More Flexibility through API
Process Automation in Customer Communication
How do companies stay agile in their communication and output management to meet increasing customer expectations of speed and quality? This article discusses the growing role of APIs in modern omnichannel customer communication.
Is the world of batch-driven document processing—in which customer inquiries by letter or email are collected and processed over several days or weeks—coming to an end? The average life cycle of this type of business transaction is three weeks. Are such long processing times even acceptable today?
Corporate customer communication is undergoing rapid changes. Not only are there both analog and digital channels now, but there’s also more diversity in communication and output management.
Typically, for example, information about a particular business transaction can be distributed by different media. Consumers and customers want a choice of channels to contact their insurer, bank, telecommunications provider, and other business partners. They want to read a message on an iPhone or tablet when they’re on the road, so the communication must be in HTML format. It’s still the case, though, that some communication need to be printed and physically filed, especially sensitive documents such as contracts and insurance policies.
Communication Is No Longer One-dimensional
Customer communication, therefore, requires a high degree of flexibility, meaning companies must be able to switch quickly between mediums or use several channels simultaneously. Expectations are rising regarding quality and speed. As for speed, that’s a result of the proliferation of online sales, where products are generally expected to ship the same day they are ordered. Time plays an increasingly important role in customer communication because a short response time equals quality customer service. Of course, there are differences in processing time for various communication methods. Email is more accommodating than video and audio messages. And, of course, sociocultural factors such as age, education, technology experience, and language also influence communication behaviors.
Added to this is a fragmentation in communication. As an example, consider seeking out a craftsman to repair damage to a building. The communication path may look like this: First, the insurer must approve a settlement. For this to happen, the injured party must photograph the object with a smartphone and send the image file along with important data (insurance number, time of damage, address, etc.) to the insurer via an online service (WhatsApp, SMS, etc.). The sooner, the better, because once the insurer gives basic approval, the injured party can commission the repair.
Settlement details can then be clarified between the insurance company and the injured party, whether by electronic means (email with attachment, Web portal, etc.) or by traditional mail. In either case, the injured party benefits from a quick claim settlement.
This example illustrates two fundamental aspects of modern communication: First, that quality plays a decisive role, and second, that despite digitization, both analog (paper-based) and electronic channels will be in play for some time, and they will exist in parallel. Even the "good old fax” will not disappear anytime soon. Therefore, the challenge is to remember the omnichannel possibilities in both input and output for all conceivable application scenarios.
It’s Smoother with API Services
The question is how to achieve this agility without a lot of effort. A basic requirement is that a company’s IT systems must have open programming interfaces so both internal and external applications can operate efficiently and smoothly with each other. They must be able to exchange data, be easily combined (for example, via the cloud), and integrate.
That’s all about collaboration within the API economy, which offers companies undreamt-of opportunities to flexibly adapt or expand their business to market requirements without investing heavily in developing new software solutions every time there’s a change. This ability to integrate new applications, software solutions, and services into existing IT structures will help companies add value, especially to their customer communications. Suddenly, entirely new approaches and scenarios in communication and output management are possible.
Consider integrating a translation service available on the Web (such as DeepL or Google Translator, for instance). Say a Spanish customer wants to ask her German insurance company for a life insurance quote. She can send a message in her native language, whether as a Word document, an email attachment in PDF format, or a text message. The text or audio communication runs through a translation app (whether developed in-house by the insurance company or an external API service) and is then sent in German, automatically.
And consider accessibility. Since Fall 2018, under EU law, authorities and public sector organizations have been required to provide all communications barrier-free. The law states content must be "perceptible, operable, comprehensible, and robust." Users with disabilities must be able to navigate through the pages and perceive and understand the information provided.
Wouldn’t it be great if an API service could automatically prepare the content as an audio file, for users with visual impairments, instead of only providing it as a PDF or HTML file?
Identification by Phone through Chatbots
Some scenarios have already become part of everyday business life. In private health insurance, for example, apps that record doctor's bills are now widely accepted. Instead of mailing individual paper receipts to their insurer each month and needing to add a cover sheet and signature, the insured simply photographs each receipt on the spot and sends it to the insurer via the app.
Scandinavians have always been pioneers in digitalization, so it’s no surprise that they are even further ahead in Denmark. Danish insurance companies use chatbots in their call centers, which request a caller’s necessary information to determine the customer's request. For example: Are you already a customer? What is the policy number? The chatbot completes a telephone authentication and then, in an ideal case such as a routine request for a new offer, automatically sends an email with a PDF attachment.
Chatbots have become so intelligent that they can handle 70 to 80 percent of typical insurance company processes that way. That includes situations such as a change of address or submission of a damage report. Self-learning AI systems can even deal with customer-specific features such as unusual intonation, particular expressions, and voice pitch.
Today, customer communication processes are so complex that applications and software systems are increasingly made up of components from different manufacturers and communicate with each other via the Web. That’s one reason many companies are increasingly turning to the cloud.
Whether one wants to admit it or not, the business world is moving towards an API economy , as more "rigid" batch processing is increasingly being displaced by agile or transactional communication. That means that case processing time is becoming an important indicator of customer service.
APIs Are Business-critical Factors
Achieving short turnaround times without neglecting quality means companies need a way to access data quickly and efficiently. Customer communications are constantly evolving and call centers, which take time and money and are not always as effective as needed, are going the way of the dinosaur. Using APIs and their data in omni-channel communications help individuals and organizations stay connected and potentially grow.
