How BPOs Can Survive the AI Revolution

How BPOs Can Survive the AI Revolution

They go by many names: call centers, contact centers, or business process outsourcers (BPOs). Regardless of the moniker, these businesses are an integral part of the modern enterprise landscape. 

They provide the manpower to handle frontline customer support, incremental revenue programs, and lead generation efforts that help their clients — large, sometimes multinational organizations — free up in-house resources to focus on more long-term, higher-value strategic activities. 

Yet in an era when every organization is looking to streamline, simplify, and optimize their operations to be more efficient and profitable, BPOs have come under threat from a new generation of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI)-powered chatbots and customer engagement tools. 

To many BPO leaders, these solutions could mean the end of their businesses, potentially replacing their qualified and well-trained human customer support and engagement teams with machines that will handle customer interactions — faster, in greater volume, and at a lower cost. 

But there’s a silver lining for BPOs worried about their future: they can adopt simpler, but still powerful, automation and chat technologies that blend seamlessly with their existing human-powered teams. The result is a human-machine hybrid organization capable of withstanding rapid and widespread change while positioning the BPO as an indispensable corporate partner now and for years to come.

Holding out hope

More companies are turning to AI-powered platforms to address the dizzying speed of industry changes and constantly shifting customer preferences. New challenges demand new approaches, and AI can fill that role well by achieving economies of scale and enabling 24/7 availability without adding resources to the payroll. 

But there are also downsides to AI. For one, the cost can be prohibitive — both for enterprises looking to implement AI solutions on their own as well as BPOs trying to keep up with the latest technology trends. 

Second, AI requires extensive technical knowledge and skill, exposing a drastic shortage of available talent across many organizations. Adding talent with the right skills only inflates costs, and even with a knowledgeable team on hand, the time it takes to develop and program AI platforms can significantly delay time to value.

Then there’s the fact that many customers are still looking for a human touch. The vast majority of customers recently surveyed prefer to talk to a human (86%), and are less likely to use a brand if it doesn’t have human representatives available (71%). And while bots occupy an ever-growing place in sales and customer service, they’re only as useful as what they’re programmed to do. Bots can’t address the more complex, nuanced, and personalized interactions that customers expect, and can even drive customers away. 

Still, this doesn’t have to be a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation. The business landscape is already oriented toward AI and automation, to be sure. But there are interim solutions that allow BPOs to optimize customer interactions and increase client profitability without the need for hefty AI investments that can be more work than they’re worth. 

A better option: humans and chatbots together

As a BPO leader, you’re much better off answering today’s challenges and securing a competitive advantage by starting out with simpler technologies that can eventually pave the way for future AI initiatives. 

By integrating smart, easily configurable chatbots into your existing live chat solutions and automating a variety of processes, you can unburden your customer service and engagement teams of common, repetitive interactions and use the bots to quickly point customer and prospect communications to the right agent. 

These tools can also help collect important customer information to help improve conversions and create more upsell and cross-sell opportunities. In effect, your teams are freed up to engage in the quality human interactions that customers want while also providing the value your corporate clients expect.

Simpler, customizable chatbots can be deployed in a matter of weeks instead of months without extensive coding or cost, and without the specialized skills that may not be immediately available to you. With faster deployment of chatbot technology, you can get a leg up on your competitors while also gaining foundational experience with automation that can evolve into more robust AI-powered tools down the road.  

Smart bots and custom automation solutions eliminate the barriers to entry that keep many BPOs away from advanced or emerging technology. When incorporated into your existing live chat systems and processes, your teams can deliver cost-effective service at scale through a hybrid human-chatbot environment that enables the best of both worlds: personalized, human interaction plus the speed and intelligence of chat technology. 

To learn more about how to thrive in the AI revolution with a hybrid human-chatbot solution, download our eBook “Co-existing.”

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Improving Customer Experiences with Automation

Snapengage Chatbot automation

Blog Highlights

  • 47% of business and individual consumers will leave a brand after a poor customer experience, costing global businesses nearly $100 billion each year
  • Companies are spending thousands annually on per-employee training but struggle with hiring
  • Enterprises that use automation technologies to support human operations increase annual revenues 22% and 8x better retention

Customer service used to be so simple.

