Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is being adopted by enterprises worldwide by leaps and bounds. The global Robotic Process Automation market is predicted to top $3.7 billion by 2028, according to a recent report by Grand View Research. This represents a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 32.8%.
Yet businesses aren’t far behind in deploying another fast-growing technology: chatbots. The global chatbot market has experienced tremendous growth since 2015. And looking forward, IMARC Group expects the market to grow at an impressive CAGR of 25% through 2026. Two-thirds of European companies are already using chatbots—a number that is growing rapidly.
Are businesses getting the full potential out of chatbot technology? Probably not. At this point, chatbots are primarily used to provide customer service and to give product advice. Almost all handle the initial contact with a customer only, after which point the customer is handed off to a human representative.
Somewhere along the way, someone had a brilliant idea to marry the two technologies—RPA and chatbots—RPA chatbots are now emerging to automate numerous customer-facing processes across virtually all industries. In fact, six out of 10 enterprises believe that every large company will eventually have to offer chatbots to remain competitive.
Definitions of RPA and chatbots
A chatbot is an artificial intelligence (AI-based) system capable of chatting with a human in a natural-sounding, conversational way. Chatbots are usually used to reduce the wait time for customers seeking support or answers to questions via a website or app. Chatbots can handle many basic functions such as looking up account balances or tracking shipments. The business case for chatbots is that they can enhance the customer experience at a greatly reduced cost when compared to human customer service representatives.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) automates repetitive tasks within a business process that would previously have been performed manually by humans. Although originally deployed by businesses hoping to cut costs to reduce the headcount of human workers, RPA has improved human efficiency and productivity and freed up humans for higher-value work. When RPA is combined with AI to form intelligent automation, it can do more complex tasks.
How does a chatbot differ from RPA?
They both automate essential business tasks. They also deliver similar benefits: they offer speed, consistency, lower cost, dependability, productivity, and better customer experiences. But at this point in their respective technology development, they also differ in some ways.
RPA is typically used to automate business processes. These processes include data mining, data cleansing, and workflow automation, among others.
On the other hand, chatbots today are primarily used to help deliver information to customers in a conversational way. Chatbots excel in customer-facing scenarios in which human workers would previously have had to quickly find answers to customers’ questions. Indeed, this is the single most important characteristic of chatbots: they can understand and communicate with humans on humans’ terms. But there are limitations.
Chatbots can only provide answers to the data they are connected to. In most cases, relevant data is siloed across systems that chatbots can’t access. Another limitation is that while chatbots can provide basic answers, they are not designed to execute tasks resulting from the interaction. For example, a chatbot can tell a customer what their credit limit is but cannot process a request for a credit limit increase without significant human intervention to complete the process. RPA can help overcome these limitations.
That’s what makes RPA plus chatbot technology such a strong combination. Combining the process automation capabilities of RPA with the communications ones of chatbots and you have experiences that go beyond answering simple questions. The more AI that is integrated with these technologies, the more complex and interesting the solution can be.
All these capabilities are remarkable complementary. For example, an external-facing chatbot could be chatting with customers, while an RPA bot could collect information from different internal systems and make them available for the chatbot to communicate.
Likewise, an internal chatbot for employees would mean that they wouldn’t have to learn how to work with different systems with different interfaces. Instead, they could ask a chatbot to perform a task or gather information for them, and the RPA bots could carry out those requests.
Common use cases for RPA + chatbots
Here are some of the most common ways that businesses can use the RPA plus chatbot combination.
Providing customer service
Customers hate waiting in a queue to be served. This is as true for online activities as it is for activities in the physical world. This is where chatbots shine. Many questions that customer service reps deal with are easy to solve. Rather than imposing tiresome touch-tone menus on customers or asking them to listen to supposedly soothing music as they wait for a human to help them, many businesses are turning to chatbots. Chatbots can understand what customers are saying (or typing) through natural language processing (NLP) technology and can turn to RPA software robots (“bots”) to retrieve the relevant information from the appropriate systems. If any challenge arises, the customer can be routed to a human worker.
Put chatbot plus RPA technology to work in pre- and post-sales scenarios. For pre-sales, a bot can ask customers what they are interested in purchasing and, based on the answers, can trigger an RPA bot to look up the customer’s past orders and past calls for support and suggest other products or services that are compatible or complementary.
On the other hand, a chatbot plus RPA can also resolve post-sale issues such as complaints or the need for assembly instructions, or help to learn how to use a product or service.
Generating sales leads
RPA integrated with chatbot technology can be employed for marketing, especially in social media channels. A chatbot can be the front, conversational interface to ask potential customers what they are interested in, and the back-end RPA bot—built using AI—can get the product information, problem their needs to get deeper insight, make recommendations, or, if deemed ready, connect them to a human sales rep.
Give all legacy systems a conversational interface
Businesses can also use RPA and chatbots internally. Rather than employees having to learn numerous separate interfaces to different legacy systems, they can talk to a chatbot that interprets what they say for the RPA bot, which does the processing—extracting or moving data, or even performing advanced analytics on it—in response to the employee. This can improve the employee experience while boosting efficiency and productivity.
What is the outcome of this integration?
Bringing chats and RPA together can solve common headaches for enterprises. Doing so can help enterprises overcome customer support challenges while saving human support reps to answer difficult questions or to build relationships. It can also save time for sales reps, with the result of delivering more fully qualified leads to them. Finally, chatbots plus RPA can help internally by making it possible for employees to access legacy systems without having to learn how to code or master multiple interfaces. All in all, chatbots and RPA are an unbeatable combination.