How robots can create happier customers

Key takeaways

  • Known for reducing costs and improving efficiency, robotic process automation can also influence experience design.
  • Organisations looking to automate should consider how RPA can enhance the customer journey.
  • An RPA strategy can deliver on a number of key experience metrics – but the bots will require ongoing care.

Several months ago I wrote about how robotic process automation (RPA, software that automates basic and repetitive administrative tasks) can actually create new employment opportunities, a feat made possible by bringing outsourced services back onshore or funnelling the cost savings into local customer service teams.

I also argued that new job opportunities are only the tip of the iceberg for a well-executed RPA investment. Other strategic benefits might include keeping knowledge and expertise in-house, improving returns on investment, or boosting the customer experience by re-allocating more humans into front-facing roles.

Yet for any organisation looking to adopt RPA, it’s worth noting that the automation can itself significantly improve customer experiences. By pairing robotics with human-centred design, the technology is able to streamline underlying processes, reducing friction to create the sense of seamlessness and delight.

Robotics steps in to the customer journey

To tap into RPA’s ability to enhance experience, it’s important to understand how RPA intersects with the concept of the customer journey.

A customer journey traces the steps that a prospective customer takes when acquiring a product or service: whether it’s looking up a website, visiting a store or branch, or calling up a contact centre with an enquiry. Customer journeys can be simple or complicated, ranging from a single interaction to exposure to many different moving parts and channels.

At certain points along a customer journey, the experience very easily becomes less than pleasurable. We’ve all felt frustration by the long queues at a counter or kiosk, the lengthy wait for an application form to be processed (sometimes stretching out to days or weeks), or being put on hold during a phone call. It’s at these pain points where RPA can be transformative.

RPA transforming customer pain points

By researching what customers want to see, hear, think and feel during the customer journey, RPA can be implemented at key points to help deliver a fast and intuitive overall experience – creating a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

As an example, let’s consider the application process for a credit card. Traditionally, this required the customer to fill out a form at a bank, then wait for weeks as the form was collected, its data re-entered (with the possibility of errors), then sent to the necessary departments and back-office systems for approval – some of which might be offshore.

RPA software, by contrast, can transfer the original submitted data in real-time, moving it to the correct stakeholders and destinations as soon as it’s received. By seamlessly moving data from point A to B with minimal interpretation, RPA reduces wait times and errors, improving the overall product acquisition experience considerably. It also reduces the ‘cost to serve’, allowing the product to be sold at a lower cost and increasing its value proposition.

One of our clients was looking at how RPA could dramatically speed up the application processing timeframes for new financial products or services. How dramatic? Using RPA, the time it took to reach Conditional Approval was shortened from four days to just ten minutes, allowing new services to be issued to customers almost on the spot.

Experience metrics

Another advantage of RPA is the ability to measure its impact on the customer experience using key metrics. To chart the effect of an automation project, an organisation can first count the number of customer complaints and compliments – or draw from other data sources such as a Net Promoter Score (a survey tool that quantifies customer or stakeholder satisfaction).

After taking a baseline sample of these metrics prior to automation, another sample can be taken several months post-RPA. These results could then be compared for any significant changes. If the processes recently overtaken by RPA fare well, it’s proof that automation is having a positive outcome on the customer experience. If it’s negative, further fine-tuning might be required.

Customer satisfaction means bot maintenance

Speaking of fine-tuning, it’s crucial for organisations considering RPA to understand the need for ongoing maintenance and support. Bots are not just ‘set it and forget it’-type applications. To ensure they run smoothly, consistent checking and quality control is required.

If they’re not tended to, the customer experience can be impacted. An automated process will sometimes encounter what’s known as an ‘exception’, where a change occurs in a process and the bot doesn’t know what to do about it. It can be compared to the physical robots on the factory floor of a car plant. If a newly shaped car suddenly comes down the assembly line, the robot arms might end up attaching the wheels to the roof!

For software robots used to taking one type of data from somewhere and entering it somewhere else, an exception will see the bot freeze up, unsure of what to do next. If left unchecked, the overall service can grind to a halt, causing a negative impact on the customer experience.

The stakes are heightened if the automation is used as part of a process under a service-level agreement, such as electronic funds transfers or payments that must be carried out within a set timeframe. If a bot can’t process its data, the delay could see this agreement violated, causing fines or compensation.

More than a bot factory

When administered as part of a carefully plotted customer journey, RPA can positively impact the customer experience, delivering significant returns and reducing risk. However, it’s not a one-stop solution – and it’s certainly not about automating as much as possible.

Rather, it’s about encouraging an organisation to really examine their underlying processes, gauging how these can be best optimised. Sometimes, this will mean using automation to improve root systems. Other times it might be removing a process altogether, adopting a lean methodology that minimises waste.

Organisations shouldn’t look at becoming a ‘bot factory’ simply because the technology is now available. Instead, they should use automation in a careful and considered way, deploying their robot army to achieve a desired experience or outcome.

To read more about how to use RPA as part of your digitisation strategy, visit PwC’s robotic process automation page.