Customer Care Call Centers Face Massive Disruption

Here’s a prediction that will make a huge difference in businesses: 40 percent of customer care / call center seats will be automated out of existence in the next five years. We at Everest Group think customer care is ripe for a performance breakthrough, transforming it through technology across two dimensions: the customer experience and the cost to serve. Two technologies will enable this performance breakthrough: cognitive computing and Robotic Process Automation (RPA). How did I arrive at the 40 percent statistic? Here’s a deep dive into the calculation of the impact of these technologies in the customer care business.

Performance breakthrough in the cost to serve

Why do we think there will be a breakthrough in cost? Effectively, in a customer care environment, there is a simple equation: TC = P x Q. The total cost of care (TC) equals P (the cost of labor, facilities and technologies) x Q (quantity – the number of minutes that the agent spends dealing with the customer).Technology will dramatically reduce the cost of customer service. I previously blogged about Amelia, IPsoft’s Artificial Intelligence call center agent. Based on the numbers that service providers tell us, we believe that a virtual agent can take the place of between 20 to 40 percent of existing live agents’ work. After examining this, we believe that to be a reasonable set of assumptions.

Then let’s look at the application of RPA (or auto scripting) to the call center. This technology will reduce costs by compressing the call time that the agent is on the phone. Rather than having the agent look up and retrieve information about the customer, it automatically brings up the information for the agent. It also provides suggestions of how to enhance the conversation, similar to Amazon’s functionality “If you’re having this problem, are you also having that problem?”) On average, this kind of technology successfully reduces the cycle time of customer care between 20 and 35 percent.

So let’s do a little bit of back-of-the-envelope math. Virtual agents are able to take over 20 percent (the low end of the 20-40 percent range) of the work that live agents now do, and we can compress the time on the phone by 20 percent (again, the low end of the range). That equates to a 40 percent reduction in the number of seats required. So if a company has 1,000 customer care agents today, after it employs these technologies, it will need only 600. And that’s just the low end of the range.

This is demonstrated technology that exists today and will only get better. So if companies deploy this technology, over the next three years they can achieve a 40 percent reduction. And over time as we refine RPA models, we can perhaps get another 10 to 20 percent with the existing technology. This does not require the technology to improve; it just requires businesses to implement it and refine how to use it.

So a conservative estimate – with the existing proven technology available today – is that it could eliminate 40 percent of the seats. And we believe that will grow to 60 percent of the seats over the next five years as companies learn to use these two technologies. When you combine these together, it is a dramatic shift in reduction of Q (quantity).

Performance breakthrough in customer experience

Now let’s turn our attention to the effectiveness of the customer experience. We can measure it by ease of use, flexibility, accessibility and completeness.How will technology affect ease of these? Companies are already taking advantage of mobility technologies and moving to multi-channel models. Rather than just being voice, customer service can take place via text, social media, email or whatever medium is accessible and easy for the customer to use. This provides flexibility. We can now fire off an email, text or tweet rather than wait online, and we can do that while we talk to someone.

Technology, through virtual agents will also facilitate a better, quicker, more complete customer experience by eliminating the need to transfer a customer from one agent to another to resolve issues or to handle more than one question. A virtual agent (or a seamless combination of a real and virtual agent) will deal with it all in one place.

Add it all together

Service providers offering customer care services, as well as companies with an internal customer call center, will be thrilled with the breakthrough performance because their cost to serve will drop dramatically.

Customers will be thrilled with this service. The experience will be easier, more accessible and flexible, more relevant and more complete.

The net result: Unlike the IVR (the first attempt at automation in call centers, which really just created a longer wait time and a more annoying experience), the virtual agent and RPA will provide a more satisfying experience than customer care centers currently provide.

And 40 percent of customer care / call center seats will be automated out of existence in the next five years.