Client perspectives: The state of automation in the contact center

July 11, 2023

While automation is nothing new for contact centers, the scale and diversity in automation technologies has exploded in recent times. From customer self-service and agent-less outreach, to speech analytics and conversational AI, we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to novel tools.

But what’s the reality of adopting AI and automation in the contact center? We speak to three leaders to find out.

Krisztian Kardulecz, Head of CEE IT Transport Customer Solutions / IT Business Partner HU – DHL Supply Chain

DHL Supply Chain is the world’s leading contracting logistics provider with 1,500 warehouses and offices in over 50 countries.

What’s your overall feeling towards automation in the contact center?

Without automation, we’re working in the past. We’re focused on a future moving forward together with technology. If you want to build a great structure of IT solutions, without automation, it can’t exist. Technology is providing us with a more flexible and stable solution for minimizing issues and wasted time for employees.

We have 5,000 warehouses around the world handling calls every day. It’s important that we can automate everything that can be automated, for the sake of both our agents and clients.

How does automation specifically benefit DHL’s agents?

A clear example is them having to fill out the same data across multiple applications. They aren’t robots, and, for me, it’s so important that they’re happy and they have variety in their roles. If not, they will seek challenges elsewhere. We have to reduce time spent on repetitive tasks and increase time spent on unique challenges that will help them to develop. Automation is the first and most important step in achieving this goal.

And for the clients?

On the client side, a smartly structured IVR system is a key example. Imagine an engineer wanting to replace a small part of a radio tower. The engineer calls one of our warehouses to order the part, the warehouse has to verify whether the part’s in stock, the agent has to call the engineer back etc. Calls like these can occur over 300 times a day with a lot of back and forth. Automation via a smartly structured IVR system cuts straight through this. The same engineer can order the part via IVR, and, subsequently, receive an outbound IVR call to confirm the part’s availability and complete the order.

Do you feel there’s a risk of losing human connection with such automated processes?

For clients, the most important components of our service are speed of resolution and delivery time. If this could be totally automated, then we can be sure this will provide a better solution for them. However, the human and emotional elements cannot be lost altogether.

For me, the solution should be driven by 90% automation and 10% human agents. Again, using the outbound IVR example: “Please press 1 if you received the order, 2 if not, and 3 to talk to an agent.” The option should always be there for a client to connect with an agent. Every client and engineer has different expectations and it’s important for us not to try and restrict their choices to our processes.

Every client and engineer has different expectations and it’s important for us not to try and restrict their choices to our processes.

But automation doesn’t happen from one day to the next. We need to try new things, understand its effectiveness through KPIs and surveys, and, ultimately, evolve our solution.

What KPIs could be applied to understand automation effectiveness?

Everything to do with the customer experience management (CXM) and the internal KPIs we use – response time, solution time per case, average handling time etc. If one of our colleagues is handling a case without automation it’s going to take them, on average, 10 minutes to resolve it because of all the required manual interactions. With an automated solution, we can reduce this to less than five minutes. And, regarding the CXM, we have to understand our client satisfaction levels before and after the automation of a process.

It’s two sides of the automation coin. On one side, we want automation to improve efficiency for us but, on the other side, it has to help our clients too.

Andrew Harmati, CEO – TalentWorldGroup

TalentWorldGroup (TWG) provides premium services for contact center projects through the use of multilingual, native talents (operators) and a range of consulting solutions.

Where does TWG stand with the use of automation in its services to clients?

For us, automation’s an ongoing evolution that we embrace and want to lead in. Of course, automation itself is not a new technology for contact centers like AI, for example, but it continues to reach new heights. While we welcome developments in this area, TWG is also a premium service with native talents operators. This means we strongly stand by the opinion that human operators can only be replaced in special cases, but certainly not when it comes to the real customer experience.

What do you think will be the catalyst for automation becoming more dominant?

It won’t be a question of what the technology is capable of, but a question of the end user – who is a human being. Human beings adapt and change. Gen Z was born in the middle of this tech boom and are far more accustomed to these technologies. They’re now becoming customers so things will eventually change, but I feel this is 10 to 20 years away. For now, previous generations still dominate the customer base and they will always expect some form of human interaction. I think this is just as much about building trust than it is about the human connection.

And do you think your clients feel the same way, too?

