Have you typed with a robot today?

Have you typed with a robot today?

“To request technical assistance, press 1. For a duplicate invoice, press 2. To change the payment date, press 3. To change address, press 4. To speak with one of our attendants, press 5. To return to start menu, press 6.”

It was the time when the URA (Audible Response Unit), which listed numerous customer service options in a telephone recording, was considered cutting-edge technology in a call center operation.

Today, call centers are taken over by robots, which talk to the consumer by text (chatbot), by voice (voice bots) or by avatars, such as Lu, from Magazine Luiza, who already has 6 million followers on Instagram.

In addition to communicating via their own apps or websites, companies are increasingly using robots to talk to customers in the messaging apps already installed on their cell phones — especially WhatsApp, but also Telegram, Messenger and Instagram (with its Direct), in addition to SMS messages.

A global survey by the research multinational Accenture pointed out that, in 2023, companies and consumers will save 5 billion hours with the use of chatbots.

The movement, driven by the pandemic, which has digitized most operations, has made the private sector save. According to Take Blip –one of the largest bot developers in the country, which has Itaú, Unimed, Claro and Fiat among its clients–, service by robots is about ten times cheaper than a traditional call center, as there is no labor and connection costs.

“It is necessary to invest more in technology, without a doubt, but it is an investment that pays for itself in the first year of operation via robots”, says Roberto Oliveira, president of Take Blip.

C&A alone, for example, one of the largest apparel retail chains in the country, invested BRL 172 million in technology and digitalization of operations last year, which includes sales and customer service through apps.

“It’s an initiative that has transformed our salespeople into personal shoppers, someone who can help customers with fashion decisions in an agile way”, says Ciro Neto, director of development and expansion at C&A Brasil. Today, about 900 of the company’s salespeople work through WhatsApp, a channel that concentrates more than 50% of the retailer’s online sales.

“Digitization has also made the handling of simple issues much faster, involving invoices and payments, for example”, says Neto.

Until 2019, according to the retailer, the average time to serve a consumer at the CRC (Customer Relationship Center) was 2 minutes. With the introduction of robots, it’s in 5 seconds. Solving problems that took, on average, 10 days in 2019, now takes 1 and a half days, with a productivity gain of 96%.

According to C&A, on the website Reclame Aqui, the company’s score went from 7 to 8, while the percentage of consumers who would do business with the brand again rose from 60% to 70% in the range from 2019 to 2022.

“Simple requests, such as duplicate invoices, changing the payment date, scheduling a technical service become much faster to be answered via robots”, says Eduardo Salgado, executive director of Accenture’s Strategy & Consulting area for Latin America . In the same sense, he says, the use of artificial intelligence contributes to a more assertive service.

“If you call a telecom operator, which already identifies that you live in a region where a power outage has occurred, for example, the robot informs you about what happened and asks you if your call has to do with a technical problem “, he says.

Workforce in call centers is smaller, but more trained

The adoption of robots is transforming the telemarketing industry. “The machines replace the professionals who simply read the service scripts”, says Roselene Marçal, director of Sintelmark (Sindicato Paulista das Empresas de Telemarketing de São Paulo).

According to her, however, the movement does not indicate a mass dismissal. “The number of professionals has been decreasing, yes, but companies tend to keep well-trained professionals to solve the most complex problems”, she says.

A part of C&A’s call center, for example, is outsourced. Altogether there are 140 professionals, who from simple “script readers” have come to understand the business, being trained in the areas of logistics, finance, sales and product quality.

The retailer has three levels of customer service: robots, product-related issues (logistics, finance and sellers) and a complaints and social media hub – the latter involves the best-trained staff.

According to the ABT (Brazilian Association of Telemarketing), today there are 1.4 million workers in the sector. The number was 1.5 million until the last official survey in 2016.

In 2010, Atento, the largest call center company in the country, was the second largest employer in the country, with a staff of 82,600 people, according to a survey by the Ministry of Labor. In 2020, according to the most recent data, it dropped to eighth position, with 72,800 employees.

In Roselene’s opinion, however, robots are not a big problem for the industry. “The biggest impact comes from legislation, such as the one that imposed the adoption of 0303 for telemarketing calls”, she says. “This prevents many calls from being answered.”

From 1 to 5, robots get a 3 – but they can send messages at the wrong time

In general, the service by robots has left the public satisfied, according to the survey Panorama Mobile Time/Opinion Box –Messageria in Brazil, in August.

On a scale of 1 to 5 (where 1 means very dissatisfied and 5 means very satisfied), the average rating of bots on WhatsApp was 3.2. Robots earned better marks on Telegram (3.9) and Instagram (3.7) – but in these apps, the frequency of use is lower than in WhatsApp.

“In Brazil there are 147 million WhatsApp users, with 86% using the application every day”, says Salgado, from Accenture. “It’s only natural that most companies use this app to talk to consumers.”

On the other hand, between February and August of this year, the proportion of users who had already received sales messages from companies for which they had not authorized contact rose from 75% to 84%.

There are also cases of messages sent outside business hours: companies that warn at dawn, by message, that a certain product has left the distribution center and is on its way to the customer’s house.

“It is necessary to educate the algorithm so that it is not inconvenient either”, says Oliveira, from Take Blip.

For this, the experts highlight the constant need to update the software, even to understand the expressions used by consumers, which change over time.

“Until recently, a robot might not have understood the expression ‘it’s gone bad,'” says Accenture’s Salgado. “But now it needs to be part of the vocabulary.”

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