To say that robotic process automation (RPA) has been the subject of heated debate among outsourcing stakeholders over the past year would be an understatement. Rarely does a contact center event occur in which this topic is not hotly contested (such as the one discussed last week), and the volume of editorial comment on it are voluminous. RPA has great potential for vendors and their clients, having proven its value for many of the same. However, providers need to focus on delivering realistic customer-facing automated processes, along with being a trusted guide on this technology journey. There currently exists significant confusion among enterprise decision-makers around what RPA means in the contact center and outsourcers need to approach this as an opportunity.
Contact center RPA in its most basic form has existed for at least two decades. Industry veterans will recall the initial deployments of touch-tone IVR, which evolved toward speech-automated solutions in the late-1990s / early-2000s. And, when deployed properly, these technologies succeeded in lowering costs and improving customer experience.
These lessons have not been lost on today’s executives, who are looking to the future with an eye toward augmenting RPA within the scope of their own customer experience delivery. In fact, the recently-published Ryan Strategic Advisory 2017 Omnibus Survey indicated that the automation of existing interactions was among the top three investment priorities for enterprise contact center decision-makers. This should come as no surprise, given the pressure being felt by so many in-house operators to deal with ever-present agent-related pain points (attrition and training among the most problematic), coupled with limited budget flexibility to invest in solving these problems. RPA has the potential to further lower costs and, if done properly, increase loyalty by servicing end-users more efficiently.
And this means an opportunity for outsourcers. In fact, in the 2017 Omnibus Survey, respondents stated that RPA capabilities counted among the top five competitive advantages that a vendor could bring to the table. This comes as no surprise, given the above-mentioned limited investment flexibility pervasive among in-house operations and the ongoing perceived need to move front-line interactions toward automated solutions.
However, outsourcers will have to position their RPA services accordingly. They will need to be cautious not to oversell what current automation tools can do in a consumer-facing fashion, so as not to risk a client’s reputation among its end-users. Equally, providers need to act as a trusted guide in the RPA journey; the 2017 Omnibus Survey indicates that more than four-in-ten enterprise contact center decision-makers are uncertain how RPA will impact their operations in the coming year. For forward-looking outsourcers, this represents an opportunity to help prospects define their RPA strategies, while further cementing their own client relationships.
RPA is here to stay, and outsourcers that want to remain viable in the front-office market need to get in front of this dynamic technology. This means providing clients with the solutions relevant to their current needs, while anticipating future requirements. Taking this approach will not only strengthen the vendor’s commercial positioning, it will also provide clarity around solutions that need further definition in the eyes of the CRM community.