Is customer support automation replacing the call center?
Companies and their support leaders have always been looking for ways to provide efficient and quality service. Call centers have long been a solution to this need— they were a scalable and cost-effective way to outsource your support operations, rather than hire a large support force internally.
However, with the emergence of new support automation technologies, the extent to which call centers were the most efficient solution is being reassessed. As technology continues to improve, there is the question of if call centers will become completely obsolete.
In this blog post, we’ll provide insights into the future of customer support to explore if call centers are a thing of the past, using both Mavenoid’s proprietary data and industry statistics.
First, let's talk about costs.
Let’s cut to the chase: call centers are about saving money. By leveraging economies-of-scale and often outsourcing overseas, call centers can drive down the costs of human support teams when you compare it to hiring a full team internally. While call centers may look cost-effective in that comparison, it’s important to compare their costs to new alternatives like support automation technology.
By analyzing our own proprietary data, we found that, on average, ~68% of companies’ support spend goes towards staffing, while only ~9% on technology. That’s quite an imbalanced investment, but it’s even more daunting when you consider that customer support requests costs businesses a whopping $1.3 trillion to service every year. For context, that’s roughly the GDP of the entire country of Spain, a top 15 producer.
That’s a lot of cash, and while not all of it is going to call centers, they are a huge chunk of that number. According to Statista, the global call center market was ~$340 billion in 2020.
This huge market opportunity has led to a proliferation of call centers and call center technologies that take advantage of the support model.
But are call center’s still the best solution for support?
Challenges that come with support call center
When you boil it down, the call center support model is simple:
- You have an issue with your product.
- You call the company's support phone number.
- You wait on hold. (Sometimes for hours.)
- Finally, you talk to a level 1 agent. These are often out-sourced folks with only basic training for simple problems. Hopefully, they fix your issue, if not...
- You get escalated to a level 2 agent or manager with slightly more training who (hopefully) fixes your issue.
- Rinse and repeat until you finally get a solution, or get frustrated enough to just hang up.
There are a few areas in which the support call center model falls short:
- Customers want instant solutions. Waiting on hold, or in a long queue contributes to a poor customer experience— and with 96% of consumers saying customer service plays an important role in brand loyalty, that’s a potentially relationship-breaking move.
- It restricts how your customers can get the support they need. Consumers want options, whether it be over the phone, video calls, live chat, email or self-service. The best support teams know this: Among Mavenoid customers, nearly all employed 3-5 different service channels in order to meet customers where they are.
- Human agents cost a lot of money. Even if you’re outsourcing, the cost of having actual butts-in-seats is high. Not only are you talking salary, but recruitment costs, training costs, hardware, benefits, etc. It all adds up. According to Gartner, customers who have to switch to even one live channel (ie. phone, live chat), incur a cost that is 80 - 100 times more than a self-service option.
How does support automation come into play?
Support automation technologies— like Mavenoid’s self-service product— address the above 3 issues that call centers face.
- Good support automation provides instant answers for your customers. Automation provides the first line of defense and attempts to answer as many queries as possible via virtual agents before any calls are handed over to humans. This reduces the burden on call centers and the wait times for users. Unlike humans, virtual assistants can work around the clock. As a result, your users don’t need to wait until office hours or until someone gets back to their desk to resolve a customer’s problem. Side note: It’s important to remember that the goal of automation should still be to resolve the customer’s issue, not simply deflect it away from your team, as many chatbots aim to do. More on that here.
- Customers expect a self-service option. In a study of Mavenoid’s client’s customers, 86% expected to have a self-service support option. Similarly, a study by Microsoft found that 90% of consumers expect a self-service option. Enabling customers to help themselves is now table-stakes and a vital part of any support strategy.
- Support automation can lower overall support costs. In a study of over 8000 tickets, we found that ~78% of customer inquires were troubleshooting-related— the biggest time-suck for your support teams. By automating the resolution of those repetitive troubleshooting issues, your support team can focus on fewer tickets with fewer resources. Impacts of this automation on costs can vary but are almost always significant: businesses can reduce customer service costs by up to 30%, or more, depending on how efficient their automation is.
Does that mean tech is making humans— and call centers— obsolete?
As advanced as support technology is, it still cannot completely replicate the human experience. (If you want some examples of how AI is getting close, check out our post here.)
Customers recognize this and want the option of both live human support and self-service. Why? When customers can’t solve their issues via self-service, they resort to live customer service calls in order to solve their problems. People feel emotions that only other people understand. Dealing with a client requires a blend of tact, empathetic support, and good problem-solving skills.
Agents can put themselves in their client’s shoes and adjust their responses accordingly. Additionally, a well-trained agent with the requisite skills can de-escalate conflict and start to rebuild the relationship. In such instances, these real-life agents come in handy when a virtual assistant can’t necessarily calm the situation down.
That human touch is important, which is why a hybrid approach to support is vital. Leveraging both support automation technologies and human support teams (whether based in a call center or not), provides the best of both worlds.
Automation won’t kill call centers, but it will drastically change how they operate. Automation can be leveraged to massively improve the efficiency of a support organization as a whole, with call centers— supported by the technology— acting as the customer experts they are meant to be.
Remember, technology supports, not replaces, call centers. By focusing on this mutually beneficial relationship, you will better resolve your customers’ issues and optimize your tech support.