As COVID-19 continues to disrupt countries, economies, and companies, millions of people are now suddenly working from home – which presents a unique set of challenges.
Some jobs are obviously better suited to remote work than others. Good luck trying to work from home if you’re a brain surgeon, pizza delivery person, mystery shopper, or crime scene investigator.
On the other hand, some professions are ideally suited to working from home. For example, jobs like computer hacker, murder-mystery novelist, fortune cookie writer, and yes, contact center agent can be done almost anywhere.
Using modern Cloud-based contact center applications – such as SAP Contact Center 365 – contact center agents can easily log in from their homes, or any other place in the world, with only a Web browser, USB headset, and an Internet connection.
Of course, employees who have never worked remotely before may need a period of adjustment. Working from home requires quite a bit of structure and discipline to stay on task, and to not get distracted by the dark corners of the refrigerator… or the Internet.
With many schools and businesses being temporarily shuttered, there’s the added challenge to work-at-home agents of avoiding guest-appearances from young children dancing in the background, semi-naked spouses walking to-and-from the shower, and overly helpful pets who want to join the conversation. [My cat Lily made three cameos this week during video calls. She’s also sent a couple of very short, cryptic emails consisting of all lowercase consonants.]
Another challenge for work-at-home agents is how to maximize personal productivity in a time where many organizations are experiencing sharp increases in contact center traffic as worried customers reach out to check on the status of their stock portfolios, retirement accounts, health insurance coverage, Internet and smartphone data plans, and so on.
Additionally, work at-home-agents may have to shoulder an increased workload to compensate for colleagues who are temporarily unable to work due to illness or other logistical factors, such as lack of access to adequate telecommunications equipment and infrastructure.
Fortunately, there are a couple of ways that contact center agents can increase their productivity. One option, which I don’t necessarily recommend, is to have pets help with incoming customer interactions. The advantage of this approach is a significant reduction in average-handle-time as callers generally hang up after the second or third meow. The many disadvantages of this approach include increased call-abandon rate, decreased CSAT (customer satisfaction), and a major increase in overheated computers caused by excessive pet fur in the CPU cooling fans.
A better option for increasing agent productivity is for contact centers to take advantage of modern contact-center technologies such as chatbots (also known as “conversational agents”) that help automate routine tasks, freeing agents up to work on higher value customer activities such account retention, up-selling and cross-selling, and customer relationship building.
IBM estimates, for example, that chatbots are already able to answer 80% of basic customer inquiries. And Gartner predicts that consumers will use chatbots for up to 85% of their interactions with companies during 2020. The amount of time and money that chatbots can potentially help save is staggering. According to Juniper Research, chatbots will help consumers and businesses save over 2.5 billion customer service hours by 2023.
SAP shares these opinions about the growing importance of chatbots and is heavily investing in machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies including Natural Language Processing (NLP). Using SAP Contact Center 365 together with SAP’s NLP-based chatbot – SAP Conversational AI (formerly Recast.AI) – you can automate many commonly reoccurring customer issues such as balance inquires, order status request, shipment tracking, billing/invoice disputes, password resets, request for forms or documents, and more.
And, if for some reason, your chatbot is not able to fully resolve a customer’s issue, the chatbot can seamlessly hand the customer off to a live agent – while providing the agent with a complete transcript of the customer/chatbot conversation.
SAP Contact Center 365 provides an easy-to-use, customizable customer-facing chat client that can easily be embedded on any webpage with just a few clicks, enabling customers to request a live chat. Additionally, you can take advantage of the optional SAP SMS 365 and SAP Social Channels 365 products to enable customers to even chat with an agent or chat bot via SMS, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Viber, Telegram, and more.
Chatbot technology today is pretty amazing. We’re not quite at the point where companies can replace all their agents with robots. However, chatbots can certainly help with the repetitive grunt work and free agents up to work on more important activities. Not only can chatbots help shift the burden off your contact center agents, but they can empower your customers to get immediate answers to their questions – all without ever needing to wait to talk to an agent… or a cat!