• May 1, 2016
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

Tips to Balancing Contact Center Automation Costs and Quality

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When it comes to contact center automation, balance is the key to everything.

“With automation, you need to look at your company, the value to your business, and how important [any technology you deploy] is to your customers,” Crichlow says.

It’s important to note that the customers who call, email, text, or click their way into the contact center are going to be most affected by any decision to automate, whether the technology deployed is an IVR, a virtual agent, a knowledge base, a next-best recommendation engine, or a live chat window.

“You want to understand, before you ever get started, the type of experiences that you want to provide. You always want to start with the customer and how you can provide the ideal service customers need and expect,” Herriman says.

“Where you run into problems is when the IVR is not tuned to customer journeys,” Crichlow says. “Some customer journeys lend themselves to automation and some do not.

“In every industry, there are sure to be some customer journeys that happen a lot,” he continues. “For these high-volume journeys, you want to make it as easy for the customer to self-serve as possible.”

But you don’t want to force the issue, either. “Some companies try to use automation to convince callers to use self-service when they really don’t want to,” says John Busby, senior vice president of customer insights and marketing at Marchex, a call analytics provider. “That just frustrates callers.”

Instead, experts recommend doing some customer journey mapping, which Herriman says will allow companies “to really understand why people are calling so you can design systems accordingly.”

“You need a pragmatic approach, and it all starts with data,” Crichlow adds.

But even with the best, most up-to-date information, there are still likely to be a few hitches.

Busby warns, for example, that when customers say they want more automation, they might not always mean that. “When you go deeper, what they’re really saying is that they want automation to conduct relatively simple requests, like hours of operation or account balances, but for more complex issues, they want to talk to an agent.”

Companies are also likely to run into some customers who do not want self-service at all. “With automation, there is often the assumption that if you provide the information, customers will go and find it themselves. Not everyone wants to do that,” Anadkat says. “For that reason, you need to always offer the customer the option of transferring to a live agent.”

To get around this in the IVR, Busby suggests that companies offer two initial IVR prompts. The first would give the caller the option to stay in the IVR; the second would let the caller choose to be transferred to an agent.

“You should always make it easy for the customer to do what he wants to do,” he says.


When customers have a problem today, their quest for a solution typically starts on the Web or through some other self-service channel. They’ve come to expect—and have become quite adept at navigating—automated phone systems to check the status of flights, get account balances, refill prescriptions, or change passwords. They’ve even become accustomed to email, Web chat, virtual agents, and social media as support channels. If you’re going to offer those options, or other automated self-service solutions, they’d better be easy and convenient, and they’d better be integrated into the rest of the contact center.

“The most critical thing is to make sure that all of the relevant context is passed from the automation to the agent. That transition is where we see the most breakdowns,” Crichlow says.

Companies should look at solutions that have connectors built in so that when customers move from the Web to the phone, the IVR system offers prompts based on their recent online activity, Crichlow says. In the same way, systems need to allow customers to jump from the IVR to mobile chat or email on the same device without having to start over.

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