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Catherine Gurwitz

RPA: A key factor driving success in the COVID-19 era  

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By Catherine Gurwitz (pictured), Product Marketing Manager, NICE

Organizations around the world are turning to robotic process automation (RPA) to become more agile and efficient in the face of increased demand and rapidly changing environments during the COVID-19 pandemic. While call centers become increasingly aware of the necessity of a remote workforce, organizations are realizing the benefits of automation.

Leveraging RPA for COVID-19 challenges

Industries like healthcare, financial services and the public sector have rapidly mobilized resources to help people cope with the financial, health and practical challenges of life during a pandemic. But along with the growing volumes of service queries they face during the COVID-19 crisis, these organizations have been asked to allow their employees to work from home where possible.

The sudden need to accommodate remote work has put contact centers under enormous pressure. At this trying time, it is more important than ever to provide responsive, personalized and compassionate customer service. But providing a consistent customer experience in a distributed working environment can be challenging.

The pressures of responding to customers who may be anxious or ill can be overwhelming for remote employees used to working in a structured corporate environment. There are also the challenges of rapidly scaling up for demand and ensuring continuance in case employees cannot work because they fall ill or need to self-isolate.

RPA and COVID-19

Many organizations are turning to software robots for assistance. Robotic process automation (RPA) in the back-office and virtual assistants (attended automation) on employees desktops are helping enterprises to keep pace with growing service demands, support colleagues working from home, and ensure business continuity during these challenging times.

For companies wrestling with the challenges of COVID-19, RPA offers wide-ranging benefits. Every organization has clerical, time-consuming tasks that demand accuracy and speed, but don’t require decision-making to accomplish. Companies that have needed to downscale or even shut down normal contact center and back-office operations will have experienced a backlog in service requests such as changes of address or new account applications, for instance. Unattended robots are a perfect fit for tasks like those, which involve searching, cutting and pasting, updating the same data in multiple places, moving data around, and collating simple and repetitive items. Unattended bots, running on servers in the backend, can perform just about any rule-based work by interacting with applications.

With the escalating call volumes and back-office backlogs companies face due to COVID-19, unattended robots can power through high volumes of many admin driven tasks, such as: address changes, refund claims, orders, generation of customer letters and other tasks without any manual intervention required.  Everyone wins in this scenario: the customer gets a convenient experience and a quick response, employees can focus on complex, more personal interactions rather than on tedious manual work, and the company benefits from optimized efficiency and productivity.

Attended Automation, RPA and COVID-19 efficiencies

In the context of COVID-19, RPA really comes into its own when it is combined with an attended automation solution. Attended and unattended solutions working together can help organizations scale up and improve responsiveness at a time when contact centers are under enormous pressure because physical channels are closed for business.

At this time, employees may be facing a growing pile of paperwork and manual data capture requirements as national lockdowns begin to ease. An attended bot can help them catch up with the backlog. But it also improves engagement by helping them work efficiently to help each customer and freeing them from tedious work which machines can handle better.

Attended automation solutions can also capture data from scanned claim forms or faxes by using Optical Character Recognition (OCR), and then update back-office systems with the new data. The employee does not need to expend energy on this type of tedious, low-value task, allowing them to get more done and to focus on the human side rather than on data capture.

One common frustration for customer service employees is the requirement to cut and paste customer information from one system to another, or even to recapture data that exists in one corporate system in a different application. An attended automation solution can auto-populate forms in a blink of an eye, then allow the agent to add or change details as necessary, in real-time.

Attended automation is also a boon when front office employees need to work across multiple applications and systems. It can streamline laborious processes such as collecting data from numerous disparate systems and present it all in a single view for the agent. It can also perform real-time calculations for the agent and present a view of summarized customer data.

Challenges of remote work and automation

Since many employees are working remotely due to COVID-19, they are unable to turn directly to colleagues or supervisors for help and support. Virtual assistants have a valuable potential role to play in supporting remote employees – keeping them engaged, informed and connected. They can also prompt employees to follow company guidelines, policies and procedures – all in real-time.

This helps the organization to ensure regulatory compliance and maintain consistency of the customer experience. When a company changes processes or policies, the employee virtual assistant can help to quickly align staff to any changes. It can also enable front- line agents to speak in a coherent voice by providing them with contextually relevant guidance scripts in real-time.

When there are both attended and unattended process bots at work, in the event of a process exception or error, an attended bot can refer a request to a human worker for intervention when it cannot complete a task. The human worker can then ‘collaborate’ with their attended bot to resolve a process error or complication, in real-time. The automated flow can then resume without any downtime.

Succeeding with attended automation and RPA in the COVID era

Quickly getting to grips with attended automation and RPA, during this unpredictable and turbulent time can better equip call centers, agents and end customers to better adjust to this new reality and achieve success.  For more information on how to empower your remote workforce to click here.