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RPA in Contact Centers: How Ignorance and Fear Hinders Growth

Next generation technologies like robotics process automation (RPA) are seeing successful implementation in some contact centers, but many corporations are still afraid and uncertain of the impacts that they might have on their outsourced customer services, and it all comes down to a complete lack of understanding.

In a new survey conducted by Peter Ryan at Ryan Strategic Advisory, over 40% of respondents said they were unsure if RPA would impact their contact center operations in the next 12 months, while over 30% said it was unlikely that demand for RPA would increase.

Ryan surveyed 300 global decision makers in companies of varying sizes and verticals. By country, the largest amount of respondents were based in the United States (34%) with Canada representing 20% of those surveyed. The remaining 46% were based in the UK and Australia.

Based in Bogota, Colombia, Mauricio Velasquez, an experienced services executive and a consultant at ISG, has seen that people in the region simply don’t understand what RPA is and what it can do, with many still envisaging an R2-D2 type robot that walks around the office.

“As professionals, we have to help people understand that RPA combines software and hardware to help solve some of the biggest problems they face,” he said. “When implemented correctly alongside the right talent as a complimentary solution, RPA can help overcome retention and training challenges, as well as produce the right business results.”

The Agent Factor

The uncertainty over RPA in the United States was balanced by the discovery that butts on seats are still extremely important, with agent training and retention programs being the top investment priorities for those companies.

There’s been a dramatic shift in how human resources are being treated in the U.S. call center market. While they were historically seen as a commodity resource that could be dropped in and out at a whim, they are now seen as being much more valuable, which is great news for agents, but might be hindering the implementation of RPA technologies.Nexus 2017 banner 3

Velasquez attributes this trend to a shift in mindset, as companies move their focus from transaction-based services to better business outcomes. “In order to produce the right business outcomes, you need to have trained agents with the relevant capabilities,” he said. “It’s expensive to train these guys and consistency has to be sustained, so it’s important not to lose them.”

Is The Workforce Ready for RPA?

“Historically, agents were getting a larger amount of process training than they were “front-line” training, mainly because of the complicated compliance environments that they were working in,” said Declan Maguire, a seasoned client services director based in the UK. “Research now suggests that individuals are able to work outside of this, with better performance and motivation being driven by a larger millennial workforce looking for instant gratification, CSR initiatives to get behind, and things like gamifaction in the call center.”

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With the fact that the contact center workforce is getting younger and more tech-savvy, today’s agents are more open to the idea of working alongside bots as an augmentation of their own skills. If RPA can be introduced in this way, neither companies nor their agents should have anything to fear. However, while RPA should be introduced as a means to reduce costs and increase profitability, it should not necessarily be seen as a way to deliver a better service to customers – this responsibility will rest on the shoulders of the agents for quite some time.

As long as contact center vendors can help their clients understand that agents are still vital to customer service, but that RPA is simply an extra tool for those agents to wield, we should see this fear and uncertainty begin to fade much faster.

Matt Kendall

During his 2+ years as Chief Editor at Nearshore Americas, Matt Kendall operated at the heart of both the Nearshore BPO and IT services industries, reporting on the most impactful stories and trends in the sector.

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