In a call center, there are a lot of repetitive tasks that consume time and patience.
As we move toward a more automated world with advanced software and artificial intelligence (AI), you’re probably wondering, How can I use these tools to automate some of the mundane tasks that are holding my team back?
Lots of these time-consuming, low-value-adding activities can be automated by various call center features and tools.
In fact, automation may already exist in your call center software. Read on to find out what tasks you should automate and how to get started.
What Is Call Center Automation?
Call center automation is the use of technology to perform routine tasks in a call center.
By using call center or omnichannel contact center software, you can streamline workflows, reduce the workload on human agents, and elevate your customer service.
Using features such as automatic call distribution, chatbots, interactive voice response (IVR), and self-service, you can eliminate the activities that take up time and attention you could give to your customers.
When you introduce automation into your call center, you’ll see improved efficiency, productivity, and customer experiences from day one. Let’s dig into what you can expect from the perspectives of an agent, the customer, and operations.
It’s important to remember that automation through generative AI is a tool. It’s not a replacement for providing top-notch customer service.
Key Benefits of Call Center Automation
The main benefit of call center automation is obvious: You no longer have to work through the common tasks that consume your time and drain your energy.
Let’s categorize the advantages of call center automation:
Improved efficiency and productivity
Automation frees up agents to focus on complex issues and personalized service. Rather than losing time completing verification processes and transferring customer calls to different departments, they have the time to work through customer concerns and solve problems thoroughly.
Instead of relying on an agent to answer every call and find the right person to deal with the subject matter, automation uses technology to route calls efficiently.
This improves both first-call resolution and customer satisfaction. When customers don’t need to call back, agents are free to handle more incoming calls.
For simple and transactional requests, such as inquiries about opening times or paying a bill, contact center automation provides a self-service model that means no agent time is lost.
Improved customer experience
When agents gain time through automation, your business can provide faster responses. More agents are free to receive incoming calls and have time to treat each customer with the respect and attention they deserve.
Let’s look at the following scenarios.
The process for handling an inbound call without call center automation:
- The caller reaches the first agent available.
- They explain why they’re calling.
- They are transferred to a different department.
- They wait for an agent to become available.
- They explain why they’re calling (again).
- The agent rushes to a conclusion, as they see more inbound calls in the queue.
- The caller calls back, as the problem wasn’t solved.
The process for handling an inbound call with call center automation:
- The caller reaches your auto-attendant or IVR.
- They choose their reason for calling from the numeric menu(s).
- They are routed to the best-matched agent based on preconfigured skills.
- They are offered a callback if there’s a long wait time.
- The agent resolves the caller’s problem during the first call.
For some inquiries, this process can apply 24/7. Where you may have previously needed agents to work overtime or overnight, call center automation provides the ability to manage a variety of customer requests without the need for an agent.
For example, customers can ask for status updates on deliveries or request a copy of an invoice by entering their account number or ticket number and letting automation process the data to trigger an action.
If you integrate your line of business apps, e.g., Salesforce and Zendesk, with your call center, you can outsource most of your transactional questions and provide around-the-clock support to customers.
Reduced operational costs
By reducing the need for agents to handle basic-level calls, you will also benefit from general labor cost decreases. As the need decreases for human agents to perform routine tasks, you may find you’re overstaffed in certain areas.
Use this opportunity to cross-train and upskill employees, covering other areas of your business.
Using workforce management, you can forecast how many staff members you need for specific roles and times, based on real data from your business. There’s no more finger-in-the-air guesswork, just optimal operational costs.
Data collection and analytics
As well as collecting data on the number of agents you need, automated processes are also collecting data on your customers’ behaviors.
For instance, if they have a preference for calling after-hours, you will see a trend and can plan to automate more potential transactions. Start with self-service messages and work your way up to handling paying bills and reporting issues.
Contact center analytics give you a holistic view of why customers contact you. From here, you have insights into:
- Which menu options get pressed most often
- Which menu options don’t get pressed at all
- Where callers are hanging up
- When customers have to make repeat calls to follow up
- Which menu options result in successful transactions
By using these data, displayed in graphical formats if preferred, you can plan for the expansion of your self-service offering.
