Richard Farrell, chief innovation officer at Netcall explains why automation is the key to accelerating change in an increasingly uncertain marketplace.

Whilst businesses continue to battle the ongoing ramifications of the pandemic, many are moving away from firefighting mode and thoughts have now turned to future planning. However, with further uncertainty ahead for UK businesses – both from the pandemic and final Brexit negotiations – many feel they are planning for the unknown. After all, it is challenging to plan for the present right now, let alone the future.

Now, more than ever, agility and the capacity to adapt rapidly are paramount for success and, as such, have been placed high on the agenda for businesses across a range of industries. The challenge of switching to digital, automated journeys remains a key part of the bigger picture. But economic challenges, staffing decisions as the Job Support Scheme replaces the current furlough scheme, and the need to drive down costs, are all fighting for c-suite focus.

Technology will be the key to unlocking focused and efficient digital transformation. But the question is: how do you retain customer support service levels in these uncertain times, while accelerating change? How can organisations move at pace along their digital journey – balancing the need to cut costs, with the growing need to optimise the efficiency of interactions and improving customer service levels?

Driving transformation with automation

There is no doubt that Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and self-service are two powerful tools businesses should be utilising to optimise their operations. They offer huge potential to reduce simple, repetitive tasks whilst improving efficiency, as human-error mistakes are limited to the customer’s side.

It is important, however, for businesses to recognise that people are vitally important. By moving the mundane tasks into automation, organisations can elevate the value that staff provide. This will provide staff with extra capacity to support customers on the more complex transactions and requests, and spend more time on meaningful, value-driving tasks.

Automation should not be seen as a cost-reduction tool in its own right; rather, as a vehicle to redistribute demand, placing people in roles that add greater value to the customer and in turn boost profitability. Taking the right approach means that cost and customer experience levels do not always needed to be traded off against one another.

Keeping up with new challenges and demand

As well as automating existing processes within the business, IT leaders should be looking at how automation can help the organisation keep up with new and future challenges. One use-case, which is likely to have a widespread impact, is the increase in defaulted bill payments. As millions of people come off furlough and unemployment rates continues to rise, defaulting on bill payments has never been so high, and sadly, this is only likely to continue. Although before the global pandemic, bad debts and defaulted payments were a relatively minor issue, they are now producing a huge amount of work to process. Inevitably, this is placing extra demand on contact centres.

Whilst new processes are needed to overcome these challenges, back-end systems are not traditionally known for their flexibility. However, the integration of solutions such as low-code can help to automate back-end processes and allow businesses to build new applications quickly – responding to new challenges as they arise. That, in combination with automation, will enable businesses to not only reduce administration work, but also speed up the delivery of processes, such as debt recovery.

Putting automation into practice

When accelerating change through automation, it is important to design processes that not only meet the needs of customers but are going to be adopted by employees too. The key to getting it right is to use customer-facing people as a major part of the building process. After all, they have useful first-hand consumer insights, and can identify any issues within current systems that prevent work from flowing effectively.

By using low-code platforms that enable collaboration, employees can work with IT to develop solutions to common customer experience issues. These employees, effectively ‘citizen developers’, can add value to companies and drive developments from the very core of an organisation. This avoids the need for businesses to spend significant time and investment searching for seasoned developers and gives employees the tools to drive automation in a cost-effective way.

Adapting to new processes

Whilst it is important that everyday business users are involved in the development of new processes, it is also crucial that key stakeholders are engaged. It is imperative, therefore, for businesses to opt for tools that allow them to add and prove value – fast. That means being able to demonstrate the reduction of mundane tasks, increased job satisfaction/employee productivity, and the positive impact on customer experience. Once all areas of the business are on board, organisations can be empowered to drive change at great pace.

The next few months are likely to bring with them even more challenges for businesses. Further economic disruption due to the pandemic, supply chain friction as we head into the Brexit unknown, all whilst satisfying growing customer expectations – these are all things that will keep decision-makers up at night. However, one thing is for sure – being able to act with agility and speed will be key to navigating the murky waters ahead.

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