»Process automation is still both a curse and a blessing.«

The digitalization of business services presents companies with significant challenges. Stephan Fricke, board member and chairman of the advisory board of the German Outsourcing Association, talks to Markets Germany about chatbots, changing job profiles, and the opportunities automation brings.

June, 2019

Mr. Fricke, digitalization, new technologies, and concepts like robotic process automation have a big impact on how companies handle their day-to-day operations now and in the future. What’s your assessment of these developments?

Process automation in the back office is still both a curse and a blessing at the moment. A curse because there’s a lack of specialists who can develop, implement and maintain such solutions. A blessing because this can lead to considerable savings and unprecedented flexibility.

What will be the consequences? For example, will we see a reduction in the workforce in the coming years?

This is a question that many managers are asking themselves today. The professional world and job profiles are seeing fundamental changes. This is nothing new. We need both specialists who understand, for example, the profession and activities of an accountant and also robots that ultimately carry out these activities. This requires not just a few highly specialized experts, but a large number of people.

“How can I help you?” Chatbots are by no means the best solution for direct customer communication, according to Stephan Fricke.

Photo: freedom_naruk

Speaking of robots, chatbots are very popular in customer service operations today. Is this type of automation becoming standard?

The real potential for automation lies less in customer communication than in in-house departments and shared service center and business process outsourcing operations. Chatbots are by no means the best solution for direct customer communication. Rather, I see their potential, for instance, in data management, financial ­processes and documentation. This is because automation generally creates more quality, shortens processing times, is more flexible, and therefore also offers immense potential for savings.

Manfred Stockmann, president of the German Call Center Association for many years, has said, “Contact centers as they exist today will not be needed anymore in the year 2025.” Do you concur with that statement?

I absolutely agree with Mr. Stockmann here. Some time ago, “contact centers” were still called “call centers.” An interesting detail that couldn’t better express the changes across the industry. The people who years ago handled customer contact exclusively over the telephone now use all available channels. This development will certainly continue. Nevertheless, I think in many cases person-to-person communication is irreplaceable.

Photo Stephan Fricke: 5com Media