APIs play a decisive role because they enable companies to quickly and satisfactorily respond to communication behavior changes, such as increasing data volumes, new channels, or higher customer expectations in terms of processing time and quality. They also allow the best possible utilization of existing infrastructure in document and output management.
A look at some current figures underlines the importance of APIs. The platform programmableweb.com lists about 23,000 current Web API offerings, around 80 percent of them based on the widely used REST architecture.
According to the Web directory, there’s been a rapid increase in APIs, especially between 2010 and 2018. That certainly has to do with big players such as Google and Amazon, which have been pushing the issue since 2012. Platforms like Netflix, PayPal, and eBay, which have made a lot of progress in the cloud, are also among leading API providers. The API Integration Report 2019 concludes that a majority of companies and organizations consider APIs to be a business-critical factor.
According to the report, almost 55% of these platforms use API services to develop new B2B solutions, followed by products for mobile communication (about 36%) and B2C consumer goods production (around 28%). Two thousand new services are added every year.
The financial industry is a pioneer in the development and use of API services.
The business world, and communication itself, has definitely become more agile, which is reflected in a growing demand for microservices. The fact that companies are increasingly switching to the cloud also "fires up" the API issue.
API First: Process Modeling in Communication and Output Management
Compart’s DocBridge Gear® software provides what’s important to the API economy in customer communication—a problem-free interaction between any applications, systems, and services using standardized, open programming interfaces that can expand existing business models or develop new ones.
The DocBridge® Gear application can easily configure all communication creation, conversion, modification, and output specifically to a customer based on raw data. All typical quality assurance processes, such as document checking and comparison, validation, and release workflows, can also be modeled.
DocBridge® Gear uses reusable worklets that stand for specific functionalities and sub-processes. These worklets can be granular, with small, manageable processes, or very large, such as multiple nested processes that consider various complex criteria. The app is primarily aimed at companies that provide omnichannel communication and need a system to integrate business applications seamlessly based on API. DocBridge® Gear not only makes processes available via API but can also leverage external services. These external services can be integrated either via REST Web services or as NodeJS packages.
DocBridge Gear’s top advantages:
- Seamlessly integrates an unlimited number of specialist applications and services
- Connects digital and analog communication services, trouble-free
Use case experience:
A company wants to increase its customer communication by connecting messenger services (such as WhatsApp, SMS, etc.), Web portals, and email. These communication channels should work with several systems, including ERP and CRM, some of them in the cloud.
DocBridge® Gear provides various interfaces (REST API) that can exchange raw data in formats such as XML, JSON, CSV, and more, as well as data already prepared for printing (such as PDF, AFP, PCL, etc.). It allows the integration of both cloud and legacy applications. Once DocBridge® Gear has been connected, it’s not necessary to connect again for each combination of application and output medium. Information from various channels can also be returned to the application.
New communications media can be connected either directly or via third-party applications. DocBridge® Gear also provides various REST API interfaces for that purpose. That lets companies send emails directly via their own SMTP server or using a cloud service such as Amazon Simple Email Service. It’s also possible to connect archives, messenger services, and fax machines.
DocBridge® Gear offers the advantage of added value in customer communication with Compart software, both on the application level, by integrating special functionalities from specialist suppliers trouble-free, and in terms of output, such as through a flexible connection of any analog and digital communication channels.
Learn more about DocBridge® Gear or contact us for a demo.
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An Application Programming Interface (API) is a software interface that enables another application to use a specific functionality. For example, flight bookings can be made by a certain software within an application that provides the booking functionality. An API is the digital glue that connects services, applications, and systems. When several applications are combined to form a complete system, the result is an API ecosystem. There must be a common description language for the interfaces and coordination of the overall system for it to work.
Gartner defines the API economy as, “a set of business models and channels based on secure access of functionality and exchange of data. APIs make it easier to integrate and connect people, places, systems, data, things and algorithms, create new user experiences, share data and information, authenticate people and things, enable transactions and algorithms, leverage third-party algorithms, and create new product/services and business models."
In an API economy, partners in an API ecosystem are autonomous companies or organizations, each with its own economic interests. To understand an API economy, it’s necessary to consider the API’s technical aspects, coordination issues, and the economic interests of suppliers and users.
API providers prevail in the long term when their solutions help companies achieve true added value, such as in customer communication. At the same time, an API economy offers API users the chance to better focus on their core competencies, as they don’t have to develop applications that are not part of their core business.
Overall, demand for external expertise is growing as it becomes less worthwhile to build up in-house expertise for API services that can be obtained much faster and cheaper via an API ecosystem—and are often functionally better. These can easily be integrated into one's own IT infrastructure, taking into account legal guidelines and framework conditions.
It is almost mandatory for companies in most industries to adapt to the all-encompassing digitalization of the economy and society. That is reinforced by customers’ and users’ rising expectations, for instance regarding response times and user ease in communication. Today, it’s common practice to authenticate yourself via a personal social media account or use an online payment tool. All of that works because of the intelligent use of APIs.
Technologically, API is not a novelty, but its use has developed in an innovative way in recent years. APIs used to function mainly as programming interfaces between two systems within one company (i.e., the data only moved internally), but now they enable new business models that involve several parties with different interests. There is a change in perspective from an exclusively internal interaction to one with the outside world, meaning involving third-party applications and systems.
Microservices are an architectural and organizational approach to software development, where software consists of small independent services that communicate via carefully defined APIs.
Microservices-based architectures simplify scalability, reduce application development time, enable innovation, and shorten time to market for new features.
Source: Amazon AWS