Most people who run a business or are part of the development of business-centered programming have probably already heard about robotic process automation (RPA) and understand how it works. However, even experts may have trouble identifying more than a few ways in which RPA can be used. It’s one thing to talk about robotic process automation and how it can benefit your business, it’s another thing entirely to put it into practice.
We’ve put together this guide to help you understand a bit more about robotic process automation. We have included some general examples of use cases and how they work so that you can go from basic RPA to building out the processes throughout the entirety of your business.
We will start with some basics about robotic process automation. We will then discuss how to determine what use cases will be most beneficial to your business and how to scale them. Lastly, we will list some use cases for generic instances that businesses can take advantage of. For generality, we’re going to avoid any industry-specific use cases.
While most of us probably already know how RPA works, we’re going to give a short refresher so that anyone reading doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.
Robotic Process Automation is the use of automatic programs or bots to perform business tasks. We don’t typically think of them beyond the scope of automatic response programs for emails, chatbots for customer response on websites, or perhaps automated processors. They generally get installed by a programmer to help facilitate mundane front or back-end processes so that a live person doesn’t have to spend time doing things themselves.
Bots are usually implemented when a business initially moves from manual processes into the digital space as part of a digital transformation. This often starts with just a few bots to operate the more tedious processes and moves out from there to where it can be dozens or even hundreds of robotic processes. These processes can handle business functions in the front, middle, and back end of the business.
Where businesses struggle is in the development and implementation of new uses for RPA. They often struggle with getting past just basic tasks and fail to utilize the full potential of machine learning and robotic processes.
The purpose of this guide is to discuss additional use cases for RPA to help businesses get the most out of their robot helpers. It is often a good idea to have a development team working with you to help improve your digital infrastructure and add new capabilities as your business grows.
Before you read this list and start inserting robotic processes into anything and everything in your business, it’s important to figure out how and why you want to grow your business in the digital space. It’s one thing to say you want to digitize manual processes and improve efficiency, it’s another step entirely to do it right.
To give you some help with choosing the right processes, we’ll break down a few approaches and explain how they can influence your business.
These are robotic processes tied to helping users find what they need from your site or business. This is where we most commonly see bots on sites. The primary one you will see at first is chatbots. Chatbots can be used to answer questions and direct users to web pages. Understanding how to develop and utilize chatbots is crucial to on-site customer response. Other robotic processes can also facilitate email responses to signups and other procedures.
They can even handle some basic troubleshooting and IT Support for customers. These processes are all aimed at making users happier with their experiences on your site and making it easier for them to convert. The user experience is one of the most important measures when talking about a successful site. Improving user experience helps your site ranking and the overall performance of your SEO.
These are robotic processes that improve your sales experience by making the order confirmation, processing, and shipping go smoother. Automation can save you loads of time by handling much of the back-end paperwork. Some uses include: getting product orders sent through, passing the information along to your inventory and shipping teams, and handling payments.
Not only does this free up your employees to do other more complicated tasks that a robot can’t perform, but it speeds up the actual process from the time a customer places an order to the time it arrives at their door. This results in happier customers. Delays due to paperwork and processing can slow down the speed of sales and lead to inaccurate inventory counts. Automating the process helps in multiple areas of the business to keep things in order.
Automating these types of processes can be time savers as well as real money and headache savers. Accurate payments require a lot of tabulation and accounting work. Automating this process will allow a bot program to determine things like hourly wages, overtime pay, missed hours, and other information. This can save you on actual payroll expenses, as well as having to hire extra staff to manage payroll itself.
Not only that, accurate payroll results in less potential for violations of tax laws as well as labor compliance laws and other issues that can crop up with manual accounting. These savings alone can be tremendous. That’s not counting the fact that if you get audited, manual accounting can lead to scary guys in suits coming to your business and making your life miserable. In this case, it’s better to let RPA do its thing.
This is another area where businesses tend to get bogged down by the sheer volume of tedious tasks. Collecting, categorizing, organizing, and then sending out large amounts of data is time-consuming. Not to mention how boring this can be if the data or reports aren’t relevant to your side of the business.
