Using Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technology, Hughes created 20 “digital workers” or software bots to automate many repetitive tasks associated with its field services operations. Typically, companies launch RPA initiatives for cost-saving measures. Hughes launched its efforts in 2019 with the explicit goal of improving service delivery and the customer experience.
“We use digital workers to automate many of the processes and jobs that people were doing on a daily basis. They intercept and interpret emails, take actions like placing or cancelling an order, or change an order date based on a customer request. The bots are like digital cops for our systems, making sure our customers’ needs are addressed and we maintain our Service Level Agreements,” explained Anurag Bhatnagar, senior director, Software Engineering and Business Applications at Hughes.
With mundane tasks handled by digital workers, Hughes Customer Service Representatives can tackle more complex situations requiring higher skills and engagement levels. By offloading simpler transactions to bots, employees can perform work that is more interesting and less rote and be able to contribute to the solution. That keeps employees engaged.
“The employee experience is every bit as important as the customer experience,” Mr. Bhatnagar said. “By lightening their load, it brings a lot of value to the customer.”
To launch the RPA initiative, the Hughes team solicited input from field service operation subject matter experts (SMEs) and stakeholders.
“When we started, there was a lot of interest in automating everything. The challenge was to identify and define which processes to automate; ones that would give us the best return on investment. You also don’t want to automate a process that isn’t working for the company,” he said.
Stakeholders who performed the daily tasks offered ideas for which tasks to automate and how to improve them. Hughes utilized an off-the-shelf RPA platform to build its bots, which took only a few weeks to develop. While putting bots into production is an easy process, maintaining their operational integrity is a challenge. As Mr. Bhatnagar explained, bots depend on and are integrated into multiple systems, all of which must be working together to be effective.
As an example, “we built automatic notifications into processes to keep customers updated if there’s a scheduled visit from a technician. We work with external systems and our partners to get the right information to and from customers.” Bots also remind technicians to complete required training and keep their certifications current.
“The good thing about digital workers is they work 24x7, seven days a week, and they don’t need to be at the worksite all the time,” Mr. Bhatnagar noted. In 2020, Hughes digital workers saved the company thousands of labor hours. Most important, however, they contributed to the ability to meet SLAs consistently, be more responsive to customer inquiries and requests, and improve service delivery.
“In this current market environment where networks are becoming commodities, a service provider differentiates itself by engaging with customers and delivering a better customer experience. With RPA, Hughes is at the forefront,” Mr. Bhatnagar said.