Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in Protocol.
Not surprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic sparked a permanent shift in how businesses in every industry view artificial intelligence (AI) and automation. In the past, many saw these technologies as a nice-to-have; and therefore, pushed them further out on their roadmaps. Today, companies are realizing how imperative these technologies are as a means to be more productive in an all-digital, work-from-anywhere world. Plus, they’re starting to question why employees should be trapped by repetitive processes that hinder their ability to move fast and engage customers with empathy at a time when people need it most.
Throughout this past year, my conversations with our customers and other business leaders have shifted from casual inquiries about automation, to the immediate need for more efficient and informed teams. What once were long-term initiatives have become urgent business priorities. In fact, nearly 70% of consumers and business buyers surveyed by Salesforce say COVID-19 has elevated their expectations of companies’ digital capabilities, and nearly 90% of customers expect companies to accelerate digital initiatives due to the pandemic.
In response to elevated demand, businesses are doubling down on adoption to boost innovation, improve customer service and automate routine tasks so employees can focus on more strategic work.”John Kucera, SVP of Product Management, Einstein Automate
International Data Corp. predicts that global spending on AI will double in the next four years, reaching $110 billion by 2024; meanwhile, Gartner expects that organizations will be able to run 25% more tasks autonomously by 2023.
In addition to customers, we’re in the early stages of realizing the full potential of how automation and AI can unlock the magic of happier, more fulfilled employees. Despite the need for speed and productivity, humans will always be front and center when it comes to automation. After all, there are some things computers cannot do, like delight customers and build meaningful relationships. Automation can free employees from the hand-cramping, repetitive work they dread, and instead amplify efficiency, insight and skill sets.
What is intelligent automation?
Automation, itself, has existed for decades. For years, programmers have been using business rules to tell a system what to do, thus reducing the need for human intervention and errors. AI, on the other hand, uses algorithms to simulate how the human brain works by performing astonishing feats of pattern recognition at scale. Its’ usage has been amplified as AI tools have become more ubiquitous, affordable and capable of solving specific business problems.
Automation and AI go together like peanut butter and chocolate – they’re just better together. This is proved by the fact that AI without automation is meaningless because you need to connect insights to action in order to see value. AI accurately interprets what customers need, and automation executes on those insights. Together, this pair of transformative technologies can solve numerous problems that neither can tackle on its own.
Today, we continue to see a true need for intelligent automation. But, what does that really look like in practice? Here are some examples of this transformative duo together:
When the pandemic hit, companies like Sun Basket faced a sudden 50% spike in case volume and needed to quickly adapt their customer service. The company turned to AI-powered chatbots to manage the influx of customer requests to help customers track their orders or packages, report issues and get credits or refunds. Then, if customers needed additional support from an agent, the chatbot was able to create a follow-up action for the agent with the customer’s preferred method of engagement.
Another example can be found with agencies that handle unemployment claims in numerous states, which also turned to AI-powered chatbots to manage a crush of claims amid the pandemic. With application volumes spiking throughout 2020, only by adopting intelligent automation features could unemployment offices meet the urgent needs of constituents. For example, the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions operates a chatbot called Olivia that supports its team of customer service agents. Olivia has managed roughly 100,000 interactions to quickly answer frequently asked unemployment questions.
AI-powered recommendations are also an example of where insights lead to action to help supercharge productivity. For example, IT departments now support an increasingly remote workforce. AI-powered recommendations are applied to support tickets (i.e. a request for new equipment) to efficiently analyze historical data to predict which type of equipment to deploy based on a user’s parameters and needs. Then, by using an automated workflow, the item is quickly shipped, while at the same time updating the inventory in the system.
Together, intelligent automation frees up employees to do what humans do best – make decisions and build relationships.
The competitive advantage of intelligent automation
Every day I talk with businesses that are under pressure to do more with less – they can’t just hire more people to gain a competitive advantage.
Take sales, for example. A recent State of Sales Report found that 76% of sales teams that use AI say the technology has become more valuable since the pandemic, while top-performing companies adopt AI at nearly three times the rate of underperformers. This is a great example of humans working with intelligent automation.
Humans are uniquely capable of managing relationships, while AI is great at synthesizing lots of information and extracting relevant insights.”John Kucera, SVP of Product Management, Einstein Automate
More specifically, a feature like Einstein Call Coaching gives sales teams the ability to see insights, key moments and trends that are surfaced within conversational data to understand what’s going on in customer calls. Creating a workflow that automatically integrates those insights into action saves salespeople time and sets them up to make better decisions and use their skills more effectively.
Likewise, a customer service agent has the unique ability to empathize with customers and build rapport. By introducing automation at the beginning of the interaction, a chatbot is able to handle the time-consuming, routine requests like updating an address or resetting a password. This frees up the agent to focus on more complicated cases. By integrating intelligence into the employee experience, customer service agents can then see relevant next best actions, such as offering a rebate based on the lifetime value of the customer, in real-time. Agents can then focus on customer engagement and creative problem-solving.
How to get started with intelligent automation
Automation doesn’t have to be intimidating. For those just getting started with AI, automation or a combination of the two, here are some tips:
- Start small, but start now. Identify daily tasks and processes that employees are doing over and over. Perhaps it’s sending a certain kind of email or copying information across systems. Early pilots, even around a minor task, can generate quick wins and momentum that compounds over time.
- Choose tools that are easy to use. Good automation and AI software has an intuitive design – you shouldn’t always need a training manual. Whether they’re customer-facing or on the back end, tools should be seamless and simple (for instance, drag-and-drop, low-code tools). For more complex processes, you may need a digital training platform to help employees skill up and make the most of the technology.
- Standardize automation with an integrated platform. When you’re ready to level up, adopt a low-code platform that enables people across the company to seamlessly solve problems big and small.
- Think broadly. AI and automation can benefit numerous areas of a business. A human resources executive can invest in tools that improve workflows to drive improved employee satisfaction and retention. Or, a CIO can accelerate a process by implementing a standard platform that enables rules-based automation and integrates across company systems.
- Measure success through KPIs that matter to you. When evaluating the impact of intelligent automation initiatives, track the metrics your company values. That could be productivity, revenue growth or time savings. Or perhaps customer and employee satisfaction.
We are all crunched for time these days, whether jumping from one meeting to the next, or crashing your child’s Zoom classroom presentation between meetings. Despite how far technology has come, we humans are still the best at creative problem-solving and handling the unexpected. Intelligent automation is well-suited to handle the repetitive, time-consuming work that we don’t typically relish.
Now is the time to invest in customer relationships, while empowering employees and increasing their workplace satisfaction. After all, we could all use our own personal assistant working behind-the-scenes.