change on a wall
PHOTO: Nana B Agyei

The rapid development of new, scalable technology has contributed to the integration of AI, automation and customer data into business tools. The advanced capabilities of these tools makes both actionable decision-making and customer engagement easier and more meaningful.

A key driver of new technology growth is the widespread availability of AI and automation products to businesses of all stages and sizes. Organizations like Microsoft and Amazon are leveling the playing field by offering their tools on a subscription, or “as-a-service” basis. By doing so, companies no longer need to spend large  amounts of money on creating their own tools. Platforms once only accessible by enterprise-level organizations have become affordable for small- to medium-sized businesses.

All of this is a natural extension of the shift towards the cloud. The massive computing power available from cloud tools and services allow platform developers to provide their services across the globe to anyone with a credit card. The move to the cloud has been truly transformative: businesses can use pre-packaged tools and developers can build their own solutions using these services.

Robotic Process Automation Is Transforming Into Intelligent Process Automation

The convergence of AI, automation and customer data has now seen the emergence of a new class of tools, known as intelligent process automation (IPA). Simply speaking, IPA combines robotic process automation (RPA) and machine learning to deliver powerful tools that can mimic human interaction and make advanced decisions based on the outputs of those robotic inputs.

For example, many businesses need to transfer data from one system to another. Surprisingly, this is still a manual process for many firms (both large and small). In fact, most firms still process invoices using manual processing at some point in the workflow. While some programmatic data movement is possible between compatible systems, many systems still do not easily integrate with the paper invoices (or records) still involved in the process. This is where intelligent process automation comes in. By leveraging AI and Machine Learning, tools built with IPA capabilities are able to interpret an initial data request, automatically grab that data (RPA), and then do something with that data or report, which then kicks off a workflow. Keep in mind however, IPA tools still need to be initially informed or trained by a human.

Related Article: We're Just Starting to Tap AI's Potential in the Workplace

IPA's Power: Continual Learning and Automatic Course Correction

One of the most powerful features of IPA-enabled technology is its ability to continually learn, iterate and improve through user feedback. To illustrate, let’s take a look at the way a simple chatbot functions.

A customer lands on a webpage and opens a chatbot. After being greeted by an automatic message — “Welcome! How may I help you today?” — the customer asks a question about the types of services being offered. Depending on the context of the question, the bot can start a workflow that could include a variety of things: directing the customer to a webpage that describes listed services, providing a PDF download that summarizes service offerings, or even transferring the conversation over to a live representative. 

At the end of the interaction, the chatbot initiates a feedback mechanism by asking the question: “Was I able to help you find what you were looking for?” At this point, the customer is able to provide context on whether or not the interaction was helpful and how it could be improved. Because of IPA, the chatbot is able to make sense of the feedback, iterate, and provide an even better experience to the next user.  While humans are usually involved in the curation of this feedback, most tools allow it to automatically learn from feedback (both positive and negative).

Related Article: A Good Chatbot Is Hard to Find

Evolving IPA Improves Customer Activation

Giving customers direct access to continually evolving IPA tools allows them to receive consistent solutions to their problems faster and more efficiently than before. These interactions can automatically trigger complex processes that can provide more information, or even help solve additional problems. IPA technologies are also scalable. They enable businesses to easily accommodate growing demand, as well as handle multiple customer interactions at the same time. 

Most importantly, if the experience is at all undesirable, the customer can provide immediate feedback on the interaction, and speak with a human to get the assistance they were looking for. All of these capabilities lead to the dramatic improvement of both customer service and customer engagement —  and in turn higher customer lifetime value. 

The technical landscape is changing fast. Capabilities are improving and the ability of businesses to effectively engage with customers using technology more difficult than ever to keep up with. However, if you do, you can streamline your core processes, better engage with your customers, and scale your operations.