Apr 07 2021

3 Ways Small Business Should Use Robotic Process Automation

RPA boosts efficiency, reduces error rates and helps SMBs compete with larger rivals.

Automate or stagnate: This is the new reality for small and medium-sized businesses. As data volumes and customer expectations rapidly increase, SMBs now face many of the same challenges as their enterprise-level counterparts — but often without the in-house staffing or infrastructure to handle the flood.

Robotic process automation offers to bridge the gap by shifting responsibility for tedious and repetitive tasks from human staffers to software “robots” capable of completing the same jobs more efficiently and with fewer mistakes.

Here’s what SMBs need to know about the advantages — and applications — of RPA.

What Is Robotic Process Automation?

RPA is gaining ground: 78 percent of businesses surveyed in 2020 said they had already implemented some form of it, and 16 percent planned to do so in the next three years. Further, Gartner forecasts an almost 20 percent jump in RPA software revenue through 2021.

But what exactly is RPA, and how does it work?

The robots in RPA aren’t mechanical but rather are software tools or bots running on physical or virtual devices. They make it possible to automate time-consuming and repetitive tasks, such as data collection or entry, reducing error rates and increasing performance while freeing up humans to perform higher-value tasks.

In practice, RPA solutions are used to replace human effort in specific, rule-based tasks to improve speed and increase accuracy.

Armed with a working definition, let’s break down three ways SMBs can benefit from using RPA to boost operational outcomes.

1. RPA Automates E-Commerce Tasks

Recent survey data found that 81 percent of customer searches for products or services started online. This puts SMBs at a disadvantage, because enterprise businesses have more resources to allot to their marketing and e-commerce budgets.

RPA solutions offer a way to level the playing field. For example, the tools could be used to collect and compile customer data from disparate sources to help marketers identify ideal advertising strategies that match target consumer expectations. Or they could be used in e-commerce payment processes to ensure credit card data is handled in compliance with key regulations, such as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard. 

2. Data Backups Are Simpler with RPA

Downtime is problematic for any company, but it can be disastrous for SMBs. According to Security Boulevard, even an hour of downtime can cost small businesses up to $50,000, and 37 percent of those surveyed said they have lost customers as a result.

WATCH: Learn how artificial intelligence can help drive business initiatives.

RPA solutions can reduce potential downtime by automating backup and recovery. Robotic processes can be programmed to regularly copy critical data from onsite servers to cloud services or physical media, and they can be used to recover this data if downtime is detected.

This approach offers dual benefits for small businesses: Overall downtime is minimized to reduce revenue and reputation loss, while potential errors caused by improper collection or application of data are virtually eliminated.

3. RPA Can Add Customer Support Channels

RPA tools can also help small businesses boost customer support as consumer expectations evolve. About 20 percent of small businesses think the ideal response time to customer inquiries is less than 10 minutes, and data from Deloitte suggests that adding new customer communication channels could boost revenue by $160,000 per year.

The challenge? Cost-effectively implementing these channels at speed and scale. RPA can streamline this process by underpinning new connective solutions such as chatbots, virtual agents capable of responding to common customer queries.

As noted by GCN, integrating RPA with chatbots could empower the automation of tasks commonly handled by human agents, such as license renewals or property registrations, in turn improving customer service without the need for additional staff.

RPA is on the way up, offering SMBs a better way to compete with enterprise counterparts by automating key tasks, reducing error rates and minimizing the need for staff intervention. And although there’s still plenty of room to grow with RPA, small businesses are best served by applying automation to marketing, data backup and customer support processes as soon as possible.

Orientfootage/Getty Images

Become an Insider

Unlock white papers, personalized recommendations and other premium content for an in-depth look at evolving IT