If part of your digital transformation involves implementing programs like Salesforce to manage your sales teams and reports, automating the process can simplify the collection and distribution of important data so that your sales team can focus on making sales.
You won’t be able to launch all the processes that you can probably use all at once. Instead, you need to work to determine a pace of growth that can keep up with your business needs, without outpacing your technological ability to keep up. This includes both understanding the technological architecture of your business, and the training of your employees to use new technology.
There will continue to be more and more processes that you can add to your business as your business continues to grow. Implementing these robotic processes on the wrong scale and at the wrong time can do more harm than good. This may also create redundancies in your system that ruin your user experience for both your employees and your customers.
That’s why we focus so hard on getting the help you need for implementing new technological solutions into your business. Especially if your business is sufficiently lacking in the IT and software development department.
Upon implementation of new bots, you need tech support to not only maintain your equipment but to help troubleshoot the training of your personnel. As beneficial as RPA can be, not knowing how to use it creates a wasteful expenditure. You wouldn’t buy an RV if you didn’t know how to drive it, would you?
Once you’ve got the training and tech support in place, you can develop a staged plan for the implementation of bots that can scale with your business.
Now that we’ve covered (or re-covered) some of the finer points of robotic process automation, we’ll move on to illustrating some of the use cases that you may not have thought about.
You may find that many of the ones we’ve chosen are useful for your business or that there are others associated with our choices that work for you as well. Our list is by no means EVERY use case for RPA. We picked several out of the many there are to showcase just what you can do with robotic automation.
Selling products to customers can have no end to the number of issues that can come up due to manual transactions. Errors in the sale price, processing of shipping, the wrong number of items, color, or any other random thing can lead to angry customers, returns, or having to lower the price of an item due to mistakes.
This is incredibly inefficient and costs time and money. This is a prime case where automation is not only a good idea, it’s crucial.
With RPA you can reduce or eliminate manual errors, speed up overall processing, and reduce total overhead.
To use this process, you will need the right technology and the expertise to implement it. To start with you will need an IT department or agency that can install cognitive computing software called natural language processing (NLP) as well as computer vision technology.
Without burning your noggin, these two technologies teach your robot to read natural human language and determine what to do with it based on the information it obtains. Once you have the technology in place, you can have bots handle your selling process and avoid lots of costly mistakes.
Any marketer who’s been doing the job longer than 5 minutes knows the hassle of taking customers from the initial phase of onboarding to where they are fully incorporated and using your products and services.
Moving accounts, filing paperwork, getting data together, creating a customer profile, and delivering services, the whole process can take ages in terms of how business works.
By combining machine learning technology with RPA, you can shorten the process of onboarding a customer from days and weeks to just minutes. Not to mention the fact that automated processes are less likely to contain errors. This means that not only do you speed up the onboarding process, but you also guarantee it gets done right.
For businesses that are still using their older systems in some sectors and trying to integrate data from old systems into new ones, RPA can help to compile the data and move it over without the need for manual data entry.
In many cases, there are thousands of applications that can take advantage of this technology to eliminate manual labor and manual error. Not only that, tasks can be done many times faster by robotic processes than by manual entry. This can help to keep data fresh and keep from building up a backlog of new inputs. This can help nearly every sector of a business to perform better. From having all relevant marketing and ad data to financial records for projections of future profits and losses, data rules everything that is done in business. Not having it all available as soon as possible can quickly have you left behind.
Being able to interpret and migrate data from multiple sources at the same time also eliminates overlap and inconsistencies between sources. This makes your data collection more accurate as well. In most cases, RPA is the only way to keep up with all your business data, just by sheer volume. You wouldn’t try to dig a tunnel with a teaspoon when you have a supply of dynamite available. RPA is your dynamite when it comes to controlling your data migration between systems.
Keeping on theme with data, one of the more useful benefits of robotic processes that is simple but often overlooked, is the ability to automatically update customer or user data through the use of bots with NLP technology. Robotic processes can read forms or emails and update the relevant data as appropriate.
