Ask the Experts

Humanizing Business Process Automation: Optimizing Performance for Employees and Customers

This article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of Customer Interaction Solutions magazine.

Improving the delivery of products and services should be an ongoing focus in business. In particular, if your firm isn’t considering how to make its products and services available at a competitive price — and how to reduce time-to-market response times to customers — your competitors certainly are. Just as certainly, and especially on social networks and the web, consumers are constantly evaluating your company's service, pricing, product quality and reputation to gauge value overall.

Within this value equation, consumers in general are less tolerant of service and product delivery processes that are outdated and ineffective, or that are simply broken or irrational. How can a firm adapt and be better? Business process automation software can improve service and product quality by reducing manual efforts and accelerating delivery processes themselves. The thing is, BPA software is a tool, not a magic bullet. A firm's leadership and culture largely determine the firm's values and the processes it uses to run the business, as do its people. And with humans in charge of establishing what those processes are, they will also decide whether process improvement is needed and how to proceed.

Although BPA software is an effective way to improve processes, many companies make the mistake of buying the software without first buying into a process automation philosophy. From the human perspective — the customer’s viewpoint plus those of internal employees and management — that buy-in comes down to four areas of process improvement.

1. Lighten the labor intensiveness

To reduce manual work, BPA uses business rules to automatically escalate work to the appropriate department. When an employee needs to determine the target department, BPA can set a due date for a response and keep track of the task’s status and ownership. Because BPA integrates with the communications infrastructure, it can issue due date reminder prompts to task owners via screen pop-ups, e-mail, text messages and phone calls. Such prompts free employees from having to track their own activities manually. Management also can receive alerts, which is useful when processes are regulated and strict due dates must be adhered to. With BPA-based dashboard views, managers can see how many items are pending at each step within the process. Over time, accumulated process tracking data can affirm any need to simplify the process. Along with reducing operational costs, a reduction in labor intensity will have the delightful side effect of accelerating the process and improving service, as perceived by customers.

2. Reduce mistakes or fix them quickly

It’s one of the pitfalls of social media. If an organization messes up, its mistake can be splashed across social networks and shared among millions in a matter of hours. To avoid becoming social road kill, organizations must improve transaction quality and response times, and BPA can help in multiple ways. To improve transaction quality, BPA can provide a simplified user interface via integrations to legacy back office systems, replacing manual efforts and minimizing potential human errors that can actually add to a problem. The interface can retrieve information from back office systems, and validate the entered information to reduce initial process mistakes. To speed response times, BPA can reduce the complexity of a user navigating through multiple applications and screens. More speed and quality results from pushing the newly entered information into back office systems, instead of doing so with time-consuming manual processes that are prone to error.

3. Reverse engineer your process: start with the result of a delighted customer

Firms have a strong tendency to build processes based on what their internal organization prefers. In many cases, customers have to negotiate Byzantine IVR menus and web pages because those navigational processes mimic a firm’s internal department structure. To the customer, these kinds of internal-based processes make no sense, and usually cause more confusion than delight. Instead, firms should start by focusing on the result of a delighted customer. Firms must offer viable service pathways into their business processes because customers expect easy and intuitive. People want to use the self-service and assisted-service channels to navigate and perform processes in meaningful, consistent, and rewarding ways. When they’re able to do that, it makes them satisfied customers.

4. Take an evolutionary approach to process improvement

One aspect of an evolutionary BPA approach is to choose a process that’s broken. Articulate how it impacts your customers (usually negatively), and envision how you would change that process to have a delightful result. Focus on the desired outcomes and map out the necessary people, functions, workflow, data, and timing required to achieve the outcome. Leverage the tools to communicate the process and to drive the necessary organizational changes and technology support. Then establish a process owner who drives the effort to align properly the people, departments, and necessary technology to fix the process.

Again, BPA software is a tool and not a magic bullet. But by adhering to the four distinct areas of process improvement first, BPA can help make sure you're in touch with the voice-of-the-customer, including internally.

Download the complete whitepaper to learn more:  Humanizing Business Process Automation: Optimizing Performance for Employees and Customers

Edited by Stefania Viscusi