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Organisations from the Telecoms, Media & Technology sector are well-known for delivering cutting-edge, technology-led propositions to customers. But they have also been known to fall short on their customer service brand promise. In this article Chris Hallmark, Managing Director of High Tech shares how some of these global organisations can use automation to enhance their service levels at pace and scale.  

Why automation alone hasn’t solved customer service challenges 

Many attempts to introduce automation often land with great fanfare and ultimately fail to move past phase one, falling back to human support due to a lack of traction or business impact. Major drivers of this are: 

A focus on idealised customer journeys 

Many firms understandably place a high focus on smooth customer acquisition processes, whether switching providers, purchasing licences or adding additional service components. However many of these journeys swiftly falter when customer circumstances do not fit the ‘ideal’ path (for example using a card with a different billing address), and there is a less well-defined pathway in place to address these needs. 

Confusing channel strategy  

Attempting to navigate self-serve websites or multi-layered IVR menus that don’t reflect their specific needs is an all-too familiar scenario for customers. This is often caused by a focus on cost reduction (leading to demand deflection into low-cost channels), rather than a holistic understanding of customer needs. The irony is that these issues can lead to high levels of customer dissatisfaction and even a consideration of switching to competing providers. 

Many sub-par scenarios reflect automation being too rigidly built so it can only support a narrow set of end-to-end ‘ideal’ circumstances. This then relegates other journeys into a second-tier of service, with a high degree of manual intervention and back-office resource required.  

To realise the value and power of automation, firms need to take a step back, understand their own unique shape of demand and think more broadly about how people, process and technology can be best combined to meet each customer need.  

It’s time to get serious about automation 

Getting automation right can unlock significant value and differentiation, particularly in B2B environments. Service delivery for enterprise clients often involves heavy reliance on manual processes, clunky systems and workarounds. In this space, business cases for automation can appear harder to make because of lower volumes and higher variety. However when you understand the true business-wide cost of current processes, and how a blend of automated and human resource can transform your service delivery, many compelling alternatives become available. 

A hybrid model 

Start with a realistic, end-to-end, view of the journeys customers and clients follow through your business. This will uncover volume and potential value at risk, and reveal some of the tools and techniques that would help you to deliver a better and more cost-effective customer service. 

The key to delivering a sophisticated offering is understanding how human resource and automation technologies can co-exist as a blended approach. Broadly speaking, two potential routes exist:

1. Human-assisted digital 
Leading with digital channels supported by human escalation: e.g., a chatbot that passes off to a human where a higher level of discretion is needed to support a specific part of the journey 

2. Digitally assisted humans 
Here, human interaction predominantly leads, with digital channels supporting e.g. a colleague answers the call or chat, introducing a bot to complete service activities or to access the organisation’s knowledge base. 

There is no ‘one best way’. Understanding which approach to take will, in part, depend on the make-up of customer demand, with speech and text analytics able to determine how diverse customer demand is. This factor combined with brand positioning and strategic priorities will inform whether humans or digital take the lead. 

The Global Centre of Excellence 

One highly effective way of driving journey change across geographies and reporting lines, which often work in deep silos, is to form a global centre of excellence. This can be used to monitor end-to-end customer journeys and understand where customers are being deflected from one channel to another because they couldn't get the service they wanted. It will also highlight opportunities to introduce automation, or where existing implementations aren’t delivering value.  

A good starting point to develop this capability is to repurpose innovation labs with broader skills and capabilities. To be truly effective, Global Centres of Excellence must: 

  • Be led by senior leadership with a global remit and authority to effect change 

  • Focus primarily on the business problem to solve and involve multidisciplinary teams, not focusing solely on technology-led solutions 

  • Adopt a ‘model office’ approach to service design, by testing and refining improvements with customers in segmented environments, with an ability to scale successful changes into the wider business 

In summary 

Understand the reality of customer journeys, and you will uncover how many of your customers and clients are experiencing sub-par levels of service. Firms need to take a step back and think broadly about how people, process and technology can be best combined.  

There is no ‘one best way’ to utilise automation technologies in this space. The makeup and diversity of customer demand alongside brand positioning and strategic priorities will determine whether a ‘human-assisted digital or ‘digitally assisted human’ approach is most appropriate. 
A Global Centre of Excellence can drive the change required, particularly in complex global organisations. However, they must possess a focus on the ‘business problem to solve’ with the global remit and gravitas to drive effective change.

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Chris Hallmark, Managing Director | High Tech

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