This article originally appeared in the Sept. issue of CUSTOMER magazine.
Enterprise social, combined with new approaches to knowledge management and collaboration, are poised to change the shape of customer care for years to come. These technologies are not only being bridged together for maximum impact on the customer experience, but, when integrated together into an IT process automation platform, they are also creating greater organizational efficiencies by bringing powerful new human-centric automation capabilities to the table.
Automated, Yet Human
As this article is being written, thousands of new automated actions are being added to customer care processes and tools around the globe, allowing organizations to expedite mundane but time-consuming tasks; resolve customer issues in a matter of seconds through cross-system, cross-functional process orchestration; and ultimately, allow customer service representatives to work more cases, faster. And in addition to traditional customer care applications, this new breed of ITPA technology is being used by communications service providers and other businesses to automate everything from service activation and service quality testing, to revenue leakage detection and more.
Beyond the powerful automation and process orchestration capabilities that exist within ITPA solutions today, how is the automation of tomorrow different from the automation of years past, and why is it anticipated to have more of an impact? The difference lies in the way in which new approaches to automation are placing a priority on people and the way they communicate most effectively, and integrating with technologies that align employee interactions and processes with the ongoing needs of their customers.
Enterprise Social with a Purpose
Today, several customer care organizations have adopted social technologies to not only provide a better customer listening platform, but also to improve communication for customer service representatives through the creation of an entirely new social collaboration channel. With Facebook (News - Alert)-like functionality, including the ability to like a post or make a comment, these new embedded tools are adding layers of practical, crowd-sourced insight into the customer care equation for CSRs.
The next evolution of enterprise social is set to push customer care to an even more advanced level. It allows CSRs to instantly collaborate – in real-time – with all of the knowledge contributors that exist across departments and across regions to resolve an unknown issue, and to quickly capture knowledge from a messaging thread into a knowledge database or case record with the click of a button for immediate results.
The evolution of enterprise social in the context of automation removes the perceived barriers to interaction that can be unknowingly imposed within traditional organizational structures, while also empowering CSRs to be in control of their customer interactions. Furthermore, it creates a reward system that increases the visibility of an individual contributor’s impact, with community-based ratings and analytics that show the quality and quantity of contributions.
From Knowledge Management to Knowledge Automation
Perhaps even more than social media, what’s driving the success of today’s new customer care platforms is better intelligence. The information that is emanating out of the new knowledge centers of today is capable of breaking through the limitations of traditional corporate knowledge banks, unleashing data that is timelier, more relevant and more up to date than ever before. And current data, above all, is sorely needed in today’s fast-paced customer care centers. Unfortunately, many companies have spent significant organizational capital to document operational procedures, only to have those procedures outdated in a matter of months.
When ongoing knowledge capture is at the foundation of a knowledge center, made possible by dynamic decision trees with sophisticated algorithms that are just now entering the realm of customer care, self service finally has meaning.
Dynamic decision trees provide an important edge over static decision trees because they allow CSRs to drill down to resolutions faster within the knowledge management database, based on a series of intuitive questions assessing the symptom or the reported customer issue. The effectiveness of these decision trees is enhanced when the organization’s most skilled experts, along with its CSRs, are updating or adding to resolutions in real time to address newly emerging and/or more prominent topics. The result is a method of dynamic knowledge capture that keeps the bank of operations procedures current, so that CSRs are able to rely upon information that reflects the resolutions that work best at any given point in time.
Dynamic decision trees can be extended as the cornerstone of customer-driven, self-service support programs, giving customers themselves the ability to locate relevant support and troubleshooting answers quickly using the same database; to collaborate instantly with a CSR (News - Alert) agent via social channels that are part of the automation platform; and to shorten call handling times by having their decision tree results auto-populate the ticket or case record. For leading edge organizations such as CSPs, these self-help automations represent the next generation of customer care, and they are already taking hold in a growing number of companies around the globe.
Social and Automation at Work in Customer Care
How is this next-generation technology making its mark on business? For one CSP (News - Alert) with multiple offices across the U.S., it’s led to a time savings of thousands of hours each month to impact customer service positively, and a return on investment in less than nine months.
The CSP is using a customer care platform with embedded social media to support the call center staff for its digital subscriber line Internet business. Making use of the solution’s automation engine, CSRs are empowered to solve issues quickly and efficiently, and with less escalation. And through the use of Wikis and other embedded collaboration tools, they are able to quickly and easily leverage the expertise of knowledge workers across the organization.
When a CSR runs an automation for a customer, for example, the system pulls information from a variety of sources and provides a high-level analysis of that information with warnings and corrective actions. It stores these results in a database, which allows the CSRs to go back and review the output of those automations. This searchable knowledge base gives CSRs the answers they need quickly, while significantly reducing the need for them to seek additional support from elsewhere in the organization.
For this particular CSP, it was critical that the customer care platform not operate as a silo, so the company’s leadership team made sure to select a system that integrated with leading case management and IT operations tools. As a result, it was able to build layers of adaptive intelligence, orchestration and process analytics into key performance indicator dashboards, and into reports already in use within existing customer care systems.
Another CSP, facing the 24/7 support demands required for its high-speed Internet and cable modem offerings, has also turned to a new breed of customer care automation. The decision to use higher levels of automation came as the CSP’s customers increasingly lost patience as service failures occurred, and, not wanting to add to an already large dedicated support staff – which spent as many as 167 hours per month dealing with more than 18,000 customer support calls – executives knew it was time for a change.
The company used its new customer care platform to configure automation schemes to expedite response and remediation times for both lines of business. It set up the system to receive instant notification of technical issues, allowing automations to go to work right away to identify the problem and make use of pre-defined processes to correct all common issues almost immediately.
As changes evolve within the CSP’s organization, team members at every level can make use of the platform’s social media tools to modify the automations and adapt processes as needed. In this way, the company has gained a practical and collaborative customer care solution that supports its needs both today and in the future. It is targeted to achieve hundreds of hours in time savings each month, and is making use of the customer care platform to identify problems before they reach a certain threshold, which gives the support staff a preventative edge that it never had before.
There are many more real-world examples that illustrate the power of enterprise social and its ongoing intersection with automation, and what executives need to focus on today is not how far the technology has come, but how far it can take their customer care initiatives. With the right solutions in place, organizations can reach new heights in terms of achieving 24/7 network uptime and preventing loss of service to customers; enhancing internal collaboration and workflow; launching new services faster to market; and attaining time savings of thousands of hours each year to drive new levels of customer satisfaction.
Payal Kindiger is executive vice president, of marketing and managed services at gen-E (www.gen-e.com), a global IT process automation software company.
Edited by Brooke Neuman