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Creating operational efficiency and business agility
by Oded Karev, General Manager of Advanced Process Automation, NICE
There comes a point at which you’ve got to acknowledge that a long-accepted way of doing things is being upended. This can be due to advances in technology or changes in society or both.
That’s precisely where we are in the world of customer service and support. But, it is not manifesting as a move from one stable paradigm to another. Instead, we are seeing the creation of a highly dynamic environment with continuous change as a built-in aspect.
The accelerated transition to more remote and hybrid workforces is posing challenges for accessibility, agent engagement, and service consistency. This in turn is driving a shift to more digital-first approaches to interactions, both in-house and with customers.
However, the move to systems and applications that support those developments is often uneven or lags behind the actual needs of the organization. Enterprises may have thousands of processes across various organizational divisions such as HR, finance, IT, contact centers, and the back office. Most of them are still executed manually today with multiple business applications, creating a complex patchwork of siloed or outdated solutions and highly decentralized data.
Imagine customer support representatives in a typical contact center. They very often need to be experts in legacy desktop applications and web-based services, access and duplicate information in separate databases, and handle live interactions in what is quickly becoming an omnichannel industry. Add to this the costs of compliance with ever-changing data management regulations and standards, which can be very different across regions and in different business sectors. Getting approvals, processing requests and generally supporting customers seem to have become more time-consuming and challenging.
And that poses an additional problem, as customer expectations have changed. They expect excellence and personalization from every interaction, with response time playing a critical role in their assessment of service providers. As an article by Sarika Khanna in the January issue of CX Insight Magazine notes, “both U.S. and U.K. consumers ranked response time as what matters most to them when contacting customer service. This was ahead of agent knowledge about products and services, overall time and effort needed to resolve an issue, personalized communication and resolution and, finally, agent tone and communication style.”
Informed customers are demanding higher quality services and, as is always the case, they are letting others know what they think. Word-of-mouth remains the number-one marketing tool and social media is just a more powerful, faster-paced vehicle for its spread. Fortunately, technology has made customer experience more easily quantifiable, but it has also created fierce competition in that arena.
Between the high expectations of customers and the rapid pace of technological change, it is clear we cannot continue to do what we have always done. It will not be sustainable.
What is needed now is both operational efficiency and business agility. This includes looking at how workflows impact CX, optimizing interactions, making in-house collaboration easier, and digitization of business process inputs such as invoices, contracts and even signatures.
The common theme is efficiency, as it can make or break a customer’s experience. So, we adjust our processes and upgrade what we have to offer. But we soon find that superb systems, world-beating tech and cutting-edge design are just not enough.
As Khanna noted in her CX Insight article, “customer service plays a major role in modern customers’ buying decisions and, in 2022, the role of the customer service agent is only going to grow in importance.” And the connection between employee satisfaction and customer experience is very well established across many studies. As noted in this Forbes article, “companies that invest in employee experience are four times more profitable than those that don’t” and “companies with highly engaged employees outperform their competitors by 147%.”
At NICE, we, too, have repeatedly seen the real-world impact of employee experience on customer satisfaction metrics. A few examples:
In short, employees need to feel engaged, empowered and equipped to deliver exceptional customer experiences. If they don’t, then we’re undermining the foundation of our own success.
So, if people really are at the heart of customer service, then it is important to look at what is most likely to trouble our employees. The main sources of their stress can be loosely divided into three areas: errors, performance, and monotony.
They are worried about the inevitable human errors inherent in manual processes and their impact on business outcomes, which includes regulatory compliance. As a result, employees may find themselves double- and triple-checking their manual input. At the same time, employees want to hit performance goals in terms of number of transactions completed and other KPIs (such as upselling, churn, AHT, and more). In addition, they have the burden of routine, mind-numbing and repetitive tasks for administrative purposes and ensuring database consistency.
The more their job causes them frustration, the less employees are motivated to do it well and, in turn, the higher our operational costs and the lower our customer satisfaction ratings.
One very effective tool for improving compliance, efficiency and accuracy is automation. Applied correctly, it frees employees from mundane, monotonous tasks and eliminates procedural errors, helping them meet KPI goals and allowing them to focus on higher value responsibilities.
In 2018, a report titled The Sorry State of Digital Transformation by the global market research company Forrester revealed that up to 22 percent of businesses did not have process excellence and workflow automations in place. While that may have changed over the last few years, especially in light of the pandemic-induced mass migration to remote workforces and cloud services, automation is still not being implemented to its full potential.
Many organizations think about automation in terms of where it can replace human employees. But this mindset is entirely missing the opportunity created by RPA solutions to empower employees, meet and exceed KPIs, and prevent churn among the most valuable employees.
In order to empower our employees, we need to know where their challenges lie, how automation can best support them, and if there are organizational inefficiencies that can be addressed. This crucial step of assessing workflows and processes can also help us identify best practices that can be proliferated across our enterprise, as needed.
Of course, automation may not be the right strategy in every scenario. Not all processes can be effectively automated, and there is a cost of unnecessarily undertaking the effort. Obviously, the best processes to automate are those which would generate the highest ROI for the business. For example, processes which are complex and executed by a large group of people are good candidates for automation. Another example is a seasonal process that is very error-prone when done manually. On the other hand, highly complex but infrequent, processes requiring cognitive decisioning over a lengthy handle time are generally not ideal candidates for automation.
No matter the process, though, it should be analyzed for potential optimization before implementing any automation. Without this step, the result may just be an automated version of an existing inefficiency or the unintended creation of workflow bottlenecks.
In order to most effectively assess which processes can be automated, with how much effort, and what their potential impact would be, we turn to artificial intelligence. An AI-driven analysis of our business processes can provide the actionable insights needed to guide our decisions regarding next steps toward automation and optimization, as well as possible non-automation-dependent improvements.
As we move to implement the identified automations and optimizations, we should prioritize those that will have the greatest impact. Such a strategy gives us quick wins with which to rapidly proceed along a digital transformation trajectory. In addition, based on the insights AI provides us, we can further empower our employees with new coaching plans, better process guidance and skill boosts built around the RPA solutions.
At NICE, we have seen how RPA impacts businesses of all sizes. For example, on average, they registered:
One final point. Once we’ve created a digital environment for our employees with streamlined processes and built-in automations, a new enterprise-level advantage arises. We can now quickly and easily leverage the automations in place to scale our workforce up or down, as needed, in response to growing demand or seasonal requirements. What started as a fantastic solution to keep our employees happy is ultimately a doorway to bigger and better things, no matter how complex our new world of customer service seems to be.
General Manager of Advanced Process Automation
Oded is a seasoned professional in the strategy and operations domain specializing in customer journey optimization and digital transformation. He is the General Manager of NICE’s Advanced Process Automation LoB, for NICE’s robotics solutions globally. NICE is an RPA leader, bringing a portfolio that spans across attended and unattended bots, including a proprietary task mining solution, and owning the largest automation projects in the industry.
Learn more at nice.com/rpa
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