When you need to onboard call center agents temporarily, they have to go through either a long onboarding process or on-the-spot training. Both of these options need the full attention of experienced agents who you’d prefer to handle calls and escalations instead.
What if you could respond to demand without the need to hire temp staff or go through lengthy onboarding every time? That’s exactly what call center automation enables.
By addressing the simplest tasks via automation, you likely need fewer temporary staffers. If you experience an outage, and engineers are already working on a resolution, you can play a message stating an expected completion time.
Automate your collections process so that customers can pay over the phone automatically.
If customers are calling for any other reason, they then hear your standard menu options.
Consistency in service
When you automate everyday tasks and messages, you maintain a consistent level of service. The result of this is a reduction in human error and the maintenance of your expected brand image.
If your personalized greeting is the same for every customer, there’s no chance of preferential or biased treatment.
When your invoice payments are collected by a machine, there’s no chance of agent error due to mishearing.
How To Deflect Calls Using Call Center Automation
One of the biggest advantages of using call center automation is the ability to send calls to be filtered before they reach an agent.
Instead of having agents ask “How can I help?” 100 times a day, let one of these self-service call deflection services take care of that.
1. IVR systems to simplify call routing
IVR is commonly known as the numeric option you press when calling a business.
It normally sounds like this:
- Press one for sales.
- Press two for support.
- Press three for accounts.
- Press four for anything else.
- Press # to repeat these options.
In a more complex menu, customers may have options that offer self-service, such as finding information about their accounts. Using this automation tool, they can resolve basic inquiries, such as account balance checks, payment processing, or request a callback.
An optimized IVR system can significantly improve your customers’ experience by quickly directing them to the right information.
With efficient routing to the right department or resolving the concern without the need for a human agent, an IVR reduces the need for customers to be transferred around departments.
2. Automatic call distributors (ACDs) to route calls to the right agents
ACD ensures that every single customer is connected with the best agent suited for their call. An ACD feature does so by routing calls based on preset criteria, such as language preference, the reason for calling, or customer value.
You can distribute calls based on caller ID, business hours, support level, and IVR selections.
There are five different ACD methods to choose from:
- Fixed order: This is a hierarchical order, preconfigured by you.
- Talk-time based: The agent with the least talk time today receives the first call.
- Uniform: The agent who has been available for the longest receives the first call.
- Round robin: Calls are distributed within a fixed queue (i.e., agent one receives the first call, agent two receives the second call, and so on).
- Simultaneous: All agents’ phones ring at the same time, reducing the average time to answer.
When you use ACD and IVR together, you’re freeing up agents from doing the transferring and letting customer input and automation do the legwork.
3. Chatbots and virtual assistants to field basic inquiries
When you embed a chatbot on your website, you can provide instant responses to the most common questions. No matter whether you run a call center or contact center, you can use chatbots to introduce self-service.
By creating a database of FAQs, you can use your chatbot as your first line of defense and keep your agents free for more complex inquiries. If the chatbot can’t solve an issue, customers have the option to talk to a human at any time.
Taking chatbots a step further, you can use intelligent virtual assistants or virtual agents (IVAs) to respond to more difficult topics using AI and database lookups.
Unlike traditional chatbots, which are limited to preprogrammed responses, IVAs use natural language processing and machine learning algorithms to understand the context of customer pains and enable more personalized and natural customer interactions. It’s like talking to a human but without waiting for them to type.
Virtual assistants can walk through entire customer accounts, access information and documents, and cross-reference with any integrated systems.
In fact, e-commerce giants, such as Amazon and Walmart, use IVAs (also known as conversational AI) to answer pricing questions, track orders, and provide personalized recommendations. And they do so 24/7, improving accessibility and convenience for their customers.
For complex customer questions, they offer an easy means to escalate to a support rep.
