Self-driving cars, robotic drones, virtual assistants, chatbots – a seemingly infinite stream of information about technological advances fills the news daily. In fact, Google the question “Will robots take my job?” and you’ll be presented with page after page of articles and opinion on the impact of robotics on the workforce. So, will robots take your job? Marketforce and Pega conducted a global survey of 845 senior executives across a range of industries to find out.
Companies show great interest in Robotic Process Automation
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is software robots that automate mission-critical but mundane, repetitive work that doesn’t necessarily require human decision-making to complete – think desktop tasks like tabbing, searching, copying, and pasting. Tasks like these can slow down human workers and, by extension, slow down the customer service process. But by deploying RPA bots, organizations can shave minutes off the amount of time it takes a worker to complete a task. Multiply those minutes by the number of workers and number of tasks a service organization might have, plus the volume of customers an organization may serve, and you can see why RPA is an attractive technology. In fact, the London School of Economics suggest RPA can deliver a potential return on investment (ROI) of between 30 and 200 percent within the first year alone.
But ROI is not the only reason companies are interested in RPA. The opportunity to both significantly improve efficiency and enhance the customer experience is why 74 percent of companies plan to investigate implementing RPA systems in the next 12 months.
How would RPA impact customer-facing jobs?
Think about what makes good customer service – giving customers what they need when they need it. To accurately help a customer, a service rep needs to know the customer’s history, understand their problem or question, and know the right action to take. They may have to consider data from various sources, and may need to make a judgement based on that data. RPA bots can quickly connect to different systems of record and present the rep with the information necessary at that moment in time. And by shifting the actions of repetitive electronic housekeeping to the RPA bot, service reps are then freed up to focus on the kind of decision making and customer service that require human judgement.
That element of human judgement is recognized by our survey participants as special, and as an action that is not easily replaceable. The report developed from this survey goes on to explain that 70 percent of respondents expect intelligent machines to principally replace human workers in administrative roles within 20 years, but only 41 percent expect workers in customer-facing roles to be replaced.
Happy workers, happy customers
As mentioned above, improved efficiency and customer service are two important reasons why organizations are looking at RPA for customer-facing jobs. But a third, and no less important, consideration is worker happiness. In the call center industry alone, the report estimates that 26 percent of front-line agents are replaced each year. The impacts of this churn on cost, morale, and service levels are very real. RPA can play a role in helping to improve the customer service work environment, and the survey suggests that workers welcome the opportunity to hand off routine or repetitive tasks to fast, accurate, and tireless smart machines.
Deploying RPA allows organizations to distribute work across desktops, balancing the workload, which can help prevent stress and burnout. It removes the repetitive, high-volume, and traditionally error-prone work that can be a source of frustration for employees, giving them the opportunity perform higher value work. When service reps are supported through technology such as RPA, they can focus on customers and decision making, and are more efficient and engaged. And happy customer-facing workers also have an ultimate effect on an organization’s bottom line.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Eric Musser, Pega’s managing director of robotics & workforce intelligence, helps transform businesses through RPA, RDA, and big data intelligence technologies.