This can be anything from customer contact information to policy changes and addendums, to terms of service updates and other important information that keeps your business running. The uses are limitless and the ability to automate the updating process saves time and money.
Using recent advancements in Optical Character Recognition (OCR), bots can now interpret and scan document files of varying types including pdfs, scanned documents, and other non-traditional formats.
This allows for the processing of data much quicker than when it is done by manual means. Documents can be received, opened, and interpreted within seconds rather than waiting on an employee to check for the documents, read them, and then enter the relevant information.
Businesses live and breathe based on regular information dissemination. This includes training information, company updates, policy changes, and reports. RPA can be programmed to release this information on a scheduled basis. Robots can compile data and release regular reports, policy updates, or other information as needed.
The type of information needed, the scope of dissemination, and how often can all be routinely adjusted and readjusted to fit the needs of your business. If you need to keep a tighter grasp on your sales numbers, then schedule more frequent sales reports, if you need traffic numbers for the latest ad campaign, you can get them, and all without all the hassle of manual input.
Whether it’s long departmental email chains, or large interdepartmental memos sent out weekly, managing all of this content and putting it together on a routine basis is time-consuming and inefficient.
RPA can simplify this down to a science where the email is generated and sent out to every applicable recipient all at once and without a time-lapse, meaning that near-constant communication can be achieved with little to no oversight.
Leads from marketing and sales efforts can come through many different channels such as social media, Linkedin, and other platforms. Managing all of these leads and getting them to the point of sale can be difficult without the assistance of automation to make sure that follow-up responses are sent, offers are made and questions are answered.
Potential customers expect to be taken care of. Forgetting to respond, not following up after initial contact, basically not putting in the effort, or getting underwater with your leads will end up with lost or blown leads. Take advantage of automated follow-ups and contacts to keep your potential customers on the proverbial hook.
We mentioned this portion at the beginning of our example, but making sure that sales stay on track is important to make a profit. One of the ways that RPA helps with this is through the automatic creation and delivery of invoices.
Invoices are your track record of what has been sold and what goes to where or what services were purchased when and by whom. Not having accurate records or being slow in the delivery of that information can lead to poor response time and even inaccurate records. In case you’re wondering, both of these things are bad.
Customers don’t want their products delayed due to a backlog of paperwork. The same is true with your accountants, they don’t want the books to be unbalanced because you forgot or got behind in delivering invoices.
CRM is a big part of marketing. You can use various robotic processes to both manage and enhance the responses to and from customers and promote a more efficient and custom-tailored relationship.
In particular, you can automate the initial contact step by using bots to reach out to potential customers to inquire about the types of goods or services they need. From there, based on the responses, bots can automate a response or send the customer details to a marketing agent to further the relationship. If no further contact is initiated by the customer, a bot can initiate a follow-up inquiry to determine if the lead is still viable or a dead lead.
Beyond making it easier for marketers to communicate with leads, a bot can handle follow-up in place of a marketer and if the lead is dead, there is less time wasted on something that wasn’t going to result in a sale.
When customers call your support line for help, there’s often a lot of waiting while agents have to go back forth pulling up various pieces of information, this is even after the customer has usually entered several pieces of information for verification purposes. This leads to frustrated customers and long wait times, especially if your support team is small. After all, not every company can afford an entire staff of customer support agents.
Bots can load up information much quicker than an agent can manually access it and have the information ready for whatever the customer needs without hold times and lots of back and forth.
Additionally, customers judge a business harshly based on wait times when they need help, and rightly so. Anything that you can do to speed up the customer service process is likely to salvage customer relationships and save your business’s reputation in the process.
This is a simple but powerful tool to have The ability of a bot to update user information such as preferences and account details without necessitating manual entry every time can mean major improvements to efficiency, especially for customers whose preferences change on a frequent or regular basis. Waiting on manual input for this type of information may result in outdated data. As you can probably guess, outdated customer data is very bad. It’s one thing to have out-of-date employee records or scheduling policies, but customer data must be as fresh as possible.
