Brexit negotiations – many feel they are planning for the unknown. After all, it is challenging to plan for the present right now, let alone the future.

Now, more than ever, agility and the capacity to adapt rapidly are paramount for success and, as such, have been placed high on the agenda for businesses across a range of industries. The challenge of switching to digital, automated journeys remains a key part of the bigger picture. However, economic challenges, staffing decisions as the Government extends the furlough scheme to the end of March, and the need to drive down costs are all fighting for c-suite focus.

Moving forward, technology will be the key to unlocking focused and efficient digital transformation. But it’s important to consider: how do you retain customer support service levels in these uncertain times, while accelerating change? How can organizations move at pace along their digital journey – balancing the need to cut costs with the growing need to optimize the efficiency of interactions and improving customer service levels?

Driving digital transformation with automation

There is no doubt that Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and self-service are two powerful tools businesses should be utilizing to optimize their operations. They offer huge potential to reduce simple, repetitive tasks, whilst improving efficiency, as human-error mistakes are limited to the customer’s side.

It is important, however, for businesses to recognize that people are vitally important. By moving the mundane tasks into automation, organizations can elevate the value that staff provide. This will provide employees with extra capacity to support customers on more complex transactions and requests, and spend more time on meaningful, value-driving tasks.

Automation certainly has the capability to deliver this, but there must be careful consideration as to where technology is deployed throughout the customer journey. As journeys and processes become far less linear, careful mapping and planning to avoid dead-ends, while providing the ability for customers to deal with a person where required, can reduce unnecessary friction. This will also help businesses to provide a faster service, as it reduces demand further down the chain by minimizing customer frustrations.

Automation should not be seen as a cost-reduction tool in its own right; rather, as a vehicle to redistribute demand, placing people in roles that add greater value to the customer and in turn boost profitability. Taking the right approach means that cost and customer experience levels do not always needed to be traded off against one another.

Keeping pace with new challenges

As well as automating existing processes within the business, IT leaders should be looking at how automation can help the organization keep up with new and future challenges. One use-case, which is likely to have a widespread impact, is the increase in defaulted bill payments. With unemployment rates continuing to rise, defaulting on bill payments has never been so high, and sadly, this is only likely to continue. Although before the global pandemic, bad debts and defaulted payments were a relatively minor issue, they are now producing a huge amount of work to process. Inevitably, this is placing extra demand on contact centers.

Whilst new processes are needed to overcome these challenges, back-end systems are not traditionally known for their flexibility. However, the integration of solutions such as low-code can help to automate back-end processes and allow businesses to build new applications quickly – responding to new challenges as they arise. That, in combination with automation, will enable businesses to not only reduce administration work, but also speed up the delivery of processes, such as debt recovery.

When accelerating change through automation, it is important to design processes that not only meet the needs of customers, but that are adopted by employees too. The key to getting it right is to use customer-facing people as a major part of the building process. After all, they have vital first-hand consumer insights, and can identify any issues within current systems that prevent work from flowing effectively.

By using low-code platforms that enable collaboration, employees can work with IT to develop solutions to common customer experience issues. These employees, effectively ‘citizen developers’, can add value to companies and drive developments from the very core of an organization. This avoids the need for businesses to spend significant time and investment searching for seasoned developers, and gives employees the tools to drive automation in a cost-effective way. 

Driving change by adapting to new processes

Essentially, whilst it is important that everyday business users are involved in the development of new processes, it is also crucial that key stakeholders are engaged. When working at pace, it’s important to have the right level of expertise to fall back on. While internal teams may have a strong grasp of the problem to solve, finding a suitable delivery partner that understands the technology is crucial. It is imperative, therefore, for businesses to opt for intuitive tools that allow them to add and prove value – fast. In essence, this means being able to demonstrate the reduction of mundane tasks, increased job satisfaction/employee productivity, and the positive impact on customer experience. Once all areas of the business are on board, organizations can be empowered to drive change at great pace.

With further uncertainty ahead, the next few months are likely to bring even more challenges for businesses. Further economic disruption due to the pandemic, supply chain friction as we head into the Brexit unknown, and satisfying growing customer expectations: these are all things that will keep decision-makers up at night. We all know that running effective lean business models is a priority, particularly now. However, delivering great customer service will be crucial too, even during turbulent times. To help ensure that customer service remains high on the agenda, organizations must act with agility and speed in order to navigate the murky waters ahead.

Richard Farrell, Chief Innovation Officer, Netcall

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