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Robotics is nothing new to some aspects of manufacturing and the IT industry, but it is relatively new in the customer experience (CX) market. The term often conjures up images of little gray machines taking over tasks previously handled by humans – machines making cars, programmed vacuum cleaners and the like. In the CX space, however, we are not talking about machines but about software that can automate routine tasks. For the time being, I don’t believe robots will take over the contact center and replace human agents. Indeed our recent research into next-generation contact centers in the cloud strongly suggests the opposite. It shows that the telephone is still the top channel of communication and that almost two-thirds (62%) of organizations expect call volumes to rise over the next 24 months. Thus agents will continue to handle large volumes of interactions, which may become more complex.

This complexity, plus demanding consumer expectations, requires organizations to handle interactions efficiently and capably or risk losing customers and/or business opportunities. This opens up the opportunity for organizations to take advantage of robotic process automation. NICE, a longtime contact center systems vendor, has offered real-time process automation since 2001, and it recently launched a new product in this market. It now has three products in this space – desktop analytics, desktop automation and its latest, robotic process automation. NICE Desktop Analytics captures information about what agents, or other designated users, do on their desktop, including systems they access, information they look up, data they enter, information they give callers, and systems they update after finishing calls. The analytics enables organizations to track the four basic components of a call – identifying the caller, identifying the caller’s issue, providing a response and completing any required after call work. The analytics component thus can identify best practices for interaction handling and agent performance, and recommend changes to processes or coaching and training.

NICE Real-Time Decisioning helps organizations improve interaction-handling processes. It can, for example, take an account code or calling number and automatically present the customer’s data to the person handling the interaction. This set can include demographic data, financial data, marketing, sales or service data, and an interaction history. It can then take data entered by the person handling the interaction to look up other relevant information; for example, if the caller is asking about a product this information can be automatically popped onto the desktop. The system includes rules and algorithms that suggest what the person should do next to ensure the best outcome of the interaction. The system can also complete some basic after-call work such as updating other systems. This is where robotic automation comes into play.

Either by using analytics or by observation, users can identify processes to be automated. NICE Robotic Automation includes tools for users to map the process, and then develop “robots” – software that includes algorithms and is driven by rules and data – that can automate the process; for example, the software can populate name and address changes across multiple systems, complete claims forms, initiate customer onboarding or send personalized messages. The tools use point-and-click techniques, so robots can be developed by business users with minimal assistance from IT. A robot can be initiated because it detects a trigger (data received) or is kicked off by what NICE calls the  “robot controller,” a person designated to manage the operation of robots It then runs in a virtual environment until the process is complete, when it either picks up another task or is terminated. The system is highly scalable: The number of robots can be scaled up or down to match the number of tasks to be carried out. The product also includes multiple security options that program robots to comply with specified regulations.

At one point in my career I worked for a partner at a management consultancy who was famed for saying, “Software makes bad processes go wrong more quickly.” This is often true, and NICE’s process automation is about achieving the exact opposite – creating smart processes that run more efficiently and delivery better outcomes for customers, agents and businesses. In relation to the four components of call handling mentioned above, it can immediate identify the customer, capture the issue, guide the agent how best to resolve the issue and then reduce or eliminate after-call work. In doing this it can also reduce data entry errors, make agents’ jobs easier, improve the customer experience, help ensure that more interactions are completed successfully, and achieve something all contact center managers I know have at the top of their to-do lists – reduce average call-handling times.

vr_ngce_research_01_impetus_for_improving_engagement_updatedOur research into next-generation customer engagement shows that these capabilities align with the top objectives organizations are focused on as they try to improve customer engagement: improve the customer experience (76%), customer service (70%) and business processes (54%), become more competitive (46%) and reduce operating costs (43%).  NICE’s process automation products have the potential to impact all of these, so I recommend that companies assess how it can help in their efforts to become more efficient and effective. Does it mean robots will take over the contact center? I think not, but it can make processes run faster and smoother and free up employees to focus more on the customer.

Regards,

Richard Snow

VP & Research Director Customer Engagement

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I have been involved in the contact center, CRM and customer engagement business for more than 25 years. Yet only in the past few years have I seen much change. Until recently nearly all organizations focused on handling customer interactions as efficiently and inexpensively as possible; few made much effort to manage customer relationships over the complete customer life cycle. However, over the last 18 months, the scene has begun to change very rapidly, and I expect that to continue and even accelerate during 2016.