Keeping your systems up-to-date requires routine checks. Bots can automate low-level diagnostic scans to prevent potential problems. You can schedule regular system scans to detect issues and use bots to address minor problems.
This saves time and lets your IT people focus on more important major upgrades, security issues, and problems that require complex solutions. For the sake of routine tasks to help upkeep your technology though, bots can help lift a lot of the weight.
Installing new software can be a time-consuming process, especially for your less technically inclined workers. A bot can enable even the most complex software with multiple components to be installed with a single mouse click. This means no more watching a screen waiting on prompts from a window while a person sits doing nothing until it’s time to click.
When we talk about the handling of day-to-day menial tasks, this is one of the processes that a lot of time is wasted on, especially when installations are done on a wide scale. Let RPA handle these tasks and save your employees for more complicated tasks that robots can’t do, like making a decent pot of coffee.
Tasks associated with the hiring process are typically considered only doable by actual people. The truth is, much of the tasks of varying a potential candidate’s employment history can be done by a robot. Scheduling of interviews, managing of records, and data collection can all be handled by robot processes, leaving only the physical interview up to an employee. This can shave time and expenses from the hiring process.
Businesses that have to estimate labor budgets like contractors and other services can benefit greatly from payroll process automation. The programs that exist now can track and manage employee hours down to the minute and calculate wages and submit the figures to your payroll department automatically.
They can even be programmed to handle payment transfers so that all your payroll personnel has to do is review the information and authorize it. This makes budgeting for labor expenses much easier, cuts down on employee pay disputes, and eliminates manual data entry errors.
Since most inventory records are kept across multiple systems and most are calculated separately based on location, order date, delivery date, number in stock, and various other factors, keeping track of everything can be hectic even for the most organized of personnel.
Much of the correlating of information can be handled by a bot and the process of determining accurate inventory figures can be simplified down to a few clicks and looking at a screen that shows accurate counts for all relevant fields. This is particularly helpful when managing a large and diverse inventory across multiple product lines where back stock, supplier deliveries, on-shelf stock, and other facets all need to be managed at once, such as with a grocery store. Automation can help to not only get the numbers correct but keep them that way, saving time when taking inventory and saving money when ordering.
This is something no business wants to do, but it must be done. So it’s best not to waste any more time than necessary on getting the process complete. By automating the process you speed up what can normally be a long and tedious process that customers who are already upset don’t want to deal with.
By speeding up the refund process and making it as pleasant as possible, you can turn a potentially ill at ease customer into one that is at least somewhat likely to give you a second shot. As we stated earlier, customers weigh the speed and efficiency of customer service very heavily.
Keeping company policies and information up to date with the latest state and federal codes is important to keep your business operating as it should. A lapse in proper tax documentation, terms of service, or other information can lead to a complete audit and even lawsuits and legal problems.
A bot can automate the updating of important regulations and guidelines, particularly those about tax code and labor law compliance.
Keeping up-to-date vendor records facilitates smoother control over spending and lets you more easily track supply lines and costs. Bots can automatically update vendor records every time a purchase is made, a contract changes, new items are added, or in instances where vendors change pricing or distribution rates.
Having the mundane task of record-keeping managed by a bot frees up your employees to manage the actual relationships with your vendors. This helps keep you in the best possible position to negotiate good partnerships that can save your business money.
So, that’s it, our list of 20 robotic process uses that you can implement to improve your business. We chose these 20 to give you an idea of the different facets of your business that RPA can cover.
There are dozens or even hundreds of more processes that can be automated to improve your business. Some are for specific industries and some can be used to improve general areas of your business.
One thing is certain, as advancements continue, much of the mundane work of business will be able to be handed off to a robot so that employees can focus on only the most important tasks.
Ryan is the VP of Operations for DEV.co. He brings over a decade of experience in managing custom website and software development projects for clients small and large, managing internal and external teams on meeting and exceeding client expectations–delivering projects on-time and within budget requirements. Ryan is based in El Paso, Texas.