Without a doubt, RPA (Robotic Process Automation) was already on the radar of many UK businesses at the start of last year. Simon Perks, Head of Robotics and AI at a UK digital transformation consultancy called Agilisys, for example, claims to have been working pre-pandemic with a client that’s used the approach to cut the time needed to assess a claim from 15 days to just 24 hours–which means that whereas a person would previously need 12 minutes to process a form, their new virtual worker assistant is able to do it in three.
As Perks states, “When senior leaders see RPA’s benefits, they’ll inevitably start looking for opportunities to do more and organisations will start to think bigger and begin moving towards full-scale service transformation.“ But last year, the UK economy shrank by a record 20% in the second quarter, and though the Bank of England expects the economy to only contract by 11% in 2020, clearly recurring Lockdowns have had a major negative effect. Has this meant increased interest in RPA? Has COVID-driven move to working more digitally made a difference, too?
The answer is that almost certainly–though hard data is not yet coming through. The contact centre industry is often identified as a part of the economy very likely to adopt the approach, and this does seem to be happening in the UK according to the country’s community of professionals in the sector, the Call Centre Management Association (CCMA). “Our members are constantly looking to improve efficiencies and reduce costs in a thriving workplace whilst delivering the very best customer experience, though how contact centres do this will inevitably change and innovate,” its CEO, Leigh Hopwood, told RockingRobots.
“But yes, the pandemic has had a massive impact, and there will be pressure to reduce costs as our members say they’re having to handle increased volume and complexity of interactions.”
Hopwood says there are several ways that businesses can do this and one of them is definitely Robotic Process Automation, which she notes can support a customer experience where the interaction is simple, or there are less likely to be deviation across the customer journey. However, she adds, research her organisation has carried out amongst its members suggests that customers still want to speak to a human when the need is more complex.
As for robots in customer experience, the contact centre industry in particular is a very heavily populated technical environment. It’s a complex ecosystem, with CRM platforms, lots of point solutions for voice of the customer, and all of the agent desktop tooling. “I think the fact that RPA is being talked about now as one of the most influential technologies is really encouraging”, says Huw Williams, Global Practice Leader CX & Contact Centre at UiPath.
But he still sees a lack of truly understanding where and how that fits within the business. “When you hear the term robotics or RPA, people are still thinking that the robot is going to be doing the work. But it’s not and it’s not just one thing, it’s three things: Robots can serve the customer directly. Chatbots, and self service, and enhancing self service are one element. The second element is where an agent is assisted by a robot and empowered with more data, helping the agent to drive more meaningful and personalised conversations with each customer. And the third element is orchestrating the end to end customer journey.”
‘COVID is accelerating the uptake in automation within the manufacturing and logistics industry’
Finance and retail are other key verticals said to be actively investigating the potential of the RPA idea, and according to Faisal Abbasi, UK & Ireland for chatbot specialist Amelia, that’s definitely happening, as these kinds of brands tend to need to handle millions of calls and customer requests a month. “We’re seeing an increase in these types of companies looking to advanced automation in order to help them reduce the manpower required to handle basic, everyday enquiries such as requesting a bank statement, exchanging items, or logging late delivery items,” he states.
But the stresses on the British economy of 2020 may also spur UK RPA adoption in sectors that haven/t really been that interested so far, believes Paul Rivers, CEO of Leicester-based autonomous robotic supplier Guidance Automation. “COVID is accelerating the uptake in automation within the manufacturing and logistics industry–changes that would have happened eventually, but due to boosts in online shopping and a need to keep humans socially distant, more processes are being automated. I also predict we will travel much less for business in the future, not just in the UK but generally, and there will therefore be much more interest in buying and supporting ‘home’ businesses.”
There’s also the as yet very unclear factor of the UK starting 2021 finally its transition period out of the EU. For Rivers, that’s a move that could potentially re-shore at least some manufacturing back to the UK, which will add to the desire to automate. The verdict seems to be, then, that some RPA acceleration is definitely occurring across the battered ‘UK Plc’ as firms look to any help they can get to keep efficiency high and costs down.