Astoundingly simple purchases have become table stakes in 2021. Through repetition and familiarity with the Amazon model of purchases — find an item, make a purchase, check your doorstep in a few days — we want to buy what we need using as few clicks as possible.
While Amazon and other large online retailers can scale indefinitely to accommodate this model, the speed and ease of their purchases have put pressure on all companies to provide the same type of customer experience. While Amazon’s customer experience may seem like magic, leading-edge technology is responsible: process automation systems. To meet consumers’ expectation of a seamless buying experience, businesses should consider how they too can use process automation to improve their employee experience to benefit their customer experience at the same time.
To examine how process automation is changing both the customer and employee experience, I recently spoke with Shiva Ramani, founder and CEO of iOPEX Technologies, a new-generation business solutions provider offering optimized IT management and automation services. iOPEX Technologies works with more than 30 Fortune 500 companies to optimize their digital operations and is fresh off winning the 2020 Workato Partner Award for Automation Center of Excellence.
Before iOPEX Technologies, Ramani was the founder and CEO of CSS Corp for more than 10 years. In addition to Ramani’s wealth of experience in the process automation space, we had a chance to dive into some new data from the Prosper Insights & Analytics’ Media Behaviors & Influence Study. The study is based on responses from 17,056 respondents surveyed from January 27, 2021 to February 19, 2021 on smartphone and tablet usage habits.
Gary Drenik: Has iOPEX Technologies seen an uptick in client requests to modernize and digitize operations through automation? Is the focus on accommodating certain departments or the company's entire ecosystem? How are they accomplishing this?
Shiva Ramani: We’ve certainly seen an uptick, and the focus has been on automating processes within certain departments. Early in the pandemic, our clients needed new data pipelines and better workflows to accommodate remote customer service teams. The surge in e-commerce also caused many of our clients to realize online purchasing processes could use an upgrade.
Once customer workflows were sorted out, revenue slowly picked back up and companies were hiring again. Because of this, HR departments became a testing ground for process automation as the hiring lifecycle was digitized. This movement in turn spurred another departmental need for automation, as IT teams tackled the challenge of equipping new employees with hardware and software in different remote locations. Many IT departments automated their laptop procurement, for example, to send the machines directly to employees’ homes and perform software installation through remote access technology.
After a year of this strategic, department-based use of automation, companies are now looking to automate their company’s entire ecosystem by digitally transforming their business workflow. Our customers now want to digitize all aspects of their operations for the long term so they can conduct operations like business planning and product development in a completely remote environment, if needed. To make this happen, in addition to automation, I expect organizations to invest in low- to no-code platforms and optimize cloud-based infrastructure.
Drenik: Do you expect Covid-19 to continue to expedite the adoption of automation? What else is necessary to lay that runway for greater usage by enterprises?
Ramani: I expect Covid-19 to continue expediting not just the adoption of automation, but the way it is used. In the past year, companies have onboarded automation and data analytics tools quickly to adapt. These powerful and often complex systems, however, have automation capabilities that are now significantly underused. Businesses’ primary use of automation was basic in machine-to-machine functions, like processing customer orders automatically, properly routing customer service requests to employees working from home or organizing job applications.
So, in this next phase of automation, I expect businesses to upgrade their automation with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). Businesses will now focus on how they can use AI and ML to make their digital business environments more efficient and adjust operations easily based on market needs. CFOs are leading the charge in this effort and are shell shocked by the effects of the pandemic. Moving forward, if disruption occurs like we saw at the beginning of the pandemic, companies want to be prepared for these potential shifts. By leveraging AI and ML to operate mundane tasks, virtually any employee can step into that role of need, execute it with little to no training and do so whether they’re at home or in the office.
Drenik: As enterprises continue to invest in AI and automation technologies, experts still debate on if AI and autonomous technology creates more jobs or eliminates them. However, automation within the workforce can strengthen the overall employee experience. Can you share more about the importance of having both human and automated touchpoints and how the two can work together to meet overall business goals? How does this impact the employee experience?
Ramani: For human workers to leverage automation in the best possible way, it comes down to rewriting organizational design — something that we’ve cycled through since the 1960s. Since the early days of the American office, employees have evolved from managing singular specialties to multiple business functions with the advent of computers, Microsoft Office, SaaS applications and similar technology And over the years, we’ve rewritten organizational designs to accommodate for new technology and required business functions. In rewriting organizational design, companies undertake an overhaul of employee training, education and job descriptions. And I believe we’re on the cusp of seeing these types of sweeping changes in our workforces as more businesses use automation, AI and ML.
In the near future, I think AI and automation technologies will make businesses less siloed. Instead of seeking skilled specialists, companies will look for multi-skilled employees who can collaborate alongside technology to achieve the company’s end goal. Bots that can easily handle low-touch, manual processes and conversational AI will be incorporated into customer service workflows. Behind this technology will be a team of workers optimizing the technology stack through low- or no-code platforms to ensure it drives revenue for the business. Low- and no-code will especially be a game-changer, as employees with non-technical backgrounds will be able to design workflows for business efficiency.
Drenik: Alternatively, what are the challenges in delivering a consistent customer experience? How can enterprises leverage automation to deliver consistent customer experiences? Where do you see the future of automation headed? Will it improve the in-person experience, or supplement it for on-the-go customers?
Ramani: The answer to a consistent customer experience comes down to integrated workflow automation — using automation and AI technology to connect all four of the main workflows — customer, employee, IT and business.
By unifying all four workflows, businesses can provide customers an interactive buying experience. We’re already seeing this model succeed with Tesla and another failing at it in Peloton. Tesla gives its customers the ability to know exactly what stage their vehicle purchase is at — all the way down to its place on the assembly line. Conversely, Peloton has notably dealt with an issue of delayed backorders for the past year, leaving consumers questioning when their order will be delivered.
According to a recent Prosper Insights & Analytics Survey, 50% of U.S. consumers use their mobile phones to make a purchase with GenZ and millennials showing a higher usage rate. 27% of Adults 18+ use a brand retailer app on their smartphone or tablet. This activity tells me that retailers have an opportunity to interact with customers through their smartphones by documenting the customer experience itself. So, for example, whenever an order moves into a new stage of processing, automation can trigger an update to your customer, so they’re informed and have access to the entire product journey from start to finish. Customers can also use an app or online shopping portal to connect with a human worker in customer service, if needed. Ultimately, automation and AI enable businesses to sync their three internal workflows with the customer workflow through mobile apps and online purchasing.
Drenik: Thank you, Shiva, for your insight on this topic. We’ll see how process automation continues shaping the customer experience of the future!