Every question, comment, or complaint could be easily addressed simply by calling into a contact center or sending an email to a customer support team — and then wait hours or days for a response. But times and expectations about the “customer experience” have changed. 

Today’s customers — both business buyers and individual consumers — demand engaging, personalized interactions with helpful people and resources across any channel or platform. And while more than two-thirds of enterprises plan to prioritize a connected customer experience, many are finding that the time and energy required to meet changing market demands is more than human teams can handle on their own.

As a result, enterprising business leaders are turning to technology to help improve retention, customer satisfaction, and revenue generation in the connected era. Specifically, they’re discovering that using tools for automating previously manual data entry tasks and with arming human agents with detailed customer information heading into an interaction combine to produce the scale, speed, and insights they need to optimize the customer experience.

New expectations require new business processes 

Me, not we

While many observers are quick to compare pre- and post-Internet purchase habits to illustrate evolving customer expectations, year-over-year trends are more revealing and insightful for business leaders looking to capitalize.

In just the last five years, the number of customers who say they’re willing to switch brands following a subpar customer experience has increased nearly 30%. Such a radical shift isn’t necessarily because companies have gotten worse at addressing customers’ needs, but rather that so many have failed to keep up with how modern customers expect to be served or understand that customer communication is a two-way street. 

The current generation of buyers is already accustomed to communicating with friends and family via Facebook, Twitter, text, and Skype. So why wouldn’t they want or expect to be able to communicate with their bank, credit card provider, software vendor, or any other company in the same manner?

Today’s buyer wants connected experiences that feature seamless handoffs and contextual interactions, both inbound and outbound. That means that when they call into the central customer support team and have to be transferred to a different department or specialists, they won’t have to rehash their issue to each representative or settle for having to speak with a supervisor to have their problem resolved.  

At the same time, they want brands to offer more guidance and more relevant product and service recommendations based on the customer’s previous activities. Whether that’s analyzing their online journey to help steer them toward better solutions or using data from previous phone and chat interactions to send personalized offers, customers expect brands to use their resources and talent to tailor each and every experience rather than continuing with a traditional one-size-fits-all approach — and to do so without jeopardizing their personal information. 

High cost of failing to meet customer demands

Personalizing customer experiences isn’t just a nice thing brands can do for their customers. It’s now a business imperative if companies want to remain relevant, competitive, and in business because customers are no longer afraid to leave long-standing brand relationships in search of better service.

Fickle and Free: Waning customer loyalty can cost billions

As global customers increasingly adopt a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately position toward brands, customer experience leaders at those organizations continue to seek ways of delivering on those expectations without breaking the bank. 

The human element

Supply and demand

The knee-jerk reaction to customer experience management is simply to throw more people and money at the problem. Staffing contact centers, support, and customer success teams with more people and additional shifts every day of the week seems like a reasonable approach on the surface.

Already, companies big and small are spending more on training their existing talent — an average of more than $1,800 per employee each year — and investing significantly more on new talent acquisition than in the past. Yet when it comes to scaling human-based teams to meet growing global demand, they’re encountering an entirely new set of challenges.

The hardship of hiring in the Digital Age:

  • 21st Century communications technologies require 21st Century new skills
  • Team must understand complex technologies like electronic medical records (EMR) systems, networking and infrastructure, or marketing automation platforms 
  • Nearly 80% of global organizations believe there’s a talent gap between their business’s needs and available talent
  • Time-to-hire new talent can average up to 45 days depending on the industry
  • Talent shortages and long recruiting cycles result in increased HR costs, lower productivity, and missing out on revenue because of inadequate staffing

Logically, more resources should translate to the ability to handle more inbound calls, respond to more emails, and take on more live chats, and generally address a greater volume of issues and questions. But even as many older workers make way for a generation of younger and savvier employees, unemployment rates in most regions remain historically low and radically shrink the talent pool — and now human staffing is riskier and more expensive than ever.  

Human nature and limitations

Even for companies able to achieve their staffing goals, many still experience other issues created by employing humans. Namely, humans aren’t capable of multitasking. 

Humans can only concentrate fully on one task at a time, meaning human agents can only one customer at a time. For example, support technicians (like an IT helpdesk team member) often have more than 20 support tickets per day, forcing customers eager for an answer to their pressing questions to wait patiently for help— the exact opposite of their expectations for fast, timely responses. 

