Although Australians have a reputation for being early adopters of technology, recent research by Fifth Quadrant indicates that Australian contact centres may be struggling to keep pace with innovations taking place globally.
Fifth Quadrant recently released its 2018 Australian Contact Centre Benchmark Report, a unique industry report exploring the strategic, operational and technical issues facing the Australian contact centre industry. The report surveyed 143 contact centre managers and executives across a wide range of industry segments including government, health and education, financial services, utilities and telcos, and consumer products.
Last week, Fifth Quadrant's Head of Consulting Stephanie Bauer, and Flamingo AI's CEO Dr Catriona Wallace hosted the second of three webinars on the report, focusing on the topic of multi-channel evolution. We'll take a look at the some of their insights and compare and contrast them with some results from Deloitte's 2017 Global Contact Centre Survey.
Phone and email dominate globally but Australia lags in multi-channel
Fifth Quadrant's study revealed that phone (offered by 95% of organisations) and email (offered by 91%) continue to be the dominant channels in Australian contact centres. Social media (39%) and self-service (38%) are gaining traction, but chat bots (2%) are only being embraced by a very small minority.
"In Australia the interest and use of chatbots in contact centres is really lagging behind what we're seeing internationally," Dr Wallace said, noting that on a global level, analysts predict 30% of customer interactions to be handled by chat bots by 2020. "I am concerned that we don't see much movement away from the heavy reliance on voice and email."
Looking at the breakdown of interactions by channel, Fifth Quadrant's report further revealed the dominance of phone (64%) and email (16%). Chatbot, app, and social media interactions all accounted for 1% or less. Deloitte's research, which was mainly focused on the Americas and Europe (90% of respondents), similarly found phone (64%) and email (18%) to dominate interactions but reported that those regions were far ahead of Australia in the use of chat (6%).
By 2019, Deloitte's respondents estimated that less than half of interactions (47%) would be handled by phone, with plans to almost triple the use of chat (16%). Deloitte also noted that recent advances in the Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based automation of chatbots could pave the way for more rapid adoption in the coming years.
For future channels offered in Australian contact centres, Fifth Quadrant observed a marked increase in self-service (+15%), as organisations focus on reduction in cost-to-serve and improvements in efficiency. The planned introduction of chat bots in 2018 increased to 14%, bringing it more in line with Deloitte's data. Comparing the reports suggests that while Australia definitely is lagging, it is starting to think seriously about catching up.
ROI is a challenge for everyone
One of the main issues with adding new channels reliant on nascent technology is proving they will provide a good return on investment (ROI). Dr Wallace pointed out that although there have been some "spectacular fails" in the world of chatbots recently, other players are beginning to introduce products with a much stronger machine learning or AI backing.
As channels such as chatbots are still in their very early stages, it is understandable that results are currently mixed. Deloitte found that 13% of respondents said automation/virtual assistants/ chat bots would generate the least ROI. However, at the same time, 16% said these technologies would provide the best ROI.
Make room for the machines
So how to best integrate new technologies and channels with human agents? According to Dr Wallace, technological improvements will lead to the rise of "human augmentation", in which virtual assistants are matched with an appropriate call center agent. "We're extremely excited by the potential that this has," she said, noting that it will lead to a 20% lift in agent productivity.
A central idea behind human augmentation – at least in its early stages - is that agents will be trained to deal with more complex, high-level requests; leaving the simpler tasks to the AI. Fifth Quadrant found that in Australia, the larger call centers are beginning to have agents focus more on specialisation, suggesting that they are perhaps considering that it is time to make room for the machines.
Deloitte's research again showed the Americas and Europe ahead in this regard, as all of respondents said they will be investing in talent improvement programs in the next two years, with almost three quarters (73%) saying they will use analytics to better align staff. These results indicate that contact centres in the Americas and Europe are more evolved than in Australia and better prepared to transition to the augmented human capital model that is being driven by technology.
Lack of adoption is a problem
Fifth Quadrant found that many Australian contact centres still lack what is typically considered foundational technology in the industry. For example, almost a quarter (23%) don't use an interactive voice response (IVR), over half (55%) don't use virtual hold, and more than a third (35%) don’t have some kind of knowledge/content management system. "That's given that the number one challenge that has been stated for contact centres again this year is about improving efficiency," Bauer said, adding that workforce management systems are critical in any contact centre above the 50-seat mark, particularly in today's multi-channel environment.
As Fifth Quadrant's and Deloitte's research shows, Australia is significantly lagging the Americas and Europe when it comes to implementing new technologies and preparing for the shift taking place in contact centres which will see humans increasingly augmented by technology.
"Contact centres are not changing or innovating at a rate that we would have perhaps expected to see," Bauer concluded. "The only step difference that is going to change that is going to be technology-driven."
Looking further ahead, Dr Wallace sees the rise of virtual assistants being important not just for contact centres but also customers. In this scenario, we'll see machine-to-machine interaction in which virtual assistants will be able to do business on behalf of us with other machines. For example, Dr Wallace's company Flamingo has been trialling a system whereby Amazon’s Alexa can connect with Flamingo’s virtual assistant Rosie to organise customers’ auto insurance. Wallace believes this kind of machine-to-machine interaction will signal a paradigm shift in how we think about contact centres.