Using communication to automate business processes
To be successful, a business has to control costs. In a people-intensive enterprise, that means ensuring your staff are achieving maximum productivity says Dave Paulding of Interactive Intelligence
This does not mean working them harder which would be demotivational, but ensuring they have the information to hand to complete the task right first time, which in turn is positively motivational: staff are rewarded by seeing the job done, not frustrated by failing to complete a task.
To improve overall productivity you need to optimise workflows, to get the best out of each individual supported by appropriate technology. This is the fundamental idea behind business process automation.
The challenge with business process automation is that it has a perception in the marketplace as being “complicated”, “disruptive to implement” and – sometimes “expensive”. It is regarded as a $5 billion industry, because it is seen as the territory of big consultancies who, according to corporate folklore, charge large fees to tell you what you already know. Bear with me: I hope to convince you that we can achieve the same results without complex and expensive external interventions.
First, another statement with which I think we can all agree: communications is vital to a successful business. All companies need strong lines of communication with their customers, which means accepting and reacting to emails, SMS messages, social network comments and more as well as the traditional call centre. People businesses also need strong lines of communications between staff, so that everyone is working on the latest information, telling the same story and understanding the latest dynamics.
In a process-driven business, every step depends upon good communications. As an example, think of an insurance company handling a motor claim. The policy holder will probably call from a mobile phone at the side of the road, with a call that triggers a set of interdependent processes, most of which are communications and all of which depend upon communications.
The contact centre operator may get the policy details on screen from the CLI of the mobile, which will detail the customer’s entitlements. If the car is not driveable a recovery service will need to be called: entering the location of the accident could trigger an automated process to request a truck and warn the nearest approved repair centre. Once acknowledgements are received, information can be sent to the customer by SMS: the distressed motorist is likely to be very impressed with the service if an estimated time of arrival of the breakdown truck arrives during the initial call.
The same applies to the rest of the process including assessors, courtesy cars and legal services: they can be triggered automatically during the initial call, with responses and requests to the customer as set out in their individual preferences. Internally this is extraordinarily efficient. To the customer it appears that the initial call centre member who responds is taking a comprehensive personal interest in the case which will be at least reassuring and at best a huge boost to brand loyalty.
The significance of this example – which could be transposed to many industries – is that there is a complex business process underlying the activity, but it is being driven by the contact centre communications system. This is not an expensive overlay of business process technology, but an efficient way of using the technology that is already built into a unified communications system.
If you have investigated business process automation you will have asked yourself some standard questions:
• Do you have large numbers of staff spending more than 35% of their time on repetitive or administrative tasks (including internal tasks like HR)?
• Do you rely on knowledge experts, key to specific processes, and would their loss have a major impact on your ability to do business?
• Do you have to provide regulatory compliance, IT governance or security audit trails?
• Do you need to protect commercial assets and sensitive information?
• Is your workforce spread over multiple locations, with the consequent challenges of service consistency and management visibility?
• Are tasks pushed through the system, or do employees have to pull work?
A moment’s thought reveals that these are communications issues, and indeed most of the routine work – the processes that are best automated – depend upon good communications. Even the major business continuity risk of critical information bottled up in expert individuals can be solved by better communication, ensuring the knowledge is shared and developed. This brings us back to staff motivation: experts get bored answering the same questions day after day. Put their specialist knowledge into the corporate knowledge base.
My point is that we should look at this from the other end of the equation: not that business processes depend upon communications, but that a good communications system can – and should – drive business process automation.
Unified communications systems should have the infrastructure to support all the workflows that are best automated, pushing tasks and the required data around operators as required. A good system will have the ability to design workflows using simple templates, and monitor effectiveness in just the way that the performance of call centre staff is currently checked.
This strikes to the heart of the business process automation dilemma: that it is clearly a good idea, but is too hard and too expensive to deliver. The technology is already there, and most likely already installed to support business telephony as well as the contact centre. If it does not have the ability to design new workflows simply, they can be added quickly and at a low cost.
Developing workflows then becomes simple and fast, not only clarifying how best to do business but giving greater visibility into the costs of key processes. Customer satisfaction, reduced process times and a huge reduction in human error are the immediate benefits, delivered with a very rapid return on investment.