More and more companies are exploring ways to streamline and automate different business processes. But just how far can it be taken? Is there a limit to what machines can be taught? Will they replace humans entirely? Let us look at the facts.
None (or few…) of us are perfect. We are human and prone to errors – at home and at work. So too are customers. But when they deal with an organization, they do not see a collection of people. Instead, they see a company: one who can be held accountable for every misplaced parcel, product fault, or service failure.
Customer expectations are high, so every detail counts. With so little consumer tolerance for errors and imperfections, small mistakes can be costly. This is why so many companies are investing in digital transformation programs. Automation is a crucial part of this, and according to research from McKinsey, about half of the work being done today could be automated.
But what does this really mean, and how is automation being used to best effect?
Traditionally, advances in work-based technology have focused on improving tasks requiring manual labor. Just think of the great Industrial Age innovations that enhanced output – seed drills, steam engines, and the Spinning Jenny – which transformed ancient labor intensive and often dangerous tasks, making them more manageable: for those able to adapt. Fast forward several hundred years, plus a shift to a knowledge-based economy, and it is clear to see how computing power and the Internet have evolved the way we work in a similar way. While these services are wholly capable of doing everything from connecting us to our colleagues, to sharing and delivering information, as well as keeping track of workflows, schedules, invoices, etc, However, all of these have been contingent on constant human input.
Automating Your Business: Technology provides us with the tools needed to automate the way we work – but what do we need it to actually do?
Collaboration: When multiple inputs are needed, online services like Google Docs, Quickbooks, and Keynote allow us to share work with colleagues; and automatically keep track of edits and amends.
Planning: Workflow tools like Trello and Asana, and even the humble calendar app ensure we have constant oversight of what needs to be done by when; and alert us when deadlines are approaching.
Execution: Services such as Buffer, TweetDeck, and Hootsuite can be used to schedule and post social media messages.
These are typical examples of ways to automate different processes in businesses. But how do these points also affect the automation in customer contact?
Advances in machine learning and AI are now sufficiently sophisticated enough to tackle tasks that have traditionally required human cognizance – thanks to intelligent automation.
Think of intelligent automation as essentially streamlined processes with the added bonus of being able to make autonomous decisions. For example, consider content moderation. Online marketplaces have traditionally relied on human website moderators to flag, vet, approve, and prohibit content; but it is possible to filter and review things like that automatically nowadays - with the assistance of AI.
But from a customer service perspective, who really benefits? While automation offers greater efficiency and more cost savings, when it comes to customer service, automation falls short… right?
It is fair to say that speed, quality, consistency, and convenience are the cornerstones of customer relations. If conventional automation can give us speed, consistency, and convenience, then it is clear what is missing. Quality, in a customer service sense, means personalization. From a brand perspective, this means providing a fluid customer experience across all analog and digital touchpoints. In the near future (and already to some extent) we will no doubt witness a variety of new customer-driven technologies take center stage – but right now messaging services, voice assistants, and m-commerce are all core aspects of the customer journey.
Keeping pace with these innovations will mean that brands will have to ‘up their game’. For many companies, this means always being on call. But running a 24/7 business takes a lot of time, effort, and resources. And that’s why intelligent automation works so well in customer service. The best example of intelligent customer service automation at work is the chatbot; a messaging platform AI trained to provide contextually-relevant answers to numerous types of inquiries. Why have they become so popular? Because customers are using messaging platforms as brand interfaces. Increasingly, chatbots are becoming indistinguishable from human customer service agents. This is in part down to Natural Language Processing, which gives chatbots greater sentiment awareness; enabling them to identify mood and tone, based on the words and phrases a customer uses.
But what about actual people? Does intelligent automation take away customer service jobs? Think of it as another aspect of streamlining work. If the smaller, easier questions can be dealt with quickly by an AI – which can handle numerous queries at once – then that gives employees an opportunity to improve other areas of the business that require more human expertise: creativity, empathy, and intuition. Plus, someone has to train the AI from the outset and impart the knowledge needed to make the AI aware of the parameters involved.
But chatbots are just one way in which intelligent automation is helping businesses boost customer service. Other ways include the speed at which information can be accessed -- vital when looking at customer orders and delivery status; and smart data optimization, thanks to the increasing number of IoT-enabled devices which can alter and adapt the way a process occurs based on live statistics.
Whichever way you look at it, the efficiencies provided by business process automation are customer-driven, ultimately. Greater accuracy, access to information, and better communication lead to more aware and productive employees; allowing them to work more closely with customers – whose needs and expectations continue to change. The customer journey needs to be smooth, personal, and fast, which means information must move at the same speed.