How to automate repetitive manual activities

Did you know that more than 40% of employees spend at least 25% of their working hours a week on repetitive and manual activities? Imagine having all that time back to focus on nurturing business relationships, identifying areas of opportunity or developing strategies for growth…
How to automate repetitive manual activities

It’s possible through automation. According to a McKinsey study, in around 60% of occupations, at least a third of their activities could be automated. In this blog, we discuss how repetitive manual activities impact the productivity of an organisation and how automation can create better efficiency.

What is a repetitive business activity?

A repetitive business activity is any task or function done repeatedly and almost in the exact same way, save for a few minor variations. These activities, if completely manually, usually take up a lot of time, and therefore, a lot of human resources. Popular examples of repetitive business activities include data entry, data collection, approval of timesheets and invoice processing.

How can repetitive manual activities affect your business?

To understand the impact of wasted hours on repetitive manual activities, let’s turn to the facts. In a study by Smartsheet, 70% of employees believe automation can reduce the time wasted on repetitive tasks with 60% of employees believing they could save more than six hours a week through automation of repetitive tasks.

Repetitive tasks can de-motivate employees. Coming into work every day to do the same tasks for hours on end doesn’t really make anyone feel like they are making a difference, let alone see the potential for professional growth. This could give rise to higher staff turnover rates and weaken employee retention.

Human error is always a concern when handling repetitive tasks and a study by Science Alert confirms this having found that getting an employee to repeat the same task for some time can cause fatigue - less concentration equals increased likelihood of error.

Let’s turn to a huge driver of success within a business: the use of data. When data is left unorganised and open to interpretation, miscommunication and disjointedness occur within an organisation. In fact, 25% of organisations believe that disconnected data slows down product or service developments and 61% attribute slow data integration efforts to causing project delays. This is a direct reflection of data silos causing employees to spend too much time on repetitive tasks which are detrimental to organisational efficiency and productivity.

So where does automation come into this? What impact can automating repetitive and time-consuming tasks have for an organisation? According to 81% of executives, automation enhanced their CX through faster responses. Some companies that invested in CX automation could see their revenue double in just a year

How to automate business processes?

Now that you understand the benefits of automation and why keeping repetitive manual tasks in your organisation is sub-optimal for productivity and efficiency goals, where to start? Where do you begin the journey to automating these activities? We’ve created a handy guide below to ensure you tick off the main steps on your journey to automating repetitive manual tasks.

1. Identify what areas could benefit from automation

Before jumping in and just assigning every repetitive and time-consuming task to an automation overhaul, take a step back and prioritise the areas of your business that could benefit the most from automation. Do you have functions that have below-average productivity levels? Are some departments struggling to keep up with higher-than-average workloads because of peak season requirements? Do you have any projects in the pipeline that may require more accurate data analysis or extra human resources some time in the future?

Once you’ve identified these areas, then ask your workforce optimisation or senior leaders to highlight the functions or tasks within those functions that are repetitive in nature and could easily be automated. Get them to document them across the organisation so that you can then easily identify automation applications that could be used universally or for specific functions. If you decide to hire an external provider to create automation enhancements for your organisation in these areas, this documentation will save them time knowing exactly what repetitive tasks fit where and what to optimise through automation.

2. Create how-to’s or standard operating procedures

In the creation of these documented repetitive tasks, attach additional files that outline the standard operating procedures (SOPs) of these activities. When automating, you need to be able to communicate exactly how the activity is conducted and SOPs can help clearly define the automation responsibilities and capabilities.

Note: developing SOPs can be time-consuming but not repetitive. While it can take a while to list exactly how a function or activity operates, once that’s completed, it’s as simple as saving the SOP somewhere safe and accessible, making minor tweaks as necessary. Some organisations perform quarterly SOP reviews to ensure these are always up to date and can save resources when the time comes to automate.

3. Consider automation solutions

Once you’ve identified what repetitive tasks to automate and set up the how-to guides for each function, it’s time to consider and research what automation solution best fits your business needs.

Here are some popular examples of automation solutions for repetitive manual activities:

Robotic process automation

Robotic process automation (RPA) creates software robots that can learn, mimic and execute rules-based processes and, just like humans, can understand and navigate systems, identify and extract data and complete an extensive range of actions. They can handle repetitive tasks faster, longer and more accurately than their human counterparts and through intelligent automation, can even identify areas to improve efficiencies within their own processes. Using RPA to automate time-consuming and tedious tasks reduces the number of hours spent on such activities and frees up teams to make more productive use of their time.

Developing and deploying RPA improves the accuracy of data integration and validation processes, especially for those tasks that are heavy on detail and at risk of error when managed by humans.

RPA bots are changing the way companies interact with customers by reducing call handling time, streamlining enquiries and delivering faster responses to call volumes. Improved customer experience should be at the top of any business’ priority list and RPA is helping achieve it.

Virtual agents

Not to be mistaken with traditional chatbots that are often limited by a set of pre-registered answers, virtual agents are rewriting the CX script by enabling computers to simulate real conversations and engage with customers in a manner that replicates humans. Powered by cognitive process automation and natural language understanding, a subset of artificial intelligence that mimics the way the human brain works, they can save and use memories of a conversation to initiate context-related, human-like dialogues.

With virtual agents capable of resolving cases quickly and ensuring a consistent flow of information, human agents no longer need to spend as much time on repetitive tasks. Better still, they can focus on elevated customer requests, provide more personalisation and ultimately improve customer experience.

How can automation improve business efficiencies?

A global leading courier and freight service wanted to improve efficiencies and reduce their cost to serve by making live chat their channel of choice.

Through the implementation of a volume management optimisation plan, this organisation achieved:

  • Cost savings of $9.2k across one month (the equivalent of hiring four full-time employees)
  • A 3% call volume reduction for their frontline staff
  • A 56-second average handling time reduction for voice channels
  • An 18-second average handling time reduction for chat channels.
To discover how automation played a hand in achieving these results, download the case study here.

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