Posted: 25th January 2018

When people talk about the use of robotic process automation (RPA) with regard to complaints, they often focus on the use of robotics to automate elements of the complaints management process.

Whilst there are definite efficiencies to be gained through using robotics in this way, there is also a bigger opportunity to drive improvements in customer experience by using robotics to combat the reasons for complaints in the first place.

Many complaints are caused by human errors in processes; for example, through mis-keying data or missing a step in a process. The FCA complaints data for H1 2017 showed that 337,000 complaints were caused by errors, or not carrying out instructions correctly, and a further 267,000 complaints were driven by delays and timescales.

Some level of error will always exist in human processes, and it is important to recognise that, whilst this is normal, the impact of a lapse in concentration can be significant for the affected customer. As our Complaints Outlook (2016) highlighted – where customers complain, 81% will have an altered view of the organisation, with 60% of this cohort coming away with a more negative view.

So, whilst there is absolutely an opportunity to improve a customer’s view of an organisation through effectively handling their complaint, there is also a considerable chance of the complaint being detrimental to the relationship. Ofgem’s 2016 complaint research report noted that, for some providers, as many as 71% of complaining customers had switched suppliers, or were looking to switch in the near future.

With this in mind, can firms look to use automation in earlier parts of the buying cycle, prior to complaints being raised?

Using robots for the mundane

RPA can offer a way to reduce the chance of errors occurring. Software robots are used to replace humans in completing the repetitive, rules-based elements of processes. This has a number of benefits for the firm, its employees and its customers:

  • Remove errors – for the automated elements automated, the robot will have 100% adherence to the rules, ensuring zero errors for these parts of the task. This, in turn, removes error-related complaints about these parts of the process
  • Reduce timescales – robots can work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, reducing the processing timescales for customers, and complaints related to processing delays
  • Improved regulatory compliance – robots will never apply pre-programmed rules incorrectly. Their activities can be traced, and as a result, compliance can be more easily evidenced to regulators
  • Focus human resource on tasks that need a subjective view – customers all have individual needs and priorities, and there are elements of processes where a decision needs to be made which isn’t entirely rules-based, and takes the specifics of each case on its own merits. By removing the repetitive parts of processes, firms can focus human resource on the areas where they are able to make the most impact. As well as providing a better experience for customers, this can mean complaint handling roles are more interesting and engaging for staff
  • Cost efficiency – by focusing resource – both robotic and human – where it adds the most value, the cost of executing processes is reduced. On top of this, the cost of dealing with complaint is reduced by virtue of higher accuracy

Identifying processes to automate

Effective root cause analysis enables firms to identify the processes which will most benefit from automation. Firms need to ask themselves; is the root cause of a complaint that the person completing the task did so incorrectly? If accuracy is the only limiting factor of a process’s effectiveness, is the task in itself more suited to being completed automatically?

Firms should consider the size, likelihood and impact of errors occurring in each identified process to ensure they are focusing on those which will bring the biggest benefits first. High-volume processes, which follow a set pattern, are completely rules-based and need data to be shared across multiple systems are a natural fit for RPA. For example, statement reconciliation. Complex processes with numerous controls in place to ensure compliance (for example, customer onboarding and the variety of potential checks that are required) can also be ideal for robotic automation, as controls will not be circumvented by a robot, and the exact process the robot has been through to complete a task is retained. This ensures a full audit trail and evidence that controls are being followed effectively.

Simplifying implementation

RPA offers significant financial and implementation benefits over and above fully-integrated system solutions.

A robot simply needs to be programmed to understand the various systems and processes within which it will operate – the software robot sits ‘above’ existing systems and completes tasks ‘as a real person’, for example, logging into systems, copying and moving data between different screens and leaving a footprint of activity.

As existing systems aren’t being changed, this makes implementation more efficient and cost effective. The robots need to follow the same security processes as their human counterparts, and the work each robot carries out can be identified, making the process sit easily within governance and control frameworks. Ongoing configuration and rule changes are made outside of core systems, enabling quick change and instant scalability, and ensuring legacy systems are not a limiting factor of an organisation’s ability to service its customers. Training time and costs are removed as additional robots can be added or updated as needed, and are instantly equipped with a tested and proven process.

Driving improvements

The result of reducing ‘simple error’ complaints coming into the organisation through RPA is that complaint handlers are able to focus their time on more complex complaints which require investigation and subjective decision making.

Although this will likely increase the average time to resolve complaints by reducing those which have a simple solution, it will reduce the costs to the organisation of complaints handling and improve the service it is able to offer to customers.

Kate Woollard

Kate Woollard

Head of Communications