In our experience, clients are very open to applying automation to activities such as email ticketing and pre-screening enquiries via IVR systems or even chatbots. This can obviously afford them with a lot of efficiency and cost benefits – especially when handling large volumes of enquiries. However, we know that clients want human involvement when it comes to more complex matters like KYC verifications or refund processes, for example. While AI tools could handle these activities, the technology is still fresh and the trust levels aren’t quite there yet, especially for our customers, who want to retain human involvement.

“We know that clients want human involvement when it comes to more complex matters, like KYC verifications or refund processes.”

How about combining the fresh tech with older, more trusted tools – e.g. conversational AI in IVR – would this help to increase adoption?

We’re the in-between and it’s our job to understand our clients and their end users, so this wouldn’t be our decision. Some of our customers are early adopters and there will certainly be more in the future who will want to see the implementation of these processes. It’s therefore our responsibility, as a BPO, to ensure we have the tools in our portfolio to meet the needs of our clients. However, this can only happen once those tools have been proven to demonstrate unquestionable benefits for clients.

Do you have any concerns about the direction of automation?

As discussed, it’s a natural and ongoing evolution. Its development won’t be straightforward, because, like with many other technologies, it will have its pitfalls and continue to be met with some resistance. Think about where cloud technology was many years ago and it went on to develop and become widely adopted in the contact center industry. The same thing will happen with automation and AI technologies.

This has resulted in an explosion of automation tools and it’s potentially an area where we need to be a little cautious. The more technologies we adopt, the more platforms we need to integrate with. Of course, this is entirely possible through the use of APIs and webhooks, but this can easily grow to become a complex, digital “spider web” of applications. So, perhaps we need a single, comprehensive solution that’s supported by a smart selection of effective automation tools.

Maija Saule, COO – BPO Services

BPO Services provides outsourcing support for contact centers across the Baltics and beyond through its team of over 100 specialized agents.

How is BPO Services applying automation in its business?

We’re still early in our automation journey but we do currently apply processes in a few areas, such as automated emails and call routing. Anything that can provide more structure and minimizes repetitive tasks for agents. On the AI side, we’re using tools for emotional analysis during agent-customer calls and we’ve also done some testing with chatbots.

Interesting. What are your feelings towards AI chatbots?

I personally have mixed feelings about them. I feel it can be quite a cold and impersonal approach in communicating with customers. From a CX perspective, they can often give a customer the impression they aren’t truly valued by the business. However, I feel the use of chatbots for automated, canned messaging – such as responses to FAQs or providing links to relevant resources – are useful but obviously have their limitations. 

I think it all depends on the customer. Some will do everything they can to find the information they need before reaching out, while others will get in touch immediately. But, in both cases, I think human support is still better – whether that’s over phone, email etc.

It sounds like you much prefer the human touch over automation?

Absolutely. I think every customer interaction requires some form of emotional connection and I think this need can only be resolved by another human. It’s therefore important to us and for many of our clients to ensure personal contact is at the heart of customer service. However, I don’t think this is true for everyone, I feel there is a cultural influence over whether customers prefer automation or human interaction.

Why do you feel culture plays a role in automation preferences?

Well, for example, the US is a tech-driven society that’s big on making processes as efficient as possible, and, therefore, perhaps the emotional element isn’t as important. I would think automation technologies are more culturally appropriate in Western countries. Whereas, here in Latvia, for example, customers would much rather call than write. So, I think, in our part of the world, it’s going to take at least 10 to 15 years for them to really embrace automation options compared to the telephone.

“I think it’s going to take at least 10 to 15 years for customers to really embrace automation options compared to the telephone.”

And how about more established automation technologies – like IVR?

IVR’s been around long enough now so that customers have clear expectations when using an automation system like this. You hear a message, have the option to input data, and, hopefully, arrive at the best resolution. Because we have these expectations and experiences in using established automation technologies, it means that customers can be sometimes uncertain when using newer tools – like AI chatbots – where the interaction can go in any direction!

What other challenges do you feel there are regarding the implementation of automation tools?

I think there’s also a lot to do with mind limitations because it’s difficult to know everything that’s possible and all the technologies that exist out there. It can be very energy-consuming because you have to explore the options, learn the benefits, and “sell it” to people internally to get their buy-in. Then, during implementation, things can appear that weren’t expected and you have to also overcome these hurdles. This is why we’re excited about our new partnership with VCC! You’ve already helped us implement a few of your automation tools and we’re looking forward to seeing where things go from here.

Learn more about a few of our automation tools:

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