On October 10, 2014 at NexJ’s client day, Julie Ask (@JulieAsk), Forrester Research analyst and co-author of The Mobile Mind Shift, spoke to our customers about the behavior changes occurring as a result of the adoption of smartphones and apps. In short, there is a new expectation that people can get what they want in their immediate context and moments of need.

I agree with the concept, I have that expectation myself. When I want to know if I should be wearing my heavy coat or light jacket I check my weather app. When I go to a conference I manage my agenda through the event app. I access the information I need in context, when I need it.

These are straightforward examples and the apps serve their purpose well. But there are also times when I need to do more to achieve my objective. Open a new account at my bank for instance. To automate cases like this, brands are introducing bots. It’s not a new concept, one could argue bots, fundamentally an application that performs tasks for people, have been around since the 60s.

If you are like me, your social feeds, email inbox and other sources of news have been inundated with talk of chatbots since Facebook introduced them to their Messenger platform last year. Chatbots are useful in helping people complete tasks in conversation through voice, text or other. I believe the potential of chatbots is great but at the moment they don’t really have enough intelligence to navigate through difficult service requests.

Part of the reason for this is the degree of digital transformation many organizations have achieved. Online customer self-service is very different from the traditional customer service provided by call centers or by financial advisors, to use a wealth management example. Firms have to automate complex workflows to ensure the correct information is gathered and questions are not repeated. It is not as simple as replicating a paper form and having it available on the internet.

To reach the next level of automated service I would argue that firms will need to adopt what the industry is referring to as Robotic Process Automation (RPA). RPA’s are used to access multiple systems so that they can work together.  At NexJ we offer our Customer Process Management (CPM) solution to address this challenge. It is not intended to be a back-office Business Process Management solution but a front-office, customer-facing solution that leverages customer information held in data stores from across a firm.

NexJ recently deployed CPM to automate the onboarding and Know Your Customer (KYC) processes at a global wealth management firm. Their onboarding forms included more than 15,000 possible questions across 200 pages. Clearly the customer experience would not be optimal if they had to wade through all this on their own through a chatbot that didn’t have access to known information. A new ‘customer first’ process had to be introduced and integration to all customer data was necessary.

Going back to my original example, the ability to open a new account at my financial institution of choice should be as straightforward as checking the weather. If I am already a customer, the RPA should ensure that I am presented only the necessary questions and the questions requiring information already known somewhere in the firm are prepopulated.

RPA bots can assist further by indicating whether the answer provided meets validation requirements, and sharing that information with integrated back-office systems to ensure all enterprise data is accurate and complete.

Meeting the expectations customers have today is a challenge. Technology can advance a firm a long way down the path. Robotics, whether chatbots or RPA bots will help firms deliver better service. Knowing the context and need is best achieved through a comprehensive understanding of the customer. For global brands with multiple lines of business, a variety of product offerings and potentially significant compliance regulations to address, making sure the customer process is optimized will be a key differentiator.

I look forward to your comments and would be happy to address any questions.