What is driving that change? The simple answer is customers. They have changed the way they interact with each other, and this has impacted how they want to engage with organizations. Competition to win and retain customers has gotten fiercer, and with business easily available online, customers can change suppliers at the click of a button. The Internet, and the emerging Internet of Things (IoT), will connect more devices and are generating vast volumes of data that open up the possibility of organizations understanding their customers better and proactively influencing their decisions and behavior. These technologies also enable new business models, as what were physical products, such as music, video or software bought on a disk or printed photographs, become digital or Internet-based services that are paid for through different methods.

With these issues in mind our Customer Technology Research Agenda for 2016 will focus on three primary themes:

The Contact Center Revolution

Our benchmark research into next-generation customer engagement shows that customer engagement is an enterprise and multichannel issue. New research in 2016 will examine how companies are adopting cloud computing to support integrated channels of engagement and make access to all related systems possible from almost any location, including for employees handling interaction on mobile devices. It will also take into account how companies are deploying a new generation of self-service systems and digital channels of engagement that enable customers to serve themselves more easily and if necessary transfer to assisted service and agents without having to repeat tasks. It will examine the need to deploy integrated quality management systems that can connect all quality management processes and link agent-related tasks to the customer experience. Furthermore it will investigate the adoption of collaboration systems that allow any employees handling interactions to collaborate with expert colleagues who can help them resolve customer issues at the first point of contact.

Innovation in the Customer Experience

Much of the consumer research I read shows it is no longer sufficient for organizations to maintain the status quo in the way they engage with customers, which is largely reactive and conducted through a limited number of channels that the company determines. Rather they have to innovate by allowing customers to choose the channel of engagement of their choice, making it easy for them to use those channels and, when speaking to an employee, making responses personal and consistent. In short they need to become proactive in understanding and reaching out to customers, or they risk losing business. The first step is to gain a better understanding of their customers, including why and how they prefer to engage, and this requires advanced technology. Our research will examine how companies are using big data and multidimensional analytics to produce deeper analysis of all customer-related data and to visualize the outputs in more meaningful ways. This trend will extend to using predictive and cognitive capabilities so that the outputs can drive continuous improvement and new business opportunities.

Transforming Commerce and Subscription Processes

The software industry leads the way in using the Internet to change how people and organizations purchase and use technology. Many vendors have moved away from on-premises deployment and one-off pricing to provide services accessed over the Internet and invoiced on a subscription basis. Other types of business are following suit, providing for example music, video and healthcare consultation as on-demand services paid for on a usage basis. The old adage that “80 percent of a company’s profits come from 20 percent of its customers” is no longer relevant as it has become harder and more costly to win and retain customers. Our research will examine how organizations are adopting subscription-based services and billing systems that not only invoice on a more flexible basis but can help increase customer lifetime value.

Each of the above efforts will take into account how organizations are making use of innovative technologies such as cloud computing, big data, business and social collaboration, mobile computing, wearable devices and the Internet of Things, which connects various devices to each other digitally. As usual we will seek to identify both best practices and barriers organizations face in adopting new processes and systems to improve customer engagement.

Our extensive research over the last 10 years indicatesvr_NGCE_15_supporting_multiple_channels that none of this will be easy for organizations. For example, our research into next-generation customer engagement shows that organizations most often struggle to integrate systems (49%), manage communication systems in an integrated manner (47%) and provide consistent responses (33%) at all touch points. Successful change must be driven from the top of the organization and will require coordination of people, processes, information and systems across all business groups.

Perhaps most importantly it will require organizations to break down the barriers between business groups. Marketing will need more innovative ways to attract potential customers, sales will have to pay more attention to what it sells, and customer service and the contact center will have to do more than just respond to customers, instead becoming ambassadors for the organization. I believe organizations will have to pay more attention to customer lifetime value because winning and retaining new customers has become such a challenge. Customer experience again will be key, as any number of reports show that one bad experience can lose a customer. I expect this to be a challenging but exciting year, so please stay connected to keep track of developments.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow – VP & Research Director

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