4. SMS-based solutions to provide proactive reminders
As texting is a familiar and easy-to-use medium for many customers, sending appointment reminders and status updates via SMS provides an unobtrusive method for notifying customers about upcoming events.
Unlike a phone call, which may get ignored or derail customers’ days, customers can check a text message at their leisure. Customers are pleased with the reminder, and your late appointment and no-show rates drop.
In support scenarios, you can provide updates on tickets so that customers don’t need to call in and talk to an agent to tell them something that takes 30 seconds to text.
In sales scenarios, use SMS solutions to send information on time-based offers and discounts, such as holiday sales — again, without the need to interrupt your busy customers. This offers a good and more cost-effective solution to using an outbound dialer.
5. Self-service portals to give customers choice
By shortcutting the need to wait for an agent or work through several options on your IVR, a self-service portal provides a private space where customers can access their accounts, make transactions, update information, and find answers to their questions on their own.
Reducing the need for live human interaction for information retrieval, businesses use self-service portals to empower customers to handle issues themselves.
If it’s past your opening time, but a customer urgently needs a copy of their invoice, they no longer need to wait until the next day. Instead, they can log in to your self-service portal and access any document or information they need.
When coupled with a chatbot or IVA, self-service portals provide a two-way, 24/7 option for customer support.
6. Knowledge bases and FAQ to reduce support tickets
How many times do customers call and ask agents the same question?
Document customer questions and comprehensive answers, as these can become a knowledge base for customers to retrieve their own answers, without the need to burden agents.
For partner support, creating shareable FAQ documentation and guides means they’re able to walk their own customers through setup and detailed use cases.
There’s no longer a need for partners to call and submit a ticket every time they have a problem. Instead, they can consult their knowledge base and improve their own resolution time.
For direct customers who prefer to find answers themselves, knowledge bases prove useful, as they can find quick solutions in their own time.
7. Automated email responses to keep customers updated
When someone logs a ticket or makes a support request, their minimum expectation is that it was received. But they don’t know this until you reply for the first time.
How long does that take on average? It differs per industry, but you can be sure your customers will say, “too long”. In fact, HubSpot found that 90% of customers rate immediate responses as important or very important.
You’ve got two choices if you want to provide immediate responses:
- Use a team of agents to respond to emails immediately.
- Use automated email responses.
Automated emails provide immediate acknowledgments to start the customer’s journey with information on the next steps or links to self-service resources.
Using customer information, such as name and email address, and integrating these into other systems for ticket numbers, automated emails provide immediate responses such as this:
“Thanks for your request. Your ticket number is #56789. We’ll start working on your request as soon as possible and aim to provide an update within two hours.”
Ideal for setting customer expectations in terms of time, length of queue, and how they’ll be updated, automated email responses ensure customers feel their needs are being attended to promptly.
Outside this core call center automation, you can also dig into various historical and real-time reports that will help you with call center strategy and operations.
How To Use Your Automated Call Center Reports
Call center automation software can automate the creation of reports, where you can identify trends and patterns happening within your call center.
By referencing customer data and reports, you can empower your business with real, actionable insights, such as peak volume time, why customers call you, and where bottlenecks are forming.
With instant access to reports, you can analyze data outcomes and put in place new or amended process automation. Be it individual or departmental, small data-backed tweaks can make huge productivity gains in your business and improve customer engagement with your support teams.
When you dig into your call center reports, you can:
- Identify when call volume is highest: This allows you to proactively schedule more agents during those days, weeks, or months, ensuring that customers can reach a live agent promptly.
- Reveal the most common customer issues: You can use this information to create self-service resources, such as an FAQ and knowledge bases, and inform your IVR options.
- Identify areas where call-handling processes can be automated: For example, prerecorded messages or automated prompts can be used to provide basic information or guide customers through troubleshooting steps, reducing the time agents spend on repetitive tasks.
- Analyze individual agent call center metrics: Examples of these include average handle time, first call resolution rate, and customer satisfaction ratings. When you have these benchmarks and comparisons, you can identify areas where training or extra support is needed.
