Modern Workplace2020.01.08 4 min. read

Robotic Processes Automation (RPA) in customer communication

Automation is not always about combining system APIs, which are deeply hidden behind everyday business. What if we don’t have the right API at our disposal or integration is very complicated and the business, for example, requires adding AI to the customer service process?

One option is to implement RPA. At customer service centres with legacy call centre systems, RPA tools can be the only way to implement AI solutions without having to replace proven yet inflexible systems.

Introducing RPA

Do you know the sci-fi animated series called “Futurama”? In Futurama, robots live side by side with people and have different tasks to perform, such as bending steel or supplying objects. These robots often seem to be designed to directly replace employed people.

It’s obviously just a comedy series, but Futurama shows one of two robotisation scenarios. In the Futurama world, robots can replace a human being, for example, by operating a machine that was originally designed to be operated by a human. The second scenario is robots that have been designed to re-design the task execution process. Take, for example, a robotised production line in a car factory.

Robotic Processes Automation (RPA) is like the world of Futuram. Instead of buying lots of completely new software, RPA allows for automation of existing ones.

How does RPA work?

RPA has its origins in screen scraping tools. “Screen scraping” is the technique by which a computer program extracts output data, which are intended to be further processed by humans, from another program. The program used for this is a so-called “screen scraper”.

In the early days of Internet banking, tools started to appear which aggregated data from all bank accounts in one user interface. When users logged onto different internet banking accounts, they extracted e.g. information about balance.

Such “screen scraping” could at best be called clumsy. Creators of tools aggregating bank accounts had to configure them manually for each bank, indicating where to find the appropriate information hidden in HTML code. Any change in the user interface required manual changes in the tool. In addition, many website owners did not like the fact that third parties automatically retrieved data from them, which led to the introduction of protection against robots, such as “captchas”. If you’ve ever wondered why Google occasionally asks you to confirm that you’re not a robot, that’s why.

Robotic processes automation take screen scraping to the next level. Instead of relying on an established set of rules, RPA tools learn how to perform tasks.

Why use RPA for customer communication?

Over the next decade, AI will change the way we think about customer communication. Already today bots and virtual assistants help handle queries.

But there is a problem: AI tools need a way to integrate with existing systems. Depending on the size of the company, the required upgrades, and even more so system replacement, can be too expensive. So what should you do if your call centre software or customer service software does not allow for easy and cost-effective integration with third-party tools?

Let’s take a look at an example scenario. Over the next five years we will start to see more and more AI agents directly handling customer contact. For simple queries, a bot powered by artificial intelligence with a speech interface can handle telephone interactions. Suppose your company’s customer service system does not offer an API for integration with an AI-powered bot. What should you do then?

By using RPA technology, a bot can log into the system via a web interface and update the customer’s data on its own. In terms of the old customer management system, the bot would simply be another user of the interface, and the artificial intelligence itself – which powers the interactions – would be the software operating somewhere on the server in the network or cloud.

What distinguishes RPA from basic “screen scraping” is that it learns to automate processes.

How do RPA robots learn?

Science is the heart of artificial intelligence. Machine learning – that is, quickly trying out multiple scenarios and then remembering those that lead to success – is the basis for understanding natural language and speech recognition used by chatbots and virtual assistants.

RPA is about people showing software how to do something for the first time. A person repeatedly performs the required tasks while the RPA tool observes what is happening. It then creates a workflow image. Operators can then modify the workflow or even feed it with initial data of the optimal workflow. Most importantly, RPA never stops learning.

For example, if the “Submit” button in a form is changed into a “Proceed” button, the RPA tool should have enough data and independence to try to move forward. As time goes on, the RPA tool can learn more and more tasks by observing people or by deduction.

First steps to RPA

This may sound like a way to replace people, but in reality RPA allows people to focus on more creative tasks.

Like all robots, RPA helps people avoid repetitive work. So in the near future, we’re more likely to see RPA tools that create case studies for a human agent, a smart digital assistant, rather than RPA tools that support the entire interaction and thus replace the human factor.

As we automate more and more areas of customer communication, RPA can help fill gaps where other forms of integration are not possible. This is a great example of pragmatism in the approach to change in business. Basically, automation offers huge opportunities to reduce costs and provide better customer experiences, but replacing old systems overnight is virtually impossible or even undesirable.

When it comes to customer communication, RPA offers, for example, the possibility of expanding such legacy systems with an omnichannel. You may want to create a WhatsApp chatbot that allows customers to access data that is only accessible via the legacy system. By using the Nexmo Messages API and a RPA agent, you can make this possible without costly system redevelopment.

RPA is just one way to automate and optimise your customer communication processes. Every day Billennium robotises and automates processes and implements omnichannel communication strategies for organisations and companies from many business sectors around the world. Billennium has over 15 years of experience in developing innovative tools and IT solutions.

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