Automation in Customer Service: Finding the best balance between humans & technology

There is a push to automate everything, but is this the best way forward? The financial case for automation in customer service to lower your costs is clear but this shouldn’t be the only consideration. You also need to assess the impact that a service or helpdesk automation will have on your business, your employees and your customers. 

If done without putting the customer first, your automation in customer service might be perceived as impersonal. Therefore, its best to identify which services need to be automated. Try to understand the requests where your human service agents can add the most value and demonstrate to customers you care. 

Before you embark on an automation strategy you need to have a clear understanding of your customers’ needs and preferences. Then examine your business strategy, processes and the limitations of your current systems. Remember that automation in customer service is an enabler, helping you to deliver an improved customer experience at a lower cost. Take a step back and spend some time looking at the advantages and disadvantages associated with automation.


Deciding what to automate

To make automation worthwhile it needs to help either your customers or support staff, if it doesn’t benefit either then don’t do it.  You need to find the right balance between automation and a human touch. The best place to start is looking at the most common customer queries and automate the repetitive simple tasks – checking the status of an order or a delivery, changing a booking, account or payment details, etc.  

It also helps to have some clear goals in mind for your automation project such as cutting queue waiting times, improving NPS or reducing customer effort, lowering your cost to serve, reducing abandoned shopping carts, etc. Whatever metrics you choose, you need to measure the success of your programmes against them. 

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Key benefits of customer service automation

  • Faster response times & enhanced convenience

Customers expect a quick response to their queries. This is one reason why chatbots have now become mainstream and according to research in December 2020 by the CCMA, 58% of people are happy to use chatbots for customer service inquiries.

Chatbots can really help to speed things up for customers and are perfect for straightforward tasks or simple enquiries, removing the need to wait in lengthy contact centre queues to do simple stuff. It also gives businesses the ability to provide support whenever a customer needs it on a 24/7 basis.

  • Reduced costs & improved employee satisfaction

Customers being able to self-serve can significantly reduce a business cost to serve. According to McKinsey, the successful implementation of an appropriate automation strategy can reduce service costs by up to 40%. Companies can service more customers without an increase in headcount and can re-invest some of the savings made into providing better tools and training to their frontline staff.  It also frees agents up from doing repetitive mundane tasks and answering the same questions again and again, allowing them more time and space to focus on delivering a better customer experience.


Some common pitfalls 

  • Unable to solve complex issues

Unlike a frontline agent, chatbots don’t really have the ability to help customers solve complex problems. They can’t understand the totality of a problem, the implications that it may have on customers or think out of the box to provide a solution.

  • Lack of human touch

The best customer service is all about empathy and automated solutions just can’t provide that. This is especially important when an enquiry has a high emotional component, in these cases many customers resent being pushed down an automated service when they are really looking for support or advice. If all a company offers is automated support it can hugely impact on the relationships customer have with you because people can’t form an emotional connection with a machine. This could leave a business vulnerable to losing customers to competitors who offer a more human service.

  • Poor design

Automated channels that are difficult to navigate, don’t join up or hit dead ends.  Chatbots that don’t understand customer issues or poor IVR’s and call routing that stop customers getting the help they need. Added to this is the difficulty to move from one channel to another easily when they need extra help and then having to repeat all the information they provided in an automated channel when they actually speak to a human. This all results in customers feeling extremely frustrated because they are wasting their time, jumping through unnecessary hoops with no results for their efforts.


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Automation in customer service: two keys to success 

To ensure you succeed you need to address the potential pitfalls, you need to create synergy between automated and human engagement.

  • Make it easy

If a customer has a complex enquiry or one that has a high degree of emotion attached to it, make it easy for them to quickly move from an automated channel to interacting with a person. This way customers won’t feel that they are being forced into a way of interacting with you which doesn’t meet their needs, and they will feel less processed and more valued.

  • Make it seamless

Ensure that all your channels both automated and human are integrated, capturing a customer’s interaction history and providing that to agents. The ability to move the context of a customer’s issues and their previous history to the frontline agent means they are better prepared to deal with the problem. Customers then won’t have to repeat themselves, helping agents to build rapport with customers leading to increased confidence and trust 

Don’t lose sight that the investment in all this technology is not just about reducing costs but also about delivering a better customer experience. The best way to achieve this goal is by utilising automation in the areas it is good at while maintaining the human touch to provide an empathetic and all-encompassing service which customers value. Get this balance right and your automation strategy will be a success.