Robotic Process Automation

Robotisation in customer contact: this is how you generate more business

Between the moment a potential customer first comes into contact with your company or organisation and the point at which they eventually become a customer, there are many contact points. And the communication doesn't stop there. You also stay in regular contact with your existing customers.

For companies and organisations, every interaction is an opportunity to help a customer adequately and personally. It is usually also an opportunity to inform customers about additional products and services through cross- and upselling. In other words, to generate more business. The use of robots in customer contact is ideally suited to seize both opportunities. With great returns, and without requiring excessive employee hours. Want to know more about the history of RPA?

We will take you through what robots are and what you can do with them. Using examples, we will show how, with both software robots (robotic process automation, RPA) and human robots, you can create better customer interactions and generate more sales. Here is a quick reading guide:

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What is RPA?

RPA stands for Robotic Process Automation. Very simply, RPA means using software to automate common, repetitive actions. In customer service, the information department, or in customer contact centres, employees often perform repetitive tasks. These include logging in, consulting, processing and switching between data in different systems - often with the aim of ensuring that all those systems have the same data (are up-to-date) and that processes remain consistent. RPA can play an important role in automating these repetitive and usually boring routine tasks, enabling people to focus on the real, valuable contact with customers.

RPA software

If RPA is about software, then what about the robot? That depends on how you define the term 'robot'. The robot in RPA is not a robot with human characteristics (we will come back to this later), but rather a computer robot: a piece of software that performs routine tasks quickly, continuously, and without error.

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A simple example of RPA: a chatbot

A popular application of robot software in the world of customer contact is the chatbot, as deployed on Facebook Messenger, for example. This is basically a plain, dumb robot, but by adding intelligence and shaping the robot process, more and more applications are possible; not only the question-and-answer game we know from Messenger but also other human actions.

Example of a chatbot:

Think of booking a table in a restaurant, for example. The chatbot requests all the information from the customer. A link with RPA then checks availability and the reservation is confirmed.

Advantages of RPA

Unsurprisingly, the deployment of robot software offers many benefits. And not in a scenario where robots replace humans, but rather in one where robots complement humans.

Some of the benefits of RPA have already been covered, but here is another summary of the advantages:

  • Automation: robots are ideally suited to performing boring, repetitive tasks.
  • Speed: robots work 24/7/365 and are up to 10 to 15 times faster than humans.
  • Accuracy: robots are objective, 100% accurate, and error-free.
  • Flexibility: robots handle peak periods effortlessly, regulating the workload in the organisation.
  • Scalability: robots are reusable and can be linked with other robots, which increases capacity and/or effectiveness.
  • More time for the customer: through the use of robots, employees have more time for real, personal contact with customers.

RPA in practice

The insurer

Quick and fully automated policy conclusion
The customer service department at a large Dutch insurer handles around two million personal customer contacts a year. To manage that, it is necessary to use automation that supports employees in the right way. The insurer has deployed RPA to:

- Speed up the work process and reduce the handling time.
- Visualise commercial opportunities for cross- and upsell.
- Ensure employees receive relevant information at the right time.

One of the solutions built with RPA is a new policy conversion system that has been fully robotised, from picking up the application, to assessing and closing the insurance. Robots perform the routine tasks; only exceptional requests still go to employees.


The installation company

Selling a boiler in eleven minutes
A concrete example where RPA is combined with the knowledge and skills of 'real' employees is a large installation company employing eight hundred technicians. They have a system by which quotes are created and sent to customers within 72 hours. This is fine if there is no urgency.

Peak in urgent requests
The company sees a spike in urgent requests for new boilers from October onwards. The rest of the year, the work consists mainly of scheduled boiler replacements and maintenance, for which consumers first conduct their own research and compare prices. But when the heating suddenly stops working on Boxing Day, a new boiler becomes an emotional purchase.

Getting the quote directly to the customer with RPA

The supplier who is then quickest to provide a good story and a good quality boiler will get the job. The key, therefore, is to not make this target group wait three days for a quote, but to engage them directly in solving their problem.

Robot software
Robot software offers a solution. When a request comes in via the website, data is retrieved from the potential customer, such as the type of house, energy label, area, cubic metres, and so on. This is public information that you can easily find via the Cadaster using the postcode and house number. It is surprising how much data is available for you to feed to the robot and enable it to act.

Based on the data collected, the system communicates with customers. They are asked to send five photos of the situation via WhatsApp.
Most customers then grab their phones and go through the house to take pictures of the roof conduit, boiler, and radiators. All this information together is used to establish priority.
For example, those who proceed to take photos immediately after receiving the WhatsApp message from the installation company are given priority. In this way, some people have bought a new boiler within 11 minutes after the notification.

Employee takes over from the robot software
That, of course, is the ideal picture. But there is nothing as fickle as humans. And the bot can deal with that too. When no pictures come through, the system recognises it as a doubting customer. Images that are too dark are also flagged, as it is then possible that asbestos may be present.
In such cases, employees take over from the robot. If they see a picture that is not suitable for some reason, they in any case know that the photographer is at home. Of course, they also know where the technicians are and can, for example, send a message that someone can come by in 15 minutes if that is convenient.

The postal company

New business thanks to robot technology

Another great application of the combination of human and robot power is in the sorting line of a major Dutch postal company. There, envelopes are passed through a scanner in an upright position on a conveyor belt.
Of 60%, the address is recognised. Of the remaining 40%, the system takes a photo, which is sent to the Philippines. The envelope with the indistinct address, meanwhile, goes onto an unloading conveyor belt in the Netherlands for 15 seconds. During that time, two employees in Manila type in the address they think is in the photo. If their responses match, a signal goes to the sorting line in the Netherlands that the envelope with that address can be put back into the process. If the two employees do not type in the same address, a third person checks what is in the photo and communicates their findings.

New turnover for the parcel service
The postal company has also made this system available to third parties. For example, a plant webshop (digital garden centre) also uses it. Previously, a pallet of plants was collected from the grower each week and taken to the auction, from where it was delivered to shops. Now the plants stand in pots on the conveyor belt, and the same principle is applied as in the sorting line for post. Employees in the Philippines are shown a picture of the plant and they count the buds, describe the colour, and so on. That information is stored on a tag.

Consumers can then order a single orchid, for example, on the website. That way, the auction and retail parts of the supply chain are skipped. And the postal company? They generate new business and extra turnover, because they deliver the boxes of plants, such as that single orchid, directly to customers' homes, without competition with mass carriers for the pallets.

Human robots as service channel

The insurance company, the installation company, and the postal company all provide examples of robot process automation, where computer robots are used behind the scenes, invisible to humans. What appeals more to people, however, are humanoid robots, such as the social robot Pepper, which can read emotions and of which 20 000 have already been sold worldwide.

Robot Pepper

Pepper is the size of a child and has an appearance designed to endear adults and reassure children. The robot is designed for interaction, for example at companies that no longer have a reception desk. The visitor reports to Pepper and the employee is automatically notified that his visitor is there. But Pepper also provides its services in car dealership showrooms, for example. When it is busy and no salespeople are available, Pepper gives a tour. The route is filmed and that video is sent to the customer.

Brother Nao

Pepper's little brother Nao is used in education and healthcare in the Netherlands, for example as a buddy to guide children with diabetes. When adults explain to the child how to deal with the disease, it becomes hierarchical. Nao interacts with the children as a companion, and therefore the children absorb what they need to do faster.

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