AI Sparking the Next Evolution in the Service Desk

By : Jeffrey McCroskey

January 08, 2018 01:00 PM

Next time you call the help desk, you may be talking to a Robot (and not know it!)


Do you know when you are talking to a robot? Are you sure?  In  the world of customer support, technology is helping customer support organizations find answers quickly and resolve issues efficiently in an almost- human like way; while freeing up “human” CSRs to perform more value-add  tasks like showing empathy and building relationships with customers.


RPA: The Next Gen BPO
During the 1990s, it was common for organizations to cut costs by turning over non-core, but essential functions, to business process outsourcers (BPO).  With lower labor and overhead costs, offshore BPOs became home to routine, repetitive tasks including customer service and support.


Robotic process automation (RPA) software mimics human actions in predictable and repeatable tasks within a process. With the potential to reduce costs, improve quality and increase response time, RPA will add value to the overall interaction between the Customer Service Representative (CSR) and the consumer.


Today, RPA has the same potential to redefine non-core, but essential functions – but in a manner even more cost effective than using offshore labor.


According to McKinsey & Company, “RPA can do repetitive tasks more quickly, accurately, and tirelessly than humans, freeing them to do other things requiring human strengths such as emotional intelligence, reasoning, judgment, and interaction with the customer.”


There are two types of robots -  assisted (structured data, simple rules), which need a human being triggering or invoking the robotic process  and unassisted (simple transactional data), which don’t.  Both take away mainly physical tasks that don’t need knowledge, understanding, or insight—the tasks that can be done by defining rules and instructing the robot to act as a surrogate.


The software robot can be taught a workflow with multiple steps and applications, such as accepting forms, sending a receipt message, checking the form for completeness, filing the form in a folder, updating a spreadsheet, searching a database, etc.


RPA Makes Better, More Valuable, CSRs
How can RPA make for a better customer service experience? Let’s examine a typical scenario:


90% of service calls require an associate to assess the problem on the phone, then solve it remotely, sometimes dispatching a field technician.  Assume an average call time of ten minutes.  Four of those minutes are spent by the associate taking the call, filling out a form, and searching through an immense knowledge database of use cases, artifacts, articles, etc. to retrieve the solution.


While this is going on, the customer is put on hold and experiences an uncomfortable period of awkward silence known as dead air.  The associate may return to the call to reassure the customer that he is still searching for an answer.  Meanwhile, the customer is becoming more agitated.  At his end, he may have his own upset customers.  The pressure builds for the CSR to quickly decide an optimal solution and mollifying the customer.


What if, instead of manually searching for an answer to the problem, the CSR can invoke a robot to search for the answer in half the time and with greater accuracy?  And, while the robot is doing the work, the CSR can spend time building a better relationship with the anxious customer on the other end of the phone.


This is the front line of customer engagement, and service level individuals are better positioned than any other group within the organization to effect positive change, since they have the direct line to the customers.


The benefits of RPA extend to the CSRs, too according to McKinsey & Company.  “In every case we looked at, people welcomed the technology because they hated the tasks that the machines now do, and it relieved them of the rising pressure of work. Every organization we have studied reports that it is dealing with bigger workloads...there will be an exponential amount of work to match the exponential increase in data—50 percent more each year.”


With RPA, only parts of jobs are reassigned to machines, leaving the more interesting work in the hands of humans, say experts. That means more engaged and happier employees, which leads to more satisfied and loyal customers. As the next wave in cost savings for service delivery, RPA is destined to be an integral part of any organization’s comprehensive service strategy.

Jeffrey McCroskey

Vice President of Global Services Operations Centers

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Jeffrey McCroskey is currently NCR Corporation's Vice President of Global Services Operations Centers (SoC). The SoCs deliver managed services to NCR?s global customer base. Mr. McCroskey has been in this position since April 2014. He is a graduate of Harvard Business School (OPM), University of Dayton School of Law (Juris Doctorate) and University of Cincinnati (BBA, Accounting). Mr. McCroskey first joined NCR in June 1994, joining the then Global Industry Strategic Planning team in Dayton, Ohio, before becoming the Managing Director for Global Strategic Alliances & Channels for the Financial Industry, based in London, and led the NCR Corporate M&A team. After NCR he was working as a senior executive with The General Electric Company for some time and then rejoined NCR in 2004, where he first served as NCR's Chief Procurement Officer & Vice President of Corporate Real Estate, then as NCR's Vice President of Service Parts, VP of Cost Reduction & Value Engineering and after that as NCR's Vice President of Europe Services, based in London.