We’ve been talking a lot about automation, artificial intelligence and machine learning recently, with good reason. In my research, I stumbled upon this study that Lori Bocklund at Strategic Contact conducted last summer and it tells an interesting story -- one that we’re starting to see unfold. Finally.
When I first read the survey title, The Future of the Contact Center: Optimism with a Dose of Caution, it struck me. I hate to show my age, but if you’ve been in this industry long enough, you may have seen a similar headline on a similar study in the late 90s or early 2000s. It’s not because we’re bad copywriters, but because this has long been the state of our business -- high hopes and a positive outlook, mixed with glacial actual progress.
For many reasons, the contact center industry’s cumbersome yet mostly functional technology has stuck because, frankly, there just haven’t been many alternatives. But what I see happening in the market, which this data validates in many ways, makes me optimistic about where we’re going.
According to the study, contact center leaders DO BELIEVE bots (machine learning) and robotic process automation (RPA) are the technologies most likely to impact their contact centers. Agree. We talk to companies every day who want to learn how to begin leveraging these new technologies in their environments and understand the upside of doing so.
Leaders also believe that these new technologies CAN indeed improve the customer experience, which is a top goal for everyone. Yay.
They acknowledge that having these technologies in place would usher in a new era of improved employee experiences. (Which we are totally on board with and preach like religion. When the employee experience is better, the customer experience is better. We don’t just talk the talk, we walk the walk. Our vision actually says: We make employees love work and customers love companies.)
Timing is Everything
But here’s where we always get hung up... SOME respondents think automation efforts will reduce the need for frontline staff in the first year or two. But MOST think it will take closer to five years or even more to see a real impact on human staffing.
First, let me say that we don’t believe bots should replace humans. Our stance is always bots + humans. That said, many organizations can and will reduce frontline staffing once an efficient, intelligent bot takes over some of the repetitive tasks from their human workforce. That doesn't mean the employees go away, however… usually it means they, too, evolve and begin taking on more complex work that also helps to elevate their own and the customer’s experience.
So, five or more years seems like a long time to realize any tangible change. I like to think that the software we’re creating today powers faster movement than that. If contact center and customer experience leaders dare to be more visionary and have support from their executive leadership teams, I’m certain they can start using machine learning right now (like today) to take a step on the continuum of evolving greatness.
Because it’s not about a destination, right? We’re not trying to get to the end of finally achieving the perfect EX/CX reality. The reality of it all is that the change will never stop. The goalpost will always be moving. Some organizations will get close to it more quickly and others will lag behind. That’s how it’s always been and always will be. But with the right tools and the right attitude, contact centers can now go faster than even the fastest glacier toward creating the experience employees and customers both need and deserve.