Does it really work?
More and more organizations around the world are beginning to use automation with the aim of cutting down on labour cost and maximizing profit. But in most cases this does not lead to success.
There are two main reasons for that. First, too many organizations do not consider how automating certain steps in a business will affect the workfloor and customer service dynamics, which can create more inefficiencies and undermine the value that automation was meant to provide. Second, companies often only implement automation to reduce the work involved in creating financial gains. This solution is only temporary as other companies are looking to make those same improvements in efficiency, taking away the company’s competitive edge.
A different approach
Thus to improve results, organizations need to approach automation differently. They need to engage in systems thinking, which entails looking at the customer experience in its entirety for growth opportunities, which can greatly increase returns on automation investments. This broader view allows companies to see in which areas they need automation, what technologies make the most sense for different activities, and what processes need to be redesigned.
This approach is especially beneficial for the company’s business goals when one considers that not all its activities need to be automated. Research shows that about 50 percent of tasks are able to be automated with the technology we have available to us today. The other 50 percent of tasks cannot be completely solved by analytics and other technologies, such as decision-making steps, interactions, and work delegation. Thus companies need to take this into consideration when designing their approach to automation.
And several have…
Companies have taken notice
There are companies who have already begun to adopt the systems thinking approach, with very favorable results. They are reaching their automation objectives because they have adapted their view of automation: they have moved away from seeing it as a means of reducing costs and now see it as a strategic aid to complement their other tools.
These companies consider how automation could be used to support customer goals. For example, a customer-service agent who no longer needs to take down basic name and address information, is retrained to solve specific customer problems and even help out in sales. This creates a more responsive service and relieves workloads elsewhere in the company.
These companies have made the distinction between the areas that have gaps for improvement that automation can fill and those where human interaction is essential. They have adhered to systems thinking to manage this balance. And because users and stakeholders are closely involved in the design project, the changes brought about by their expert use of automation are more likely to last. They have used the following two key points in their systems thinking framework:
1. Map the entire customer journey
These companies did extensive research with regards to the process their customers or users must undergo when acquiring their services. This process includes the series of steps a customer or user takes to complete a given task, including the channels they interact with and the needs and questions they have at each stage. Think of information pertaining to the process a customer must walk to return a pair of shoes, settle a billing dispute, or open a bank account, for example. A combination of humans and machines, such as a timely callback from an account representative or a helpful artificial intelligence-powered customer service agent, has greatly helped businesses.
2. Invest in change management from the start
To get a lasting impact from automation requires a change management discipline and these companies understand that. They identify impacted employees, processes, and customers during the planning stages and collaborate with key players to support important business stakeholders from the moment the automation process is designed, not after it has been developed. Companies that implemented successful automation processes invested more than half of their budgets in change management.
Here is a good example of a successful automation
A leading North American owner and operator of multifamily rental properties used systems thinking in their automation process to reduce operating expenses and improve the rental experience for its customers. They had researched the customer journey when interacting with their company and identified a number of areas where the rental experience could be improved. These included delayed responses to customer inquiries, high no-show rates for apartment tours, and knowledge gaps that kept employees from responding effectively to prospect inquiries.
With these developments in mind, they created a team that included customer service employees, developers, and existing and prospective residents to collectively design an improved and adaptive customer and employee experience. As part of that effort an automated chatbot was created that provides faster and more accurate responses to customer questions as well as greater customer self-service in scheduling, changing, or canceling apartment tours. The company’s change management team established that while the chatbot would remove some processes, it needed to be integrated into others, with some employee roles no longer needed and other ones added.
Factoring in these changes early on led to improved sales tools and successful retraining for employees. This all resulted in significant savings in front office labor, a 25 percent improvement in sales, and a 5 percent lift in customer satisfaction.
So the answer to the question “Is automation really the future?” is yes, but as long as you factor in the human experience when you use it.