Robotic Process Automation ‘RPA’ in the Call Centre

What is Robotic Process Automation and how can Call Centres benefit from this advancement in technology?

Robotic process automation (RPA) is the deployment of technology that allows an operation to configure computer software or a ‘robot’ to capture and interpret existing applications for an unending number of interactions, for example processing a transaction, manipulating data, triggering automatic responses via email or white mail and communicating with other digital systems. Or quite simply copying and pasting text from one field to another.

When we think of ‘robots’ it’s hard to stop our minds drifting towards images of some kind of ‘Terminator’ style Cybernetic Machine or Cylon Centurions from Battlestar Galactica. However, in this instance we are talking more about ‘Process Automation’, where a software digital ‘robot’ will mimic the manual actions of employees and automate any desktop based activity, their workflow processes and back office tasks and also that of automated assistants — think iPhone’s Siri — which are possibly voice activated and designed to retrieve information, structure data and deliver answers based on simple language as opposed to software code and more importantly, in an instant without error, 24 hrs per day, 7 days per week. It is easy to see the immediate benefit that this would give to a call centre operation.

How does it work?

RPA is performed in a desktop computer. The RPA software will record the processes that a person normally completes to finish a task, after the recording is done detail is added to let the ‘Robot’ know when to complete certain actions or reactions to a specific set of outcomes, for example, to add any additional logic, to check for errors and to send notifications to other staff members. After the detail is added the user presses ‘play’ to verify if the robotic processes match the human process and continues some further testing to completely cover all the bases and any eventualities if a totally abnormal reaction occurs a notification would be sent, so that a human can intervene.

One key interesting thing about RPA tools is that although they might be provisioned, governed, and supported by the IT team, they are trained by the actual business users. The result being that the business users get the exactly the result the require from the actual process, as if they actually did it themselves.

For Call Centres, the impact is a further drive towards efficiency that will allow operations to remain competitive, increase profits or simply keep up with the pace of technological improvements in the face of enhanced competition. They can do that by redirecting resources in a call centre environment so that they can be deployed directly via human interaction with customers, where strategic and creative thinking is required. Organisations will be able to create more value for their customers and improve service without further investment.

What kind of tasks can be automated?

In any given day in a modern Call Centre, there are hundreds of structured routine processes of imputing data and moving it to different systems. For example, pulling together volumes of contacts from different channels to analyse history to create a Forecast, or maintaining HR details of leaver’s and new hires.These actions take time and whilst important are for the most part uninteresting, menial administrative or clerical tasks that employees need to do every day, without any real requirement to think creatively. Agents on the phone with customers may have to pull together order history or check to see if a previous ticket has been actioned or processed, these actions increase Average handling time (AHT), increase wait times and impact customer experience negatively, thus resulting in reduced advocacy and business growth.

A big challenge for any modern operation is the interaction between different systems, even the word ‘integration’ sends shivers up spines of operational leaders. RPA tools will allow call centres to easily log in and out of different systems sharing and collecting data, processing and formatting it to maximise the benefits that these individual systems can provide. Through the information, they collect and the data they need to operate efficiently tools such as CRM, ACD, WFM, Dialler platforms and more will become more effective will operational leaders to resource plan more efficiently.

Alex McQuiggan at Glasgow-based ‘Impact’ BPO shared his thoughts on RPA and the impact on the industry, in general. His reaction was predictably optimistic.

‘Our feeling is RPA is actually an opportunity to grow our business, we aim to get ahead of it for a few reasons. We see that Call demands and AHT will likely start increasing as consumers get more technologically aware and embrace self-service for example. Our view is that it will become more the case that customers will only make contact directly with complex issues, which require some level of human intervention. We see a growth in Email volumes, as automation will replace basic queries and things like data extraction. We predict that Service Level targets via Social channels will become the most challenging to meet and RPA will be vital in dealing with this effectively.’

No Doomsday!

For some within the Call Centre industry, there is a level of anxiety with the fear that they will be ultimately replaced by ‘robots’ or their business will be adversely affected by the advent of RPA, others will see this as an opportunity and those who are first to embrace the change, adapt and react will be the first to take advantage of any benefits of their pioneering actions.

Already heavily used

Already RPA software is used by Call Centres supporting Banks, Insurance companies, online shopping brands and many more used by consumers every day. A recent example is that of Capgemini, internationally recognised consulting, technology and outsourcing services provider who have just signed a multi-year agreement with a specialist automation software company, in order to expand its robotic process automation (RPA) capabilities.

They already put RPA to use for a number of organisations globally. Automating processes such as data entry, file and data manipulation, automated formatting and multi-format message creation. Capgemini plans to use the software to advance its automated technology offering to “help drive more effective business outcomes and greater business benefits”.

Better Customer Service

It can be argued that the development of RPA will enhance the call centre industry even further, providing a continued need for the sector and in fact, provide room for potential growth, certainly for on-shore based operations. There will most likely be a requirement for agents to have better language skills. This can possibly be evidenced according to research firm Everest who claim that there has been an increased percentage share of the global Contact Centre labour market by US-based firms since 2013. There will be maybe, a requirement for staff to become more highly skilled in areas like healthcare for example. If as proposed they become increasingly no longer required for simple enquiries, and basic repetitive tasks, the result could be they are then free for more complex higher level activity or simply available to deal with the most incoherent, irate and demanding customers.

Originally published at