Are robots the ideal alternative for ‘expensive’ Call Centre resources?
Why would companies with large call centres continue to hire people, when robots can be more skilled, work 24/7 on the same quality level and at really low cost? These aren’t robots in the classic mechanical meaning of the word, but clever software solutions that can reproduce human activity. With 70%-80% of labor in the developed world being delivered behind a desk, the impact of software-based robots could be significant.
CIO’s have been exploring the possibilities to replace human resources for digital solutions for years. If it concerns the call centres, we have for decades had the voice response systems to guide the call demands to the right experts. Other applications like workflow and CRM systems have been implemented, to follow the customer contact experience, integrate customer information on delivered products and billing status for a long time.
However, now Robotics and in specific RPA (Robotics Process Automation) are on the verge of conquering the call centres. RPA refers to software taking capabilities from Artificial Intelligence (AI) and from Machine Learning. It consists in replacing tasks done by humans by RPA software. For example: Repetitive tasks on computers, large volumes of data processing as well as data augmentation on several systems, and lastly replacing human customer and user services by RPA. The new call centres could be equipped with this software and already some easy to answer questions could be processed by RPA in a way that no human intervention is required to answer the request.
This article focuses on the advantages of RPA, strategies for implementing RPA in your organisation, market development, and our key take-aways.
Advantages of RPA
The advantages of RPA are the following:
RPA can result in 25-50% cost savings because
One robot can perform the work of 2 to 5 FTE 
Increase staff productivity, service levels and capacity by 35-50% 
Deliver 24/7 in a quality consistent manner with 100% accurate data
It is forecasted that over 140 million jobs worldwide will be transformed by 2025 to digital or RPA type of solutions. In the world of shared services it is understandable since an average cost of 100 K dollar per year per ‘on shore’ employee, reduces to 38 K dollar per year for the ‘off shore’ employee and to 13 K dollar per year for the RPA or digital solution. This is enormous.
On top of the cost advantages for the company, there are the advantages for the consumer. 24/7 service and, depending on the quality of the interaction, a better call experience. In the first place because the interaction can be made consistent. Computers don’t have off days. Furthermore, there is no need to go through the process of training new call centre employees, so consumers always speak to the most “skilled” iteration available within the call centre.
To implement robotic process automation in an organization, it is recommended to build up a pragmatic plan, with identified short and middle term steps. An assessment plan of processes needs to be conducted prior to selecting a solution or a provider. To ensure the success of automated solutions, the plan should follow three steps:
Think Big, select a stable solution and anticipate the next processes
Start Small, at first implement a POC on a limited and specific process and also measure the time reduction and cost savings
Scale fast, when expectations are met, deploy the solution
How to select a good process candidate for RPA?
Consider operational characteristics: more than 10 FTE, high volume process with frequent cycle
Select a process where Profit and Loss are measurable: SLA’s and penalties, Cost reduction
Evaluate process complexity: clear and repeatable methodology, centralized ownership
Sia Partners convictions
Select a project/process where changes will be visible
Select a project with IT impact to raise awareness among IT collaborators and prevent change resistance
Select a well-establish solution provider which could maintain the solution on a long-term basis
In order to start an RPA project in call centres with the ambition to replace humans with a digital solution, it is mandatory to follow a staged approach.
What do we see as the future in the Call Centre domain with RPA?
Where the market size of RPA is still below 1 billion dollars, we expect an increase to 5 billion dollars market size by the end of 2020 . Current BPO providers which already serve large clients with Call Centres outsourced are more and more implementing RPA type of solutions in order to keep them on board.
We acknowledge the importance of Voice recognition & Natural Language Processing (IA) which allows "speaking" robots to be successfully adopted. such as Amelia from IP Soft for HelpDesk & Alexia / Echo ... for the consumer market.
Historically North America and Europe are the two continents where RPA thrives, however the large growth can be expected from Asia/Pacific region and in particular India and the Fillippines where most of the BPO has taken place.
As we see, there are many processes which could be impacted by RPA. Companies are already starting with small pilots and POCs. Within the Energy domain, we currently support one of our main energy suppliers in France to learn from a robot based process. Where all the managers (around 35) in the call centre have their agenda appointments made by a digital assistant, instead of a personal assistant.
Main suggestion is to start already and gain experience. RPA could revolutionize the way we organize our businesses, increasing service and performance, while at the same time reducing costs. With the rapid development of IT, RPA in our view is more of a change and leadership challenge than a technology challenge.
Of all the digital revolutions, further illustrated by the vast amount of Robotics RPA suppliers and solutions on the annual Las Vegas IT Innovation Conference just a month ago, RPA should definitely be among the top 3 priorities for any CIO in a company with a large Customer Service and Call Centre operation. Any company will soon or later experience the benefits of RPA Robotics in a call centre environment. So we at Sia are convinced that the answer to our opening title is Yes.
 Transparency Market Research