Why Automation Isn't Replacing Live Agents


Why Automation Isn't Replacing Live Agents

By Erik Linask, Group Editorial Director  |  January 21, 2016

I was reading a recent study, Human Touch and the Customer Experience, conducted by Interactions (News - Alert), along with the Center for Research on the Information Society. The focus is on experiences with different customer service channels.

The report starts off stating, “For the customer, the end goal of the service journey is finding the information or solution they need as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

This seems logical, but I remain unconvinced that the majority of businesses use that as a baseline for developing their customer service strategies. In fact, the results actually imply that many businesses are focusing their customer service areas too much on non-traditional modalities.

Social media, chat, and email have all become more prominent forms of customer engagement, but they are still dwarfed by voice. That shouldn’t be surprising in an age of mobility: The majority of customers tend to use the modality that is most convenient (or the only option, which is also convenient on some level), which very often is the mobile phone, since often, customers use their commutes to initiate these kinds of interactions. In fact, according to the research, nine out of 10 respondents enter an interaction with the intent of speaking with a live agent, regardless of the origination channel.

There are several good reasons for that. 

I already noted the convenience factor: Half the survey respondents chose their communications channel based on convenience (and another 30 indicated not having a choice). When driving, voice is the easiest option (and it conforms to mobile device usage laws). In addition, unless looking for basic information – whether directions, store hours, or account balance information – that is simply pulled from a data file, IVRs often are not able to provide adequate resolution.

Similarly, even when an IVR or other feature has been designed to deliver resolution to an inquiry, the outcome becomes dependent on the user’s path through the self-help system, which is, at best, a crapshoot. Direct contact allows for quicker understanding of the issue, which should also result in more efficient resolution. IVR systems, in fact, are held in relatively low regard by respondents, with only about a quarter believing they are beneficial to callers. On the other hand, just over half the respondents see IVR as being beneficial for businesses that deploy them, likely driven by cost savings due automation over live agents, but if the result is lower customer satisfaction, are the savings real?

Social media? Frankly, while it can and should be part of customer engagement strategy, it isn’t made for most customer service interactions. Most obviously, it’s hard to imagine any resolution on 140 characters (sorry, Twitter). But even LinkedIn, Facebook (News - Alert), or other social channels are exactly that: social. That means they are inherently not going to serve individual customer engagements well. Social should remain the domain of marketers and social media teams, who can easily respond to specific customer inquiries with a specific number to call for speedy resolutions, but attempting to make social a major part of two-way customer strategy is an uphill battle.

Live chat is gaining popularity, and it certainly offers an alternative to voice, which can be particularly useful at certain times when voice would be disruptive. That said, other than the audible voice, live chat offers an experience similar to voice-based agents: live, one-on-one interaction – the quickest path to positive resolution, which should be the objective of any customer service organization. Not surprisingly, live and in-person agents delivered, by far, the best perception of customer service (over IM, email, IVR, automated chat, social media, and virtual assistants). 

The bottom line is that customers want speedy resolution to their inquiries, and today’s automated solutions have a challenge accomplishing that. That has potential to change with more advanced natural language understanding capabilities that can interpret callers’ intent, but in the mean time – and likely even then – businesses should bear in mind customers’ preference toward live agents as they consider their customer service budgets.

Edited by Kyle Piscioniere
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