There are several factors that can be used to filter the ideal processes to include in a company’s Robotic Process Automation (RPA). By choosing the optimum ones, the technology will perform at its best, thereby improving productivity, reliability, and overall efficiency.
The following styles of business processes are all ideal for RPA uses:
- Tasks that are high in volume, recurring, and repetitive. Routine sets of data that require regular calculation.
- Tasks that require standardized processes or that are rule-based. Predictive rules for decision-making.
- Established tasks that are clearly documented and stable and have predictable operational costs.
- Simple tasks with low exceptions. Included activities only lead to a few outcomes.
- Tasks that offer a good ROI. RPA for business processes can create significant cost savings.
- Avoid tasks that, in the short term, are likely to undergo radical change or reconfiguration. The same change will be required with RPA.
- Straightforward data inputs such as MS Word, Excel, XML, PPT, and PDFs, are standardized and easily readable. Even images can be scanned by RPA, using an OCR add-on.
In a reflection of the increasingly technological world, customers demand speedy attention and resolution to their inquiries. To illustrate, being endlessly left on hold to a call center with a dinosaur soundtrack always tops the ranks of customers’ gripes.
Customer service staff don’t always receive the praise they should. For many companies, they are now the only direct human contact that customers will have and so their interactions need to be as positive and efficient as possible.
Customer inquiries are varied, such as changes to online orders or a technical issue with a product that needs extra time to resolve. The customer service staff need to have prompt access to the full range of information, so they can solve customer inquiries speedily and effectively, as customer retention can rely on it.
Customers expect accuracy and immediacy and failure to deliver as per their wishes creates a lasting negative impact. When complex issues arise, a human touch point is necessary to cater to the client’s expectations.
It is a challenge for companies to have a good blend of a human and automated workforce that solves problems and caters to their customers effectively.
Historically, customer service was one of the first departments to benefit from RPA uses. The solution was seen as an ideal tool to help with administrative and back-office workloads.
The applications are varied, including speeding up customer service inquiries by collating data across several systems and presenting this to a call handler, as well as updating the client records at the end of the call.
The increasing use of chatbots enables customers with simple inquiries to find a swift solution, while those customers with more complicated queries are transferred to a live agent, who has the skills to resolve the issue.
The chatbots help to lighten the load of the customer service staff by filtering off simpler inquiries. This leaves call center staff less pressurized and consequently better able to professionally deal with the remaining calls.
In the deployment of RPA in business processes, fewer live call center staff are required so excess staff can be lost through natural wastage or deployed on more meaningful tasks in the department.
Early deployments of RPA for business processes tended to be technical installations that only dedicated IT staff could manage. However, with the advent of plug-and-play modules and drag-and-drop interfaces, RPA is more accessible to all stakeholders than ever enabling better productivity.
The efficiency of RPA, where tasks are completed in a fraction of the time, and virtually without error means there are significant cost savings. Less staff are needed to carry out the same work, so reducing labor costs.
The human benefits of RPA are twofold, firstly employees no longer deal with the drudgery of boring data input. Instead, staff members can be deployed on more fulfilling tasks that add value to the company. With their new more interesting responsibilities staff members are more satisfied in their position, which produces a direct benefit in terms of productivity.
Secondly, the customer experience is much improved. Inquiries are dealt with more promptly and the resolutions are of better quality, as customer service staff, working as a hybrid with RPA automation, have full information about the customer quickly at their disposal. Take a look at a Lolly case study to see RPA in action.
In studies of RPA for business uses it has been regularly demonstrated that RPA can conduct tasks 2 or 4 times faster than human counterparts, and with an additional 80% reduction in errors. This creates considerable laboursaving both for faster processing but also time saved in not having to correct the detected errors.
RPA can often be deployed in most departments, but it does excel in situations with high-volume, repetitive calculations such as accounts. In the past, staff would manually
transfer data from spreadsheets into a database. This is tedious work, which results in a higher level of errors, as it’s just not possible to concentrate fully all the time.
With RPA deployed in accounts, processing times fall and costs reduce, often with savings between 25 and 50%.
When customers place a sales order, whether online or through a sales rep, the process is very similar with just a few variations. When the process is administered manually it is slow and tedious, which can easily lead to errors through lack of concentration.
RPA is an ideal solution for the high-volume and repeatable nature of sales orders.
However, it’s important to identify the specific stumbling blocks in the sales order process to enable them to be smoothed out during the implementation of RPA. Frequent problems include day sales outstanding, errors and exceptions, and a poor level of captured customer data all of which can be addressed with RPA to improve ROI.
As RPA is so suited to the confines of the sales order environment it can be implemented from end to end, with each of the process steps fully accountable.
This improves the quality of the customer experience, creates a vast improvement in analytical data from a cleaner database, and saves considerable costs in the process.
Employees that are freed up in the process can devote their time to prospecting new clients and generating repeat business.
Payroll is an ideal candidate for RPA, as it fits the criteria of rule-based and repetitive processes that also routinely need a high volume of data entry. However, payroll is also an exception because it needs to accommodate the local statutory and compliance requirements.
Other challenges payroll must address for efficient processing include issues of missing, incorrect, or illegible data or late expense submissions, missing receipts, unclear expenses etc.
Even with the vagaries of regularly changing tax laws, RPA is still a very useful tool for simplifying payroll. In most payroll departments the application is used to connect different data systems and retrieve data, such as working hours and overtime.
The system can also make corrections, factor in missing hours, as well as calculate benefits and reimbursements. RPA can execute all these actions, creating an end-to-end function of the payroll-related transactions, which is reconciled and calculated in a fraction of the normal time.
In human resources, the work of the recruitment team is partly taken up with the handling of inquiries about vacancies. This repetitive work follows a similar pattern with prospective candidates emailing and phoning with questions about job descriptions, salaries, and corporate policy.
