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Several industries have experienced a recent shift to telework, and customer support agents have been a major population of those making the move. It is estimated that 4.3 million people in the U.S. alone typically work from home at least half the time, with the number even higher on a global scale.
The growing number of remote workers causes a chain reaction: as more people work from home, more people require support. This may be support from their internal departments at their jobs or support from external companies, like internet providers, phone companies, insurance providers, or any number of other industries. Customer service agents may experience changes in their usual workflow and see an increase in calls from customers in need of assistance. This can lead to major frustration and employee burnout as the workload becomes heavier.
For years, IT departments have experienced the benefits of the shift-left approach. Now, those in customer support are learning to embrace the ideology.
This approach moves repetitive, simple answers and tasks from level one to level zero (or self-help) so that the user can diagnose and repair problems without speaking to an agent. This often results in cost-reduction and shorter call times. But, how does customer support begin to implement the shift-left approach? The answer lies in automation.
In a typical customer support interaction, the end-user may encounter various levels of automation already. This may be in the form of pressing one or two to reach an agent, or in answering prompts to be directed to the correct representative.
In many cases, these prompts also allow customers to find support without speaking to anyone. For example, a customer may call their insurance company looking for help resetting their online account password, for which the prompts are able to provide instruction and unlock the account. In other cases, more high-level support is needed, which is when a live person will come on the phone to help.
Another example is a customer who uses the chat feature in a website to speak to a customer support agent. The automation may already be there, and when used properly has several benefits, especially in a remote environment.
Although these are just a few types of automation, the benefits are numerous, whether the agents work in a group setting within a call center or in their homes. Automation and a shift-left approach can result in:
All of this also leads to greater satisfaction from the end-customer, as they are able to have their issues resolved in one interaction, rather than many.
As mentioned above, there are several types of automation available for different levels of need that can help customer support agents, and which will support the shift-left approach. There are also various levels of customer support employees who can benefit from automation. However, at the core, effective automation leverages knowledge management.
Automation can begin at the customer level with various questions and responses to direct the customer to the right agent or to the self-help knowledge that they need. This eliminates the need for lower-level tickets, because most customers will be able to resolve their issues on their own through automated tasks.
When the customer speaks to an agent, self-service technology can help on the internal level to guide the employee to the right resources to help resolve the problem. For example, with the correct automation in place, an agent can be guided to stored knowledge based on the customer’s needs. This knowledge can be automated and utilize intelligent qualification processes to accurately discern the customers’ needs and can provide the agent a guided conversation script, which ultimately leads them though to resolution. This will result in an overall reduction in call time.
This type of automated workflow and guidance can help on all levels of an organization and can even shorten on-boarding time for new employees as they will already be empowered and guided through how to handle many of the customer’s needs.
Automation technology can also take the form of chatbots and intuitive AI. Chatbots with intuitive AI can better understand intention, which leads to more accurate and refined answers. This can be used on the customer side to seek assistance, which may in-turn guide them to a live agent via a chat window. It can be used on the agent side to quickly access the knowledge database.
Automation for customer support agents is not the only level with which this popular technology can help. It can also help measure important metrics, which can then be used to refine the experience for both support agents and customers.
An example of this is in the simple recording of search inquiries and length of time or resources used before a resolution is found. For example, automation can help record the number of customers searching for a particular answer or piece of knowledge and can help gauge if the current answer provided gives a high enough level of understanding to solve the problem.
For an example of this, consider the interaction or flow when customers call to look for the address to send a payment. If they are able to successfully get the answer, the call or interaction will end quickly. However, if they are still unable to make their way through the prompts, the prompts take too long, or if they are unable to understand the answer, the interaction will continue for a longer period of time and eventual end up with an agent. This results in measurable data, which can tell you if the processes are ending in too much human interaction or frustration. If they are, it is time to make a change because the initiative to shift left isn’t working and needs to be refined.
Whether customer support agents work from home or in a traditional office setting, automation ultimately boils down to a reduction in call time and an increase in productivity. However, it is important that automation is part of an omnichannel experience and is combined with a host of other elements, including a knowledge management strategy, chatbots, intuitive AI, and self-service. When all of these elements are combined, the customer support team can follow the lead of IT and shift left to free up the humans for the occasions when person-to-person interaction and requests are needed most.
Learn more about how to reduce call time with our 5-step guide. Download the guide here!
Tony Steiner joined EasyVista in 2018 as the Senior Director of Customer Service and Support. Steiner is an IT & Operations veteran with 20+ years of day-to-day operational experience who achieves organizational transformation through process excellence, measurement and maturity. He is a strong customer advocate and is committed to delivering value by supporting the customer’s needs and aligning them with business strategy. Steiner also serves as EasyVista’s Security Officer for North America. Prior to EasyVista, Steiner was the Global Director of ITSM Tools and Enterprise Monitoring for Western Union.