The highly challenging global business environment has become even more competitive recently. Technological developments and digital disruptors continue to shape the landscape, against a backdrop of political and economic uncertainty. Concurrently, customer expectations are growing, as they demand high quality products and services delivered to a timescale that fits their needs. This places significant pressure on businesses to meet these expectations, especially as customer trust and loyalty is at an all-time low. To address this challenge, business leaders must look to how they can leverage the ‘soft’ skills within their organisation to provide a better service.

In order to best utilise these soft skills, the existing workforce should be supported with technology, such as robotic process automation (RPA), which can be programmed to carry out labour-intensive and time-consuming tasks. However, care must be taken in the implementation phase to ensure that RPA is utilised to its best advantage and cultural changes are addressed early in the process.

Tasks fit for a robot

RPA is a cutting-edge technology that allows software ‘robots’ to mimic interactions that a human might have with an existing system. The majority of RPA tooling is distinct from machine learning and artificial intelligence, which involves a system actively learning from experience, to improve its performance at a task over time. Common applications for RPA include data entry, data manipulation, system integration and the creation of digital documents. These tasks are invaluable given the volume of unstructured and structured data generated by businesses, which can be analysed to directly inform decision-making processes.

The new integrated workforce

Highly repetitive and time-consuming tasks can be prone to error when performed by a human, but robots will complete the tasks consistently and efficiently, eliminating the potential for mistakes. By assigning these tasks to robots, employees can focus on those high value tasks that previously may have been deemed out of scope, due to lack of resource capacity. Also, in times of high demand, RPA can be scaled, without consideration of factors like sickness or holiday, making it an additional agile workforce that can be recruited and activated as needed.

Using RPA to build customer trust

Integrating RPA into a team alters the role of human employees and dynamics within the team. Once repetitive tasks have been reassigned, employees are able to focus on the creative, analytical and critical thinking that robots remain incapable of. This involves reviewing processes to devise new ways to meet client expectations efficiently and even identifying new areas where value can be added. RPA allows space for new thinking that might not be possible at times when teams are focused on delivering challenging projects.

Customers are much less forgiving of mistakes than ever before and will not hesitate to change supplier if the service they receive is not consistent in quality or timescale. In addition, customers are quite vocal in their displeasure, which can have negative effects on company reputation.

With the new ‘space’ created in the workplace, employees can place a greater emphasis on tasks encompassing emotional intelligence, which is a vital facet for adding value and creating longevity in client relationships. And importantly, RPA can provide more time for upskilling, to ensure that businesses are able to meet and exceed their clients’ needs into the future.

RPA in action

With increasing demands and seasonal spikes, a top telecoms provider was faced with challenges in meeting service level agreements (SLAs). The business identified an inefficient manual process, which involved the transferring of key data from multiple systems to its destination. This required valuable full-time effort, which kept these resources away from customer queries, introduced operational risk and slowed down the availability of valuable data.

Using RPA, systems that previously did not interact were able to work together seamlessly. By eliminating the manual tasks, employees could be reallocated to work on more meaningful tasks – including dedicating more time to client facing activities. 

Addressing internal trust issues

Although RPA provides existing employees the time to build trusting relationships with clients, successfully implementing RPA requires a considered approach. Organisations must be sensitive to the fact that robots represent a change in culture, not just capability.

Anxiety about facing unfair competition and the elimination of roles may resonate with employees, particularly given the recent media focus on how automation may replace jobs. Equally, there might be fears that managing RPA systems could exacerbate, rather than relieve, workloads. The cultural effects must be managed through a strategy that starts at the top.

It’s vital to secure support from the leadership team, including IT and operational leads. Consider appointing a head of RPA, who acts as a consistent figure throughout the process to ensure a successful transition. Equally, a RPA Centre of Excellence can act as a vital resource to provide an organisation with a multitude of benefits and services, enabling the rapid and successful delivery of a digital workforce.

Taking the leap forwards

Implementing RPA presents the perfect opportunity to evaluate and improve on processes, both on a per project basis and across the business. This ensures that the transition delivers significant lasting value. Ongoing education is a key component of the process where employees are taught how to work with the digital workforce and how to respond when RPA sends an exception. By providing these skills early on, businesses can ensure that employees feel prepared for the changes ahead.

RPA can play a critical role in keeping up with client demands, allowing employees to nurture those delicate client relationships and build trust. There is also potential to improve the quality and consistency of outputs. Change must be implemented with thought and care. But get it right, and you can keep up with clients’ demands with a strong, integrated workforce even as these demands continue to evolve.

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As practice lead for robotic process automation, Rebecca is responsible for the development and delivery of SQS’ RPA capabilities used to support clients in the deployment of RPA solutions within their organisations. Rebecca’s passion is helping clients establish governance and communications models that underpin the delivery of rapid and successful process automations with full visibility of the business benefits. Rebecca is also responsible for establishing and maintaining SQS’ strategic relationships with software providers and regularly speaks at industry events providing real world insights on the challenges of deploying automated solutions.