And when more than two-thirds of customers admit to using three or more different communications channels to contact a brand’s support team, there’s more information to manage and more work to do to serve each customer. 

66% of customers use 3 or more channels to connect with brands

Source: Microsoft State of Global Customer Service Report

That’s not to mention how most post-interaction data collection and reporting is done manually. Capturing the details of each customer interaction is time-consuming and prone to errors, taking team members away from serving other customers and risking tainting the pool of information the company uses to help improve their products and services. 

Technology to the rescue? Not so fast

Customer support and success teams are beginning to realize what IT teams have known for a generation: that automation can substantially improve productivity and efficiency. 

IT teams have long used platforms that automate everything from rolling out new software and configuring systems to restarting servers whose connections have been lost and taking corrective action to unexpected changes. The explosion of marketing automation platforms and high-powered customer engagement tools gives customer experience teams similar opportunities to streamline and simplify their operations too. 

Automated marketing funnels and email responders help teams communicate with more customers more efficiently, while customer data management tools alleviate some of the burden of manually collecting and organizing customer information. However, like most world-shifting solutions, automation tools aren’t one-size-fits-all. 

Organizations often try and shoehorn customers into a standardized campaigns flows and support programs, resulting in:

  • Communications that are “personalized” only to the extent of using a customer’s first name
  • Sending canned responses to customer inquiries
  • One-way communication, the polar opposite of connected, individualized interactions customers crave

Algorithms can only do what they’re programmed to do and can’t offer the empathy a human can — a critical element to a great customer experience and a long-term relationship. Still, many companies want to automate as much customer interaction as possible to allow them to handle increasing volumes of customer interactions at minimal expense. But for most customers, the only thing as important as getting immediate answers to their questions is feeling like the brand cares about them and their business.

Man + machine, not man or machine

It turns out that while the average customer does like interacting with chatbots, digital assistants, and other automation technologies they still prefer having a human involved throughout the entire customer experience.

In fact, nearly 65% of U.S. consumers and almost 60% of consumers globally feel companies have lost touch with the human element of customer experience. It makes for a compelling case that automation should ‘learn’ from human interactions and data, creating a sort of human-machine tag team that helps brands:

  • Serve thousands of customers concurrently
  • Automate data capture via AI-powered chat and standard forms
  • Deflect simple questions with intuitive self-service/FAQ knowledge bases 
  • Intelligently route to get customers to the right human expert when appropriate

Companies of all stripes can employ a mixed human-and-machine environment to create more connected, personalized, and helpful experiences that keep customers coming back for years on end. It could be a software company that wants to convert a freemium user to a paid subscription, a bank that’s helping a customer reset a password while also introducing new financial planning services, or a hospital trying to schedule a procedure while answering patient questions about new medications.

In each case the ability to address customer questions 24/7 from anywhere, re-allocate human resources to higher-value activities, and collect rich structured and unstructured data are huge business drivers. On average, businesses driven by optimizing the customer experience have: 

  • 1.9x higher year-over-year customer retention
  • Average revenue increase of 22% 
  • Customers who are 7x more likely to purchase more from the company and 8x more likely to try other products or services
  • 80% better performance in stock prices

SnapEngage is helping companies eager to solve the customer experience puzzle find the right mix of technology and human-powered interactions to satisfy a finicky customer base. The flexible, omni-channel communications solution is perfect for enterprises and healthcare organizations looking to improve their customer support, sales, and daily customer interactions.

The platform features easily customizable automated workflows to automatically respond to general inquiries, capture and qualify leads, and assist with common questions when live agents aren’t available. Workflows can be configured to reliably capture essential information around a customer’s request and triage an account before intelligently routing escalated customer inquiries to specific team members or teams for seamless handoff.

All the data collected in forms fields and free-form chat windows is synchronized with CRM and helpdesk systems to create a 360-degree view of the customer that enables teams to:

  • Proactively engage leads based on advanced rules and triggers
  • Securely capture rich customer data from multiple touchpoints
  • Automatically send data to a common repository via compliant data transfer
  • Build custom reports like capacity report to optimize staffing or agent performance analytics to achieve better response times

The expectation of the customer experience is radically different from how it was even a few years ago. And it’ll continue to evolve as market forces and new technologies reshape the balance of power between brands and their customers. Brands that find ways to personalize interactions and proactively address customers’ future demands will be the ones that find sustained, continued success no matter how or how much customer expectations change. 

