Businesses cannot afford to compromise on customer service and should focus on improving core processes to ensure their long-term success, says software communications solutions company Interactive Intelligence regional business development manager Deon Scheepers.
He states that businesses can improve their core processes by automating them with technologies such as Interactive Intelligence’s business process automation (BPA) software, called Interaction Process Automation (IPA) – a unified communications solution that includes modules that focus on business automation.
“Essentially, if there is a business process that needs to be started and routed, we apply automatic work distribution principles to its processes. We provide a software layer and constantly develop new functionalities and modules on top of that layer. IPA is the latest module and enables business process auto- mation,” Scheepers explains.
As a previously contact-centre- focused business, the unified Internet protocol business communications solutions company uses knowledge from the contact centre business and links media components to relevant people and work groups in various types of companies and manages these interactions with the BPA software.
The software is installed following a consultancy phase, during which Interactive Intelligence inspects a company’s current process environment.
The current state of processes and possible modifications to those processes are also discussed, as are the return on investment, ways to improve the business and speeding up processes to remove latency and human errors.
Scheepers says the most important aspect is customer service, noting that this is a key differentiator that businesses need to focus on.
“We look at business processes and not only at how we can improve efficiency and reduce operational costs, but also how we can improve customer satisfaction. We link media components to business processes to reduce reliance on human interaction, which is needed to start and action processes,” he says.
The IPA solution uses multi- media channels such as SMS and email to kick off and speed up processes in busi- nesses. Processes can be automated through various layers. Activities that need urgent attention are escalated to operators by SMS or email. The IPA solution will automatically find the best available person and route the process activity to the right person to deal with it.
The multimedia aspect in the process can be used to communicate with people central to processes, particularly if the relevant person is travelling. IPA could check on the relevant person’s availability and send that person an SMS or email to ask for approval on specific activities that need immediate attention.
The relevant person would only need to select a designated number or option on his or her mobile phone to send through immediate approval to the system.
This ensures that processes are not delayed and improves efficiency.
IPA can be used for any process and is not specific to a particular industry. It has been used in various industries, such as the banking and insurance sectors. As an integrated system, it also reduces the need for manual processes, thereby reducing the likelihood of human error, Scheepers states.
The software also reduces pressure on employees through seamless integration with legacy back-office systems.
Scheepers says that linking processes to multimedia communication channels, mobile applications, smartphones and iPads makes a big difference to process efficiency.
The management of paper and Excel spreadsheets by staff is a challenge for most businesses, Scheepers notes.
He says that being able to track and monitor processes becomes almost impossible, as there are too many systems surrounding the process, as well as paper, human error and too little automation.
Interactive Intelligence’s software enables users to convert from a manual paper process to an automated process to avoid having multiple spreadsheets to view and track. The IPA software offers a real-time view of where the process is.
“Using open-standards-based software, enables us to integrate seamlessly into multiple systems. For example, it can allow us to take information from one system and attach it to other systems, such as attaching a document, email, fax or voice recording to a process,” Scheepers notes.
Further, there is a constant need to change processes in businesses if an organisation wants to remain dynamic and flexible. This is another significant challenge for businesses.
IPA’s user-friendly interface enables users to constantly create and customise processes by themselves, which, in turn, allows them to take ownership of their business processes.
Meanwhile, people involved in processes also pose a problem, as the process is then reliant on the human factor. He states that the people component leads to many project failures and that management needs to buy into new tools to curb this problem.
Further, he says that many companies also make the mistake of creating their systems and processes around the structure of their internal organisation, rather than paying appropriate heed to the customer’s experience.
Customer requirements are important too and there is an end customer that is part of the processes. Information and suggestions need to be gathered from ‘internal people’ and by means of the ‘external customer’ point of view to change processes and improve business, he suggests.
“The building of processes around the needs of the organisation rather than those of the customer can quickly result in mounting frustration and can leave businesses struggling in an increasingly competitive marketplace,” he says.
The IPA software was designed in the US and was launched two years ago. It was actively mar- keted in South Africa over the last year and is now going through a second-version release.
Interactive Intelligence has changed its strategy towards moving its software applications into the cloud-computing environment, where applications are hosted in a cloud data centre and customers are able to access the applications without having to own them or have infrastructure on site.
The company hopes to launch its IPA as a cloud offering in South Africa in the next five months.
“This strategy takes investing millions out of the business equation. This cloud-hosted offering means that businesses now get operational components and do not have to spend millions on applications upfront. If they are unhappy with the offering, they can always end their contracts. This flexibility is a beneficial and powerful tool in the market,” Scheepers states.
The IPA module, used over and above the existing software layer, is powerful but it can also be used as a standalone item, he notes.
State of the Industry
Scheepers notes that many of the company’s customers still rely on manual processes.
He advises that companies need to differentiate themselves from their competitors, adding that time is a key factor.
“If your company is able to turn a process from a manual into an automated state and reduce delivery time from three months to three weeks, you deliver better customer service and reduce operational costs. This is a very powerful differentiating factor,” he says.
The industry can improve significantly, but there are a lot of tools and applications that are proprietary and difficult to use or integrate, and this results in challenges for businesses. If processes are to be deployed, the automated tools need to be easily integrated into existing infrastructure.
Businesses select the wrong tools and struggle with integration, while parts of projects become difficult and more money is spent.
Scheepers suggests that businesses select tools and technology that enable them to own the process and allow them to add on or modify processes when needed.