Media coverage and social media debate about the role of AI and automation often focuses on some fictional, future-state adversarial relationship between technology and people. But AI is already here, and the reality is very different. When AI is employed in the right way it is an incredible tool which can free-up a company’s most valuable asset – their people – to focus on what matters. It’s also an enabler that can make life easier for our people.
In teams dedicated to customer service or helpdesk support this means people get to focus on building connections with people: the most human part of their job. Automation can deal with the grunt work of delivering an account balance or pulling up a customer’s call history, much less resetting a password, resulting in the customer service representative (CSR) or Service Desk analyst getting to focus on more meaningful, satisfying interactions with customers.
Or, in a talent-stretched market like the one we’re facing now, it can mean wait times don’t stretch to hours and more customers are served. People get the help they need when they need it.
Our Datacom teams act as the front stage for government agencies and commercial organisations, where over the past two years they have supported hundreds of thousands of customers dealing with the fallout from the pandemic or a myriad of natural disasters and even humanitarian crises. The work has been both critical and challenging, and – alongside our dedicated people – smart technology solutions have been key to our success.
Advances in automation have enabled smarter management of the workload, with basic queries filtered to get people quick answers (via chat with actual humans or AI-powered answers) while our people spend time on more challenging conversations and queries.
Rather than seeing automation and AI as potentially replacing employees, courageous employers are focusing on building and promoting a symbiotic relationship. Using AI and automation to support employees, to take on the tedious parts of the job and to deliver information at scale and speed.
Anyone who thinks the future being debated comes down to a question of automation and AI versus employees is missing the wonderful invitation for some more expansive thinking that captures the true scope of possibility up for grabs. The important conversation for organisations is: where does it make most sense to use AI, and what tasks or functions can I automate to enable my people to use their unique talents and experiences to innovate and create value?
“What is the relationship your organisation has with the word ‘automation’? Is it one that will serve you now and into the future? Getting to the bottom of that question in an open and honest dialogue can unlock some real possibilities and most importantly identify where any automation efforts could be destined for mediocre results.” — Stacey Tomasoni
My suspicion is that if you surveyed the workforce and asked them to draw pictures and describe automation for many it would result in images that depict the impersonal and clinical, void of emotion and heart (add “hyper” before automation and we’re in a whole new realm of anxiety for some people). Those organisations that have solved this problem have created a culture of co-design and inclusion where employees feel like they are a very necessary part of crafting the future. Their frontlines realise that every step towards automation is a step towards shifting them up the value chain into more complex and meaningful interactions, so they embrace the mandate and act as the number one advocates for digital and for empowering customers to help themselves.
In working with your front-stage teams, some of the questions you need to get clarity on are:
- What parts of their jobs lend themselves to automation?
- Which parts are hard to replicate?
- What bits do they enjoy?
- What parts of their job most frequently slow them down?
Answering these questions can help uncover the real opportunities and turn your teams into advocates who will be 100% behind the activities that will ultimately shape each employee’s remit and make use of automation to enable your people to spend more of their time utilising their unique talents.
During the past year we’ve been able to set out some ambitious targets for some of the customers we work with about what they stand to gain from the adoption of more automation or AI technologies in their organisation. None of our pledges have been about replacing their staff. It’s all been about better experiences for employees and for customers.
In working with a diverse set of customers, this sample of our observations gives a glimpse of the potential to change things for the better by combining experience design, process reinvention and AI and automation to ensure your people’s valuable time isn’t being spent on the wrong activities:
- Your current operation has your team spending 20% of their time on activities that don’t add value to their role or relate to their skills and specialisation.
- Automation in your workflow could make booking processes 40% easier for your customers, reducing friction and effort.
- Your customer helpdesk has been designed in a way that requires manual triaging of every one of your 4000 calls a month – this is increasing your costs by 30% and means customer queries take 14 hours to resolve, leading to a high rate of complaints and low satisfaction.
- Your time to resolution is too slow and the result is that 40% of your call volume is follow-up calls from customers.
- Your team has been carrying out complex annual leave calculations for customers using a manual process – they find it stressful and 30% of the time these calculations result in additional queries and have to be reworked.
There is so much potential for improvement and easy gains. But before companies can unlock that potential, we need to reframe the conversation about AI. It is an incredible enabler for our organisations, our customers and for our employees. AI is not a replacement or a competitor, it is an ally that can change the way we work for the better.