Paul MaguirePaul MaguireJune 30, 2020


There has never been a more critical moment to get automation right. As businesses brace for a rough road ahead, simply using technology as a means to streamline manual processes, cut costs and reduce human errors is no longer enough.

While that gave organisations a competitive edge in the past, companies must now take their use of automation to the next level to achieve maximum competitive advantage. That means using automation technologies to drive revenue growth and service improvement by creating new customer experiences that win brand loyalty.

Automation has been quietly transforming the way companies interact with their customers for some time now, but often with mixed results.

A recent survey of large organisations across the United States and Europe conducted by IDG found that most businesses are already using some form of technology to automate business process and customer interactions – ranging from AI (56 percent) to chatbots (53 percent) and Interactive Voice Response (55 percent) to Robotic Process Automation (45 percent).

Many more survey respondents reported that they plan to deploy those technologies in the next 12 months. Yet worryingly, only 41 percent of respondents believed that the way their organisation is using automation helps them to meaningfully forge stronger customer relationships.

Clearly, companies are switched-on to the fact that automation has the potential to upgrade their customer relations, but effective implementation with positive business outcomes is proving a challenge. So where are businesses tripping up? The IDG survey results offer some pretty big clues.

Off-the-shelf software – not such a bargain after all

Firstly, let’s make one thing clear: when it comes to customer service, automation shouldn’t just be about swapping out human workers with bots. While chatbots and Interactive Voice Responses (IVR) are useful for answering straightforward requests quickly, forming that human connection with customers and delivering a higher-value service is something only well-trained human employees can do.

We’ve all experienced, at one time or another, the frustration of being caught in an endless automated loop with an unsympathetic bot when all you want is to get through to a real person. That kind of experience damages a brand’s reputation while causing customer and revenue loses.

Instead, automation should be a mean for employees to better serve customers and create new experiences. It should connect them to relevant data that will help them to build a complete picture of their customer to both reactively handle requests but also identify unmet needs and anticipate future wants. Unfortunately, that’s exactly where many organisations are falling short.  

The IDG survey found that fewer than a third of respondents felt their organisations’ tools greatly help them understand customers, empower them to fix problems and think or act strategically. Why? Well, 65 percent reported that the applications their organisation uses are only somewhat effective at best at providing all the data and context they need to have a full picture of their customers. 

Commercial Off-The-Shelf-(COTS) Software has long been a popular choice for organisations (particularly smaller, more budget-conscious ones) looking for a light-touch, quick application that can automate certain homogeneous tasks and streamline processes. Such products can be good for that. But what they lack is flexibility. In most cases, these COTS software need to be customised to suit each organisation and their unique use cases, thus driving up implementation time and costs. The packaged software cannot adapt to each company, changing business requirements and market needs quickly or easily.

And survey respondents agreed – a shocking 85 percent indicated that their organisation had experienced one or more negative impacts from using packaged software. They reported feeling limited by what the software was capable of and that it even made tasks more complicated. 37 percent said such applications had a negative impact on customer satisfaction.

That’s unsurprising when you think about the sheer amount of different processes that take place in each department of each company every day. Every company will have its own unique processes that are forever changing. A one-size-fits-all solution is never going to work when the need to adapt, evolve and change is imperative in today’s environment. 

Where low-code software comes in

Building custom applications goes a long way to addressing that problem but takes a lot of time and money. That’s why low-code software is transformative. It removes the manual-coding usually required in software development so developers can build multiple high-quality custom applications and automate workflows quickly. It also means that rather than spending months working on one big product that will be out-of-date when completed, developers can make an application that can constantly evolve to meet changing demands.

To put this into perspective, insurance provider Aviva has created 32 new applications using the Appian low-code platform in three years. That’s around 10 new insurance applications per year. And each application has helped improve the way their employees interact with and service their customers.

Over the course of 20 years, Aviva had inherited 750 other insurance companies, along with their systems, data and processes. As you can imagine, that was a challenge for their call centre agents trying to shift through legacy systems to get to the information they needed – far from ideal when there’s a customer waiting on the other end of the line. By using one way low-code automation, Aviva was able to unify 22 different systems under one custom platform, giving operators 360-degree view of their customers and speeding up customer service response times by nine times. 

With organisations flung into new and unprecedented challenges, many will understandably hope that automating processes will drive down costs. Ultimately, it will be effectively engaging new customers and retaining existing ones that will deliver the greatest material benefits in the long run. That’s what must be kept in mind when they consider deploying automation.    

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