RPA for Contact Centers and Customer Service

Robotic process automation (RPA) solutions have been in the market for more than 15 years, but it was only 5 years ago when they started to capture the attention of enterprise and IT managers. Seemingly out of nowhere, automation technology became mission-critical as managers realized they could gain efficiencies and increase productivity by automating manual tasks that do not require or benefit from the cognitive capabilities of human employees. 

This is a great concept, especially when bots (another name for the automations) are embedded in or used as part of an existing business process. Every single operating system can benefit from the application of automations – consider the many places where bots could improve the performance of a sales, marketing or customer service system, or where bots could reduce the number of preparation or processing steps in an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. And companies that are still dependent on 40- to 50-year-old operating systems are finding that there are situations where RPA can solve production problems that have plagued them for decades. 

RPA Applications and Uses

Robotic process automation comes in two primary forms: unattended, where they run on their own with no human intervention, and attended, where a task or bot is initiated by some form of human intervention. There are also situations where an attended RPA is used to kick off an unattended process. Contact centers are opportunity-rich environments for RPA, as agents perform many rote and repetitive activities that do not require human reasoning. Classic examples of these activities, which agents do many times a day in many contact centers, are: auto-retrieval of information, cutting and pasting data from one field or system to another, completing forms, data propagation, launching context-sensitive content, fulfilling customer requests, and wrapping up inquiries. Somewhat more sophisticated activities, such as helping with script adherence and next-best-action guidance, can also be addressed by RPAs. But this is just a small part of the value of these automations. 

These bots are also ideal for automating the many requests that go from the front office (the contact center or customer service) to various back-office departments for processing or resolution. The separation of duties between front- and back-office departments has been in place in many organizations for decades. While necessary to enable economies of scale for most of the past 40 – 50 years, this is no longer a good practice because the technology exists today to automate many of these tasks. Simplifying transaction handling and eliminating extra processing steps and hand-offs between departments and people will help streamline the customer journey, improve the customer experience (CX), and greatly reduce operating costs. 

The RPA Competitive Environment

There are many RPA vendors in the market, and new offerings continue to be launched. The best-known of these vendors, Automation Anywhere, Blue Prism and UiPath, offer feature-rich suites geared for horizontal uses, which is another way of saying that they are designed to be applied to any business use. Then, there are automation specialists who target their solutions to a specific vertical or business sector(s). When it comes to the front and back office, these vendors are Jacada, OnviSource (who has a new offering), NICE, Verint, and UiPath (who has a vertical dedicated to contact centers). All of the leading RPA solutions come with dozens to hundreds of built-in integrations to third-party applications. The verticalized RPA offerings have the added advantage of coming with the integrations that contact centers, customer service departments and some back- offices need, saving enterprise users a great deal of time and effort. (For a detailed analysis of these five offerings, please see DMG Consulting’s 2021 – 2022 Robotic Process Automation Product and Market Report, released in June 2021.)

Low-Code/No-Code Does Not Mean Easy

The RPA vendors message that these solutions can be built by business managers or citizen developers, and do not require programming. While this varies by solution, some of them do require programming, particularly when it comes to integrations. Even the best designed RPA solution is not easy to use and requires a special skill set to build and implement the bots (or automations). These resources are in great demand today and are expensive. DMG recommends using the vendor’s professional services or a third-party consultant trained to use the RPA solution purchased, while working on building in-house resources. Identifying the right activities to automate and using trained resources to build the bots are the keys to success with these solutions. 

Final Thoughts

There are many great uses for both attended and unattended RPA solutions, and with the assistance of the new artificial intelligence-enabled discovery tools that are part of advanced offerings, new opportunities are continually being identified. Contact centers and customer service departments can gain efficiencies, reduce operating expenses, improve employee engagement and enhance the CX with these solutions. Companies should also consider using RPA solutions to break down the barriers between their front- and back-office departments as an important step in improving the customer journey and making it easier for customers to conduct business with them. Robotic process automation solutions are great, but prospects should be aware that they are not as easy to use as the vendors claim.