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3 Ways to Use Chatbots For Customer Support

Chatbot for customer support

In the Digital Age consumers expect to have their questions and concerns answered quickly and in a personalized manner. The rise of new, instant communications channels — social media, chat platforms, and instant messaging — has changed how people interact with and expect their favorite brands to serve them. 

For example:

  • 89% of customers expect a response to their email within a day
  • Consumers will wait an average of 11 minutes on the phone before hanging up
  • Consumers expect chat or other non-phone communications to start within 45 seconds

In response, many enterprises attempt to deliver on these expectations by investing heavily in human customer service teams. But adding representatives to field live calls and respond to emails is neither scalable nor sustainable. And it’s not actually what consumers want. Studies suggest that as much as 40% of consumers don’t care whether a digital representative like a chatbot or real human helps them, just that their questions are addressed and answered quickly. 

As a result, enterprises across industries and sectors are recognizing the value and benefit of chatbots to more efficiently and cost-effectively engage with global customer audiences. Here are three common use cases for chatbots that can help improve customer satisfaction and reduce the cost of customer service.

1. Finding information

Customer support and sales teams are increasingly inundated with a large volume of inquiries. Anything from simple requests about office hours and pricing to more complex ones about installation or troubleshooting may reach a customer support team at any time. More than one-third of customers expect there to be no wait at all to reach customer service representatives, but it’s challenging for human representatives to answer questions quickly and accurately at such a large scale.

Chatbots are ideal for handling these information requests and for giving customers a self-service option to get answers immediately. AI-powered chatbots leverage your existing knowledge base and natural language processing (NLP) capabilities to match customer questions with the information in your database or website. Many intelligent chatbots can even leverage data from customer interactions from across multiple channels to improve the responses they give as time goes on. 

More importantly, chatbots help to free up human resources for other high-value tasks like customer outreach, sales follow up, or market research. 

2. Automated transaction

Sometimes customers need more than just an answer to a question. Sometimes they need help with routine (but important) actions like resetting a password, verifying their identity, or completing a transaction that shouldn’t require human interaction. 

Transactional chatbots are designed to handle these low-complexity transactions on behalf of human staff with relatively little coding or development. Bots can unburden over-tasked support teams of repetitive low-impact tasks from any connected device at any time. Chatbot’s self-service features and robust transactional capabilities can greatly improve the customer experience with minimal additional investment.

3. Seamless service with warm handoffs 

In most cases, chatbots were never intended as a complete replacement for humans. Instead, they’re designed to support and work with a knowledgeable team of human agents. Usually that means deploying a chatbot to popular customer engagement points like a website, shopping cart, or text line where they can triage customer inquiries and resolve any low-level questions or requests.  

For more complex scenarios — deep-dive troubleshooting, specific questions about an account, or multi-product sales opportunities — that bots are ill-equipped to handle, they can be “trained” to hand that information off to an available human agent who’s more qualified and better prepared to resolve the customer’s issue. 

Support teams can design decision trees and routing processes for chatbots so that the customer is seamlessly transferred to the right person at the right time. And when the human agent interacts with the customer, all the information that the chatbot collected is readily available for use, helping to increase one-call resolution rates while reducing hold times, repeat calls, and unnecessary escalations that can increase revenue by as much as 8%

Just The Beginning

For businesses eager to strike a balance between improving their customers’ experiences and cost management, chatbots are an ideal business solution. Automating front-end communications and enabling warm handoffs for complex requests can help companies reduce customer support costs by up to 30% while dramatically enhancing their customers’ satisfaction.

SnapEngage chatbots and live human chat solutions help enterprises in every industry, in any location find the perfect balance between automated and human interactions to meet consumer expectations. The platform’s flexible and configurable workflows help customer support teams quickly and appropriately respond to general queries, while intelligently routing more complex issues to the most experienced and well-trained team members.

Schedule a demo to learn more about how SnapEnagage’s fully integrated communications platform can empower your sales and customer success teams deliver a superior customer experience that drives revenue, retention, and goodwill.

 

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