Today’s contact center technologies have ushered in a new era of automation in customer service. Today’s contact centers use ACDs to automatically route calls to the appropriate agents; speech-enabled IVRs to allow customers to carry out transactions and get basic information; workforce management software to ensure agents are arriving to work on time and to automatically schedule the correct number of agents based on call volume; performance management software to ensure agents are being productive and meeting project goals; call recording/monitoring software to ensure agents are delivering good customer service; speech analytics to automatically detect changes in agent performance … you get the picture.
In fact, the contact center is a prime example of how technology can be used to automate “people-centric” processes. Today’s contact center technologies give managers and supervisors unprecedented control over the volume (and type) of work delivered to each individual agent – as well as complete transparency into agent performance through the use of various metrics and key performance indicators. In addition, many of today’s systems sport dashboards to give executives a high level view into overall contact center performance.
When you think about it, it makes sense that the contact center would lend itself to a high degree of process automation: Most of the processes that are carried out in the contact center are routine -- they don’t change much from day to day -- and for the most part they’re “linear” in nature. Interestingly, it is communications technology that provides the main underlying architecture to enable this level of automation to take place.
But, as companies are now discovering, there are other people-centric business processes that lend themselves to automation as well. The on-boarding of employees in a company’s human resources department; the processing of a car loan application; the registering of students for the next semester of college are just a few examples of basic, routine business processes that are ideal to automate, yet still need the element of human judgment to ensure they are carried out properly, or because they represent “customer touch points.”
For most companies, the desire to automate these routine processes isn’t so much to reduce dependence on labor as it is to improve operational efficiency and employee productivity. By tracking the performance of the employees who handle these routine processes the same way agent performance is tracked in the contact center, managers and executives can gain transparency into the processes and individual employees can be held more accountable for their performance. What’s more, managers and executives can view these processes as they occur, in real time, and, based on what they see, make key businesses decisions concerning operations.
Software vendors, meanwhile, are rapidly developing new business process automation (BPA) products to meet the growing demand. Some of them, including Avaya (News - Alert), have come out with new solutions that use the telephone network as the backbone for automating processes. These solutions facilitate what is being called “communications-enabled business processes” – or CEBP.
These solutions, however, are really nothing more than applications that use the communications system to kick off notifications. Although CEBP makes use of presence information so that a phone call goes to the first person who’s marked as available (not on the phone, etc.), this is really only a step up from e-mail notifications. It falls well short of the comprehensive process automation that many companies have been hoping for.
Contact center solutions provider Interactive Intelligence says it has come up with a better approach. Its new business process automation product, Interaction Process Automation (IPA), due for release this quarter, facilitates what the company is calling “communications-based process automation,” or CBPA. Unlike CEBP, which centers on enabling existing processes (or applications) to generate phone calls or e-mails when certain events happen, CBPA centers on how processes are automated in the first place. It harnesses well-established communications notions that have been used in the contact center for decades as the foundation for process automation.
A recent white paper from Interactive Intelligence (News - Alert), “A New Approach to Business Process Automation,” lays out the philosophy behind CBPA -- and the concept behind the company’s upcoming business process automation product, IPA.
“With [today’s] call center technologies, organizations can dynamically move valuable customers to the head of the line,” explains Dr. Donald E. Brown, founder and CEO of Interactive Intelligence, in the white paper. “Supervisors can listen in on calls and their comments can be transmitted in a way that allows only the agent (not the customer) to hear, for coaching purposes. Calls can be recorded automatically if they meet certain defined conditions. And all this activity can be monitored remotely and in real-time with sophisticated graphical consoles that provide visibility into everything that goes on – right down to what an agent currently has on his or her screen.”
“Imagine being able to apply these advanced technologies to process automation,” he adds. “Just like customer calls, processes involve work that needs to be queued and intelligently routed to the right person. Supervisors need to be able to track in real time what’s going on and who’s doing what. And many processes take place in regulated industries and public companies subject to various compliance mandates. Being able to record each step in a process even to the level of screen activity is just as necessary as in a contact center.”
To download the free white paper and learn more about this revolutionary new business process automation product from Interactive Intelligence, click here.
Patrick Barnard is a contributing writer for TMCnet. To read more of Patrick’s articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Patrick Barnard