I ROBOT. I AGENT - the changing face of the Customer Contact Centre

Things are stirring in suburbia, and there’s a big message in it for UK businesses.

21 February 2017

14 miles South-West of Manchester sits the bijou historic hamlet of Knutsford, rich with a scent of cut grass in the Summer and (to some) shades of ‘Stepford Wives’. Although having a population of less than 14,000, last week the progressive Knutsford Guardian published an article on the changing data protection legislation. It’s perhaps not the sort of thing you’d routinely expect to grab attention in a modest regional publication… and that’s the very point. Awareness of just four words, General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) now needs to be on the radar of business communities across the length and breadth of the UK.

The General Data Protection Regulation comes into force in May 2018 – barely a blink away – and is designed to increase the governance and legal framework around the capturing, storage, use and transmission of personal data. As one small example of the impact of GDPR, ease of access to data will be a core requirement. From 25th May 2018 onwards, if a customer requests a copy of data held on them it will need to be provided within 21 days… or the organisation will face a financial penalty.

GDPR will affect every UK business, large and small, and will be particularly painful for organisations operating customer contact centres. Moreover, given that a huge 4.0% of the UK population is employed in this sector [1], it’s not something that can be ignored. Leading cyber security experts – such as Nettitude – cite the insider threat from vulnerable employees (contact centre agents) as the weakest link in the security chain… and the biggest cause of fraud. To add a sense of perspective, recent surveys suggest that fraud volume has increased 45% in the last 2 years.

So, is more automation in the Contact Centre environment the answer?

The short answer is that fraud affecting personal data is the combination of many things, so automation alone is not the definitive solution. But it will help. Fraud is catalysed by a combination of weak systems, poor design, fragile processes, inadequate investment… and the growing sophistication and determination of criminal exploitation. Increased automation (including the introduction of artificial intelligence) into the contact centre environment will help remove the human weakness in the process. If this seems implausible, it is perhaps worth remembering that only a decade or so ago speech recognition was in its infancy. The experience then was poor, but it was nevertheless a killer concept and today’s advanced speech recognition solutions are in a different league altogether.

Against a backdrop of technology evolution, let’s now isolate one of the biggest data fraud risks which will fall under the GDPR rules, namely payments made over the telephone using a credit or debit card. How’s the move from a Live Agent (a person) to artificial intelligence bundled with advance speech recognition (Artificial Agents or Robots) going to help? Well, for a start it’s going to reduce operating costs. With contact centre salaries averaging between £19,000 – £30,000 according to recent pay scale surveys virtual agent licence models will certainly cost in at less. But, most importantly, the blending of Identification & Verification (ID&V) software into the AI environment will help improve the customer experience by removing the clunky security steps: “tell me the first letter of your mother’s maiden name, tell me the second letter of your favourite place, tell me your date of birth, tell me, tell me, tell me!”

In the future, the mix of advanced Payment Card Platforms – which remove visibility of the sensitive payment card data from the human agents – combined with artificial agents using biometrics (such as voice pattern, mobile finger print and facial recognition) blended with advanced speech recognition will progressively transform the contact centre environment. Customer experience will improve, costs will fall, the risk of fraud will be reduced and the governance/legal framework required by GDPR will be supported. Already the likes of RBS and Natwest are rolling out virtual staff as published in the BBC News.

It’s a brave new world and we hold our hat up to the Knutsford Guardian… small, but on the ball. 

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