Often calls and emails can be redirected to the company’s FAQ page, although some do need to be handled personally. Even through the interviewing stages, the level of automation tends to be low. This can be caused by inertia or ignorance and sometimes due to understaffing the workload of the department is so excessive that each day firefighting is the main goal.
Sometimes the human resources department has been treated as an afterthought or was created as an add-on. Either way, before any thoughts of RPA deployment it is important to analyze and reorganize the work of recruitment, so the department has a fully functioning identity that can be automated.
With the volume of repeatable information in recruitment, such as resumes and candidate screening, RPA is well-placed to handle it all effectively. The processing is carried out at a fraction of the time, saving labor and material costs and at a much higher level of accuracy.
Employees are less preoccupied with administrative tasks enabling them to spend quality time with clients, as well as other value-driven tasks.
RPA software can optimize a company’s HR department and automate many of the routine day-to-day tasks including:
- Writing and sending automated emails to candidates and employees
- Processing, organizing, and storing candidate and employee information securely in a database
- Automating the recruiting process for candidates, including applications and screening
- Providing answers to simple questions from candidates
Take-up of automation in marketing departments is generally well established but sales productivity tends to lag, where often the input is still manual. This is an oversight because many of the functions of the sales process are appropriate for automation, which has the responsiveness and speed to create a real competitive advantage.
In a manual system, a sales rep may spend a morning collating competitors’ product prices and transfer the data to a spreadsheet. The cumulative information is then manually analyzed and the results are fed back, so product prices can be adjusted accordingly. Unfortunately, price comparisons can be a fast-moving market, so a manual system is constantly having to play catch up.
Gaining a competitive advantage by comparing competitors’ prices is a well-proven strategy companies can use. Web scrapers can be deployed to work with RPA so that they will automatically collect pricing information from competitors and make a comparison with the host company’s prices.
With this comparison, RPA can then be programmed (within some preset margins) to change the price of the host company’s goods to undercut the competition. And keep reacting accordingly to the live changes in pricing.
Dynamic pricing, such as this, is particularly appropriate for highly competitive markets. The travel industry is a good example with the pricing of hotel rooms and plane tickets.
Processing HR information
Human resources administration is a complex and time-consuming activity. The documentation workflows are also complicated and varied, requiring all levels of employees as well as external personnel in the company.
Personal employee information needs to be stored accurately and updated regularly, while security is paramount with such personal information. Each of the main HR process activities, such as onboarding and off-boarding require their own specific documentation, which usually needs to be signed off by several parties.
RPA can be coded to automate both onboarding and off-boarding. In onboarding, predefined rules are employed to sort resumes and create follow-ups. Offer letters are personalized, along with all the pertinent job offer information.
RPA can also accurately configure IT to accommodate the employee’s contractual details such as payroll, holiday, and expenses. The HR system data can also be analyzed by RPA for any number of parameters creating reports for talent reviews, training, workforce planning, productivity, and manager effectiveness among others.
It’s been demonstrated in studies that with a manual system 3% of invoices contain an error and that the cost to rectify that error can be up to $50. Invoice processing creates a direct connection with suppliers and so any errors or confusion over the invoice details will portray a poor image to the supplier.
For any company with a manual setup of spreadsheets and approvals, the invoice processing system quickly becomes inefficient. This can lead to serious cash flow problems, errors creating bottlenecks in processing, and slow output through the department.
For invoice processing, automation is a pertinent solution, which creates simpler storage, which in turn enables faster indexing, processing, and retrieval of information.
In addition, the level of accuracy is significantly improved without the typical human errors.
The invoicing system can additionally be coded to store and retrieve data throughout the payables cycle. This creates end-to-end accessibility for analytics into payment schedules and pricing.
Invoice processing becomes swifter and more accurate, which benefits cash flow, while error-free invoices improve supplier confidence.
Storing customer information
The HR Department has a considerable challenge in securely storing considerable amounts of data related to staff, payroll, and compliance issues. Much of the data is sensitive and errors, in transferring it for storage, can cause serious issues.
The range of the data is broad including details concerning current employees, previous employees, payroll, holidays, compliance, and regulatory obligations.
Fortunately, many of these time-consuming manual tasks can be suitably adapted for processing with RPA.
With data security high on the list of priorities for RPA storage of customer information, there are several choices available. The most effective is multi-factor authentication.
This setup requires human intervention at each critical login. This inhibits unauthorized access but can also be used for data monitoring, where each login attempt is recorded and analyzed. These execution logs can be also used to identify security weaknesses or flaws, so they can be corrected before becoming a security breach.
Storing customer information effectively means it is organized in a useful and meaningful manner. The storage organization needs to address the requirements of the departments that are going to be accessing it so that it is always readily available.
Ensuring the data is constantly updated and cleaned will significantly improve the data efficiency, with faster storage and retrieval.
Naturally, the off-boarding process includes several similarities to the onboarding process. Overall, off-boarding needs to be conducted in an organized and professional manner so the employee leaves with a positive experience that he is likely to share with his new colleagues.
Before RPA, off-boarding involved the creation and printing of exit documents, organizing the hand-back of company assets, signing the employee off the IT system, as well as calculation of final pay, tax, and holiday pay.
A manual off-boarding process can be particularly error-prone, as collating data from a disparate number of departments can easily lead to mistakes. RPA has the versatility to work effectively across any number of input sources, so the possibility of errors manifesting in the results is reduced.
The time-saving created with an RPA solution in exit management is significant, often with 50-70% fewer man-hours required to conduct the same work. Off-boarding compliance is similarly accounted for using RPA. The predefined compliance processes are built into the system, so there is no room for error, and they are additionally tracked for clear accountability.