Spain Is Trying To Kill Wait Times—Will Europe Follow?

on hold

This article first appeared in Forbes and was written by Per Ottosson, CEO of Artificial Solutions.


Like you, I am often left frustrated with the length of time I’m forced to wait on the phone to get support from a customer service agent. Things seem to be getting worse across a number of industries.

Thousands of flights have been canceled and rescheduled as the aviation industry has buckled under the pressure of the return of mass tourism, staff strikes and climbing fuel prices. This has created huge pressure on contact centers across Europe and the U.S. Looking at other sectors, a similar story seems to be unfolding.

ow in Spain, an even bigger challenge for businesses that operate with contact centers is fast approaching. As The Guardian notes, Consumer Rights Minister Alberto Garzón recently announced that “the practically infinite waiting times that produce frustration are over.” This statement was made following the approval of a draft bill that will set a three-minute limit on phone waiting times, at which time consumers will be required by law to connect with a human.

It’s big news for enterprise-level Spanish companies that operate across a range of vertical markets with contact centers, including Telefonia (telecommunications), Vueling (aviation), Sanitas (healthcare), SEAT (automotive) and Cigna (insurance).

All of these companies will be forced to radically reduce the average handling times (AHT) with the hiring of additional staff and the implementation of new technologies. If they don’t, they’ll face fines between 150 euros and 10,000 euros—and up to 100,000 euros if the problem affects vulnerable consumers or if consistent infractions are made.

It’s music to the ears of consumers, of course. However, it’s a nightmare scenario for some of Europe’s biggest businesses that will have to make serious investments into their operations without much promise of ROI.

The worst part for those big operators is that the rest of the EU may follow suit if consumers report significantly improved experiences—which they inevitably will. The Irish Times reported that some customers in Ireland have had to wait for up to two hours on hold.

Looking ahead, it’s not hard to imagine how other legislators across Europe will see how a change in legislation to tackle this long-term issue could generate political support in their home nations. At the end of the day, who hasn’t been left in anguish while waiting on the phone for hours on end? If there was ever a bipartisan issue to unite over, wouldn’t this be it? Wouldn’t we all love to kill waiting times forever? Wouldn’t we all vote for the person who promises to do so?

The interesting aspect of this is that the legislator is looking for a human to pick up the phone. Yet we see that CSAT increases when the bot picks up first. Based on my experience working with contact centers that will be impacted by the change in legislation, I’ve learned that there is certainly a worry about how this will impact business operations.

Yet could this be a good thing in the long run? The implementation and deployment of highly sophisticated conversational AI systems have been painfully slow across international markets and contact centers. Most have automated systems, where a basic voice bot can filter callers based on simple inputs (e.g., “Answer ‘Yes’ if you are calling about your home insurance…”).

Generally speaking, however, they are not designed with the appropriate level of complexity that is required to actually resolve customers’ issues, and they are not able to reduce waiting time from 30 minutes to three.

That can change, as the problem is not the technology but the lack of successful implementation and the failure of enterprise-level organizations to successfully harness the full potential of conversational AI.

This is the key issue facing contact center operators. It is not the adoption of the technology (almost every call center has some version of an interactive voice response) but rather the approach that companies must take when creating solutions. With the right guidance, investment and attitude, businesses in Spain and beyond could automate significantly higher volumes of calls and radically reduce the pressure on human agents.

For example, instead of being on hold for three minutes, an automated voice system could pick up the phone as soon as you called and attempt to completely resolve your problem within that time. If it wasn’t possible to find a solution, an agent would pick up the phone and be equipped with all of the key information you had shared with the voice bot.

Instead of answering yes/no questions, you could ask: “Could you please cancel my current internet contract and set up a new one at my new address?”

The question then becomes: “How can an organization determine the best strategy for maximizing the value of conversational AI?”

When looking at the most successful implementations of conversational AI across international markets, one thing is clear: Businesses that take a holistic and high-level strategic view of customer engagement are able to reap the benefits and access the full potential of the technology. Conversational AI is an incredible tool, but far too many businesses take a small-minded view of its capabilities. Simply using a platform to build a chatbot with a few basic responses is like using a Formula One car to drive to the shop for some milk.

My advice to those considering adopting the technology—especially telecommunication providers that operate large contact centers—is to consider the potential of creating highly complex omnichannel customer experiences and what impact that could have on your business outcomes. Only when you truly understand the radical improvements that this could offer your organization can you decide upon a strategy that connects and supports your long-term strategic goals.

Once the strategy is decided upon, you need to invest in a team of conversational AI experts and choose a vendor that offers a platform for you to develop and scale solutions rapidly. Many businesses fail with their conversational AI projects because they select the wrong platform, so make sure to carry out as much due diligence as possible and assess how many other businesses have enjoyed successful deployments using the technology offered by each vendor.

This could be the difference between whether or not you’re fined hundreds of thousands by the Spanish authorities.


Per Ottosson is the CEO at Artificial Solutions, a leading company in Conversational AI. Read Per Ottosson’s full executive profile here.