Robot sitting in an office

Customers reject basic robot interactions in fine margins for automation

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People expressed discomfort and dissatisfaction with digital-only service experiences, with the human touch still essential for companies looking to augment their customer-facing services with automation technologies, according to a survey.

The research from analytics leader SAS revealed that just 13 per cent of respondents would want to use digital-only options to interact with customer services. Automated tech which lacks intelligence can’t rival human interaction, respondents said, with three-quarters (74 per cent) expressing  frustration when they realise they are communicating with a robot.

Almost nine in 10 (88 per cent) said that speaking to a human is an essential part of the customer service experience, with 64 per cent of these mentioning that this is because they feel better understood when speaking to a human.

At the same time, customers also said that they would switch to another provider if they didn't get a satisfactory response in five minutes or less. Additionally, the research also found that 75 per cent of customers would change provider if a competitor offered a faster service.

The results indicate that businesses need to make consumers feel like they are being understood by delivering quality experiences and outcomes quickly and efficiently. The current views reflect the fact than online services primarily consist of basic robotic process automation and unintelligent chatbots, rather than the fast, intelligent online experience that is possible with hyperautomation. In fact, less than a quarter (24 per cent) of organisations have currently implemented hyperautomation, which SAS defines as the simultaneous use of digital operating systems, workflow, robotic process automation and artificial intelligence – typically via the cloud - to deliver high-value autonomous processes through intelligent decisions.

SAS suggest that the potential rewards for implementing hyperautomation are greater productivity, according to 38 per cent of companies reviewed who have already deployed it, along with greater employee satisfaction (34 per cent) and cost efficiency (34 per cent).

SAS’ hyperautomation report revealed new customer-centric demands and fast-evolving expectations, accelerated by the pandemic. Customers are increasingly demanding experiences that excel beyond attractive prices. While two-thirds (64 per cent) of consumers say that competitive prices are very important when choosing a business or service provider, they are now rivalled by other factors such as convenience (59 per cent) and speed of service (51 per cent).

The consequences for businesses that can’t offer a fast, high-quality service, as well as cost savings, are potentially dire, the research suggests. To keep pace with fast-evolving new customer expectations and to win the customer retention battle, businesses have to deliver a fast, frictionless online service whenever the customer wants it.

Further complicating the picture for businesses, while customers are placing a high value on speed and convenience, they are not prepared to sacrifice quality of service. More than half (56 per cent) of those interviewed only want experiences to be faster if this also guarantees no mistakes are made or a better service is delivered. Achieving this speed and quality requires hyper-efficiency from organisations – a quality only achievable through technology capable of intelligent decision-making.

Business leaders and decision-makers agreed improvements in workforce productivity (38 per cent), employee satisfaction (34 per cent) and costs (34 per cent) were seen during the pandemic due to hyperautomation. This enables a faster, quality service where it’s also possible to pass cost savings on to customers. 82 per cent of senior decision makers in businesses across the UK and Ireland believe that hyperautomation will be important in the next 12 months, while two-thirds (67 per cent) have either implemented it already or plan to in the future.

The report states that the need for hyperautomation is clear considering the current impact of simple, linear automation on customers, many of whom expressed little trust in using automated services, regardless of sector. Government services fared worst, with just 34 per cent expressing any significant level of trust in automated government technologies.

Customers are willing to accept hyperautomated services – and even have positive expectations. Half (49 per cent) of consumers expect an automated service to provide speed and convenience, while a third (32 per cent) expect it to show understanding of the issues and specific services relating to their circumstances. Half (50 per cent) of respondents say that they would use a fully automated customer service if they were satisfied that their enquiry could be adequately resolved.

“Now is the chance for organisations to meet multiple business goals at once, improving efficiencies and mitigating costs, while still offering a superior experience to customers. It’s possible to have the best of both worlds thanks to hyperautomation solutions which can be easy to use on low-code/no-code platforms delivered via the cloud”, said David Shannon, head of hyperautomation, SAS UK and Ireland.

“As we face the prospect of rising cost inflation, it’s imperative that businesses take steps to deliver what customers now demand, which is a fast, frictionless and effective online service at a competitive price. Without this, organisations will be overtaken by the competition and fail to foster long-term loyalty to the brand.”

SAS commissioned two pieces of research in early 2022. Respondents to a business-facing survey were senior decision-makers in businesses across banking, insurance, telecommunications, retail, the public sector, and energy and utilities based in the UK and Ireland. A consumer-facing survey also targeted respondents across the UK and Ireland.

The full SAS report - 'Hyperautomation: Using AI to transform your business' - is available online.

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