The printing press and now intelligent self-service automate the enterprise

In the past, printing books was a laborious, manual process that produced inconsistent results and did not scale well. Johannes Gutenberg changed that paradigm, developing the printing press, and providing an automated mechanism to achieve consistency and growth. Similarly, intelligent, customer service automation enables businesses to provide a better, scalable, and more consistent experience consumers prefer.
The printing press, and now intelligent self-service brings automation to an outdated system.

A simple invention in 1440 changed the world: Johannes Gutenberg developed the printing press, which reduced labor time, increased business profitability, and has led more than 130 million printed books to be shared around the globe. Gutenberg did not create a new idea, but simply found a way to automate an outdated system.

Following in the footsteps of Gutenberg, enterprise customer service has evolved an automated solution to fix a business problem. Customer inquiries supported solely by humans answering the phone meant companies were unable to meet consumer expectations for 24/7 quality service. Technology provided a means for evolution.

Over the last twenty years, there has been a rapid rate of technological improvement in customer service automation. Increases in hardware processing power, huge improvements in speech recognition technology, and the emergence of natural language understanding and artificial intelligence technologies together provide the core benefits for intelligent self-service.

Those benefits include:

  • Improved customer experience: Technology advances have made interactions with self-service systems seamless, natural, and effortless.
  • Lower costs: Offloading inbound calls and empowering customers to receive a resolution within an automated system allows businesses to optimize how they deploy human agents, thereby reducing costs in the contact center.
  • Changing customer preferences: Today’s consumer demands easy, effortless service twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Automated self-service enables this, to the point where consumers actually prefer self-service over agents.

Intelligent systems allow businesses to cost-effectively scale and provide consistent and accurate customer interactions through embedded business rules, logic and machine learning. This means customers always get the right answer to their question – and they’ll get the same answer every time they call.

Call center agent-to-consumer interactions bring human fallibility into play. Not only does a purely human-staffed call center fail to scale cost-effectively, but if the agent is not well trained, not feeling well, or is simply forgetful, business rules can be communicated incorrectly or inconsistently applied. This can lead to negative interactions, decreased customer satisfaction, and an angry consumer.

Some self-service solutions rely on an attempt to blur the lines between humans and automation. This approach provides a simple, automated front end to the contact center, then routes inbound calls to scores of expensive, third-party “virtual agents” (i.e. humans) who manage customer interactions behind the scenes.

Business buyers should be wary of such schemes. In certain instances, such as when dealing with highly complex data capture, human assistance can provide a bridging strategy while automation is in development. However, over time, these “human behind the scenes” set-ups are more expensive than intelligent systems, and do not scale cost-effectively. Beware of claims regarding fast deployments and low-cost in these hybrid set-ups. Many times what you get are simple applications that rely completely on costly human assistance to deliver any results.

So what do you think: can humans and automation co-exist in the contact center?

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James Mastan

About James Mastan

James Mastan is Director of Solutions Marketing in the Nuance Enterprise division, and has over twenty years of high-tech marketing experience. Previously, James held various marketing leadership positions at Microsoft and more recently founded and ran a marketing consulting company and a mobile application start-up company.