Monday, March 19, 2012

Agent-assisted Automation: What it is, and the best way to use it

No one wants to be put on hold.  Even the most patient of us cringes a little when we here the dreaded words, "estimated wait time..."  Or has this ever happened to you?  You wait patiently on the line during several minutes of purposely non-confrontational elevator music, only to hear an agent click their keyboards for what seems like decades on end in between the words, "hold on one second...just one second..."  It's enough to make anyone slam the phone down in frustration! (or click the end button in a really cranky manner).  Perhaps I'm being a little dramatic, but regardless, long waits are one of the major pitfalls of the call center industry.  There have been many attempts to solve it, complex mathematical equations have been applied, scripts have been written, but often times the true problem lies in the inefficiency of the technology.  The agent doesn't want to spend 15 minutes typing on the keyboard while on the line with you, but that is the only way they can access the information they need.  This inefficiency causes an almost traffic jam like buildup of callers and then... cue the dreaded elevator music.  Agent assisted automation is basically a way to streamline the agent-caller interaction, potentially reducing stress and headaches for all involved.

   There are two sides to agent-assisted automation, the technology side, and the customer interaction side.  As the customer interaction side mainly deals with giving agent preassigned or even prerecorded snippets to interject during the conversation, and as I feel that this almost defeats the purpose of having a call center, I am going to focus more on the technological side.  Streamlining technology will actually give agents more time to interact on a human to human level with the customers (with a shorter wait for all).  After all, if you have a profile for the customer that is on a separate application from the database of the company, which is on a separate application from another branch of the company which you may need to access (and I could go on) that is going to make things very difficult.  By using technology to unify all of these separate elements you could vastly increase your customer service quality.  For example, if a customer has questions that span over several different departments and must be transferred, rather than making the customer repeat themselves multiple times, you could have the other department automatically be updated.  Those little inconveniences make the huge difference between a good experience and a bad one.  

   Again, though prerecorded audio can be a helpful tool in directing customers to the right department, I would be very cautious not to over use it.  When people make a phone call, it is usually because they have the desire to speak with a person.  If they did not have this desire, they would have used the internet.  Often times, when confronted with a long list of automated responses, people choose to disregard them and go directly to an operator to solve their problem.  Too many automated responses are impersonal, and make for a bad customer service experience.  Rather than investing in a long, complex automated response system, I would instead focus on better training for operators, so they will be prepared to answer many different types of questions with ease and accuracy.  This type of personalized service is the true mark of excellence for any company.
  By streamlining several separate systems into one, and by limiting prerecorded audio response, we give our call center efficiency and humanity.  As anyone who has seen Terry Gilliam's film Brazil or read a Kafka novel can testify, the last thing we as human beings need is a labyrinthian system of frazzled technology and disconnected departments.  If we have the power to simplify the world, why not choose to do so?

Elana is a representative of Peak Advertising, a nationally recognized performance marketing agency.  You can reach Elana with questions and feedback at


  1. AH! Okay. See, because you inserted the word "marketing", I had confused call center improvement techniques and all that you investigate here with TELEMARKETING. Yes, anyone who can make call centers more efficient and effective is doing a great service to society. Unfortunately, I suspect that in many cases the problems with certain businesses' call centers stem from even larger problems with the company itself...

  2. I was asked to type "eldwo nshandek" to publish that comment. Just thought you should know that.