Tips To Keep in Mind When Automating Tasks
According to research from McKinsey, around 30% of customer service tasks can be confidently automated. However, the over-automation of your call center may introduce negative results.
When automating tasks within your call center, keep in mind the following considerations.
Start with the lowest-hanging fruit
We’re talking about the repetitive tasks that can be easily automated without impacting customer satisfaction.
These include checking account balances, updating account information, and accessing basic troubleshooting steps. If human intervention isn’t needed, consider removing it from the start of the process. Only use human agents if something goes wrong or your customer needs help with a second issue.
As a rule of thumb, the more often customers ask a certain question, the more reason to automate the transaction.
Provide clear and concise options
When presenting customers with automated options (either in your IVR menu or as options on your chatbot), use clear and concise language that is easy to understand.
In the same style, make sure you present your options in an easy-to-consume format.
Here are some tips for creating your IVR menu:
- Read options slowly and clearly.
- Use a neutral accent and avoid localization (unless it’s part of your brand).
- Offer an option to repeat the menu.
- Repeat options automatically if the customer presses no option.
- Offer an option to leave the menu and speak to a human.
- Review on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis depending on business size and call volume to see which options are pressed the most and reorder accordingly.
Avoid using technical jargon or overly complex menus because they might cause your customers to become confused and frustrated right at the beginning of the transaction.
Make it easy to reach a live agent
It’s important to have an escape route for customers. Provide them with an option to transfer to a live agent at any point throughout the call. Without this option, customers may press the wrong option and ask to be transferred to the right place. This undoes all the advantages having an IVR and ACD introduces.
Note: This applies to both phone calls and web chats.
Don’t make customers struggle to find human help. Instead, offer a numeric option, the ability to say “transfer to an agent,” or a button press on your chatbot.
Personalize the experience
Just because you’re removing the human element from some customer conversations, it doesn’t mean you’re providing a negative experience.
You can personalize the automated experience by linking your phone system, call center software, and customer relationship management (CRM) system.
At the most basic level, this could involve addressing customers by name. More complex options become available the more data sources you integrate. You could provide tailored recommendations based on customers’ preferences, previous sales orders, or conversation histories.
AI can make suggestions for new products or complementary services when customers buy a certain product. Here, there’s still no need for human involvement, as AI-powered data trigger the recommendation or action.
Continuously monitor and refine
When you embrace call center automation for the first time, it’s important to regularly review customer feedback and usage data to identify areas for improvement and optimization.
While automation is taking care of the mundane tasks, you do need to spend some time making sure everything is working correctly. Just because something works when it’s new, it doesn’t mean customers will appreciate it when the novelty wears off.
For example, for urgent customer queries, they are focused on the task at hand. Your customer is thinking, I’ll just press option three and get to where I need to be.
But when they call for the third time in a week and the option they need is at the end of your self-serve menu, impatience and frustration kick in. Your customer is now thinking, I used to be able to get through to a real person.
Adapt and refine the automation you put in place based on customer needs and behaviors. You might even make this part of your quality assurance process.
When you take the time to check what’s working and what needs improving, your customers’ satisfaction is at the forefront of your call center operation.
Automate Time-Consuming Tasks With Nextiva
By automating various tasks and processes along the customer journey, you stand to gain:
- Spikes in agent performance
- Higher employee satisfaction
- Lower call volumes
- Spare time for agents to train and upskill
- More efficient call routing
- Happier customers
- Self-sufficient customers
- Higher first-call resolution rates
Start your workflow automation journey with what’s right in front of you. Providing information on items such as opening hours, account balances, and invoice payments is easy to automate from day one.
But it’s important to always remember that automation is a tool to help make your processes more efficient; it’s not a replacement for people providing customer service.
Even when you’ve implemented your chatbots, IVR, and knowledge bases, there’s still work to be done. Making sure your customers are getting what they want efficiently is crucial to the success of call center automation.
For a service that puts customers first, upgrade to an inbound call center from Nextiva.