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Gaining sales from knowledge automation

When we talk about the benefits of automating customer service, we often focus on addressing negative things. We have costs; automation will reduce them. Customers are frustrated; automation will serve them more efficiently. Agents are snowed under; automation will come to their rescue, like the fabled St Bernard. Analyst Kate Leggett recently described contact centres as “drowning” under the proliferation of customer service channels, and prescribed automation as the only alternative to recruiting more and more agents. While addressing these problems is a key benefit of customer service technology, do we put too much emphasis on fixing negatives? 

"Well, in our country," said Alice, still panting a little, "you'd generally get to somewhere else - if you ran very fast for a long time, as we've been doing."

"A slow sort of country!" said the Queen. "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”

Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass

When we focus on problems, we miss the positive benefits service automation can bring. We can feel like we’re continually reacting to external pressures, and investing in new technology simply to avoid being overwhelmed. Or, as the Red Queen said to Alice, as though we have to run as fast as we can just to stay where we are.

Yet when organizations implement the right service technology, they can find it not only fixes problems but creates gains they hadn’t envisaged. It improves performance metrics that weren’t even targeted for improvement, because they were previously considered normal rather than issues to be addressed. It doesn’t just enable organizations to maintain their baseline, but to move the baseline upward.

Wolseley UK, building and plumbing suppliers, implemented Transversal’s knowledge management technology to expedite the enquiries flooding its contact centres. The project quickly proved a success and satisfied the client’s designated KPIs. These included:

  • Agent training time reduced from an average of 12 weeks to 8 weeks
  • Agents now assume responsibilities across the full spectrum of Wolseley’s products from the beginning
  • First call resolution increased from 76% to 98%
  • CSAT scores increased from 80% to 96%.

Those were already substantial gains. The company then observed a further improvement that hadn’t been targeted in its basic KPIs. Ultimately, it was making more money.

As a result of implementing self-service knowledge management, Wolseley’s contact centre agents had more time during customer interactions for up-selling and cross-selling. With quicker access to product knowledge, agents were also better placed to target and conclude sales. Monthly sales increased by several thousand units. This amounted to £2m in additional revenue, simply from increasing the efficiency of knowledge retrieval.

Like improving organization in other areas of life, improving the efficiency of self-service doesn’t just address the annoyances that prompted the change but can have unexpected knock-on benefits. The more easily customers find information, the less likely they are to abandon a transaction and the more likely they are to have goodwill towards the company. The less time agents spend hunting for information, the more time and attention they have for higher-value tasks like selling. The more efficiently the company handles its existing business, the better placed it is to take on new business.

Not every contact centre can become a source of profit. That depends on many factors. But improving the efficiency of knowledge automation – the lifeblood of customer service – is one of the best ways to reduce waste and maximize opportunities for profit making. As Wolseley discovered, if you focus on measurable service improvements to benefit your customers, benefits to your bottom line can follow. And the effort you put in won’t just enable you to stay in the same place, but to arrive in a new and better place.