The business technology industry is swimming with smart new products, and among them, robotic process automation (RPA) is making a big splash. It promises faster processing of complex, repetitive business tasks. And while early adopters are still learning how best to apply it, RPA could make its biggest impact on customer experience (CX).
What Is RPA?
RPA refers to a collection of software “bots,” which mimic how people perform business functions. For example, a representative may issue a refund by using an accounting application to run, track and record the transaction. The bots can interact with the accounting application in the same way to issue refunds automatically.
RPA handles tasks such as collating data from records, canceling reservations, moving files, copying and pasting data, filling in forms, pulling information from documents, opening emails and updating logs. It’s designed to free humans from tedious, repetitive tasks. And because it works like a virtual robot, it can complete more transactions with fewer errors in less time.
The RPA market is just getting started, but many well-known companies like Walmart are already using it extensively, and by 2023, the market is expected to reach $2.7 billion. It’s also handling some customer-facing tasks. For example, American Express Global Business Travel uses the technology to automate ticket cancels and refunds.
How Can RPA Improve CX?
By beavering away in the background RPA bots create smoother, easier interactions for consumers, make it easier to reach a person, keep data safe and offer tempting deals.
Because RPA bots mimic humans, they quickly turn existing manual computer processes into automated ones. As a result, it takes less time to expose transactions as self-service. A customer can trigger an automated task through online or mobile apps and RPA handles the back-end work.
Customers want to get things done easily and quickly, but they don’t always see the amount of work it takes behind the scenes to complete transactions. In many cases, RPA can do that work at the speed of software without typical errors from manual inputs.
For example, when a customer submits a credit application, RPA can read the details, access business rules, update records and prepare the information for review much faster than people currently do.
More Attentive Agents
One of RPAs most powerful advantages could be in supporting agents. Allstate, for example, uses an RPA chat bot that helps agents quickly find the latest insurance regulations and protocol. Calls go faster so wait times drop and more people get help. Plus, employees have more time for problem solving, supporting customers through high-stress transactions, and upselling.
RPA bots perform consistently, so they adhere to regulations. They can be programmed to detect potential fraud, notify customers and conduct further actions based on responses. RPA also handles transactions with sensitive data, reducing the risk of leaks through human error.
Rather than just lowering costs, RPA can help generate revenue. Some companies are combining it with artificial intelligence (AI) systems that analyze customer data and identify how best to reach out. The AI triggers bots to send customized offers to people who are likely to need upgrades or refills. The bots can even handle customer responses and questions. This combination of RPA and AI is called intelligent automation or IA, as if we needed another acronym.
Where Are the Pitfalls?
As with any new tech, the sales talk can get ahead of reality. While RPA confers serious benefits, it requires careful, constant care and feeding.
Design and Planning
RPA is designed to fit into the existing application suite, so it doesn’t require major infrastructure changes. But many implementations fail because companies don’t appreciate the complexity of the task they’re automating. Projects have to start with a detailed understanding of requirements and use cases, and as with any technology, it demands rigorous testing.
As a flexible and powerful solution, RPA tempts companies to go big in the early stages, but it’s easy to underestimate the effort required to launch bots. It’s smarter to start with small projects that can serve as a template for the processes, timelines and procedures that will support more extensive endeavors.
A recent Frost and Sullivan report on RPA advises companies to consider the impact automation will have on how employees interact with processes and how their roles in the company may change. For example, customer service representatives who will have more time to handle complex issues may need additional training. Or RPA may change the way departments share information, and employees need to be prepared.
Oversight and Management
RPA bots need constant oversight to ensure they’re behaving as expected. Because they blindly follow directions given, if they encounter something they can’t handle, they’ll fail, causing lost data and snarling up processes.
And if they impact CX, failure could have disastrous consequences. Companies need procedures for identifying any business changes that may impact bot performance, handling those changes and testing results.
For CX professionals looking for additional tools, RPA could provide a flexible way to turn existing manual processes into automated ones. And with careful management, the bots can become indefatigable partners in keeping customers happy.