How SaaS startups can build human-centric relationships faster and at scale, supported by automation

Isn’t automation the antithesis of person-to-person contact? It certainly has been. We’ve all been caught in the labyrinthine automated phone support systems that never give you the answers you need. Automation has, for too long, acted as a gatekeeper to human contact. Almost like it’s there to weed out the faint of heart, or weak of purpose.

(That’s called segmentation, and we’ll get to it later).

But there’s an idea forming that elevates automation from gatekeeper to facilitator. Instead of barring the way, automation should be helping you on your journey and connecting you with the people and solutions you need.

And that’s where human-centered-relationships come in.

What does ‘human-centered relationships’ mean? Relationships that are personal, friendly, generous and meaningful. Relationships that aren’t just about what you can get from the other person, or how much you can sell. But about how much value you can provide, how much empathy you can offer, and how delightful an experience you can create.

I know, it sounds like a lot of work. One of those ‘nice ideas’ that’s impractical to implement (and your CFO would laugh you out of the room if you tried).

But, call it karma, or call it a sustainable business practice – it’s been proven that companies that take care of their customers do better in the long run than companies that prize profit over people.

Automation, and specifically chatbots, can be part of that picture. In fact, for growing businesses that want to make a big impact, automation should become an integral part of making customers experiences feel personal and delightful at scale.


Helperbots in the age of the customer

Chatbots have the power to help prospects and users complete tasks faster and contribute to creating personal, delightful experiences for hundreds and thousands of customers – if they’re used well.

You vs. Old Automation Gatekeeper. (Photo credit:

But without a human-centric philosophy as the foundation for orchestrating bot-to-consumer interactions, chatbots can also be guilty of automating out the human element altogether, frustrating prospects and customers alike. They can feel intrusive and nosey, impersonal impediments to progress. Barriers between people.

And customers are not going to stand for it. Unless, you know, you’re a bank.

For every other industry, however, it’s the Age of the Customer, a time when consumer expectations are at an all-time high and they have more choices than ever. In fact, Salesforce’s “State of the Connected Customer” report revealed that technology is only making it easier for customers to take their business elsewhere, “switching from brand to brand to find an experience that matches their expectations.”

“66% of consumers say they’re likely to switch brands if they feel treated like a number, not an individual.”


Another customer expectation: Interacting with brands in real-time.

“64% of consumers and 80% of business buyers said they expect companies to respond to and interact with them in real time.” – Salesforce

For companies, this means the pressure is coming from multiple sides. There’s the pressure to grow, and the pressure to deliver personal experiences customers expect on demand.

One possible solution is to invest heavily in customer-facing departments; another is to invest in AI-powered chatbots. Forrester is predicting companies will try a combination of the two, but it might not prove to be a perfectly happy medium.

In their 2018 forecast, Forrester predicted that blended AI is the wave of the future, but also speculated that it would result in dropping customer satisfaction levels “as companies drive more traffic to chatbots, self-service, and chat that are not fully optimized to engage customers effectively.”

“We believe that in 2018, the use of blended AI will help improve sales outcomes and reduce customer servicing costs. But, there are implications.” – Forrester

Blended AI is getting a lot of attention these days as a viable middle ground between personal customer service and scalable service. The way it should work, ideally, is for AI bots to handle certain tasks and pass prospects on to human sales and service agents for others.

The trick to getting this balance right, however, is to make sure the chatbots are only doing what they do best, rather than trying to take the place of human interaction.

Because in the Age of the Customer, what we really need are more ways to foster human connection.


Starting customer relationships right with blended inbound automation

Without making this a Do’s and Don’ts list, I will say that there’s been one trend rising from the increased use of chatbots that has people feeling, well, annoyed. Yes, you want to foster human interaction and facilitate natural conversations, but some companies are trying to ‘fudge’ it by presenting the chatbot as a real person.

“As a customer, I value brands that I can trust. If you are fooling me into thinking your bot is a real person, asking me to bring my human self to interact with your SDR bot ‘Amanda’, I have to wonder what else you might be hiding and if you are interested in an authentic relationship with me.” – Lisa Abbott, VP of Marketing at Wootric

Don’t be that bot. It’s much better to…


Let your bot do what bots do best

There are some things bots do really well and really fast, like answering simple, frequently-asked questions. Instead of sending prospects and customers to a tired old FAQ page, you can use bots to proactively ‘sense’ when users start experiencing friction, like spending a long time on a page, clicking around to several different pages quickly – the actions people do when they’re trying to find answers, and trigger a pop-up “Hey, can I help you?”

If you can write it on an FAQ page, you can script it for a chatbot.

But the benefit of a chatbot is that if it’s not on the FAQ list, they can pass on the question to a human agent who can answer the trickier questions.

Customer needs can vary dramatically, and where many businesses get it wrong is when they use bots to try and answer every question. Click To Tweet

Bots don’t have empathy, an important asset when dealing with frustrated customers, and they definitely don’t have all the answers. Problems need to be able to move between bots and people.


Bots are great at segmentation

Visitors to your website come for several reasons. You’re probably familiar with the buyer’s journey, so you know that the people who land on your site might be researching their problem (awareness stage, probably checking out your blog), researching solutions (consideration stage), or totally ready to buy.

Or none of the above.

Don’t forget about the content writers and journalists coming to your site to research their stories (and promote your product). Having been on the writer side of that equation many times, I’ve been deeply impressed by companies whose chatbots and human helpers were responsive to my questions and actually willing and able to help. This has happened precisely 3 times. In 10 years.

Most bots and humans want to sell, and if you’re not there to buy, they want to get rid of you as quickly as possible.

Not only does that result in worse press coverage, it means these companies are probably also missing out on nurturing buyers who are in the earlier stages of their buyer’s journeys.

Now, this isn’t to say that every single website visitor needs white glove service. Not only would that be inefficient, it would be too much.

This is where bots can really shine – in segmenting visitors into the experiences they need.

People who need simple, easy questions answered and people who are researching basic information don’t need – or want – to talk to a salesperson. They’re not ready for that, and it can feel like too much, too soon. Click To Tweet

Now this is a very different way to approach segmentation. Usually, you’d segment according to the Buyer’s Journey – people who are ‘just looking,’ asking questions or researching, people who are in the decision stage, and people who are ready to purchase. Or, you might segment by type of customer – small business, medium-sized business, enterprise.

But by segmenting based on appropriate experience, you’re re-focusing on giving the visitors – whoever they may be – what they need to succeed.

High-touch isn’t for everyone.

People who need simple, easy questions answered and people who are researching basic information don’t need – or want – to talk to a salesperson. They’re not ready for that, and it can feel like ‘too much, too soon.’ Even intrusive. Like the salesperson at the furniture store who creepily follows you around as you sit down on every couch in the store.

These visitors are a good fit for chatbots.

Just make sure that these self-service interactions include a quick user feedback question to make sure customers are getting the answers they need before that chat window closes.

When the chatbot registers someone who has a more specific, specialized question, it’s time to flag down a human.

And when the chatbot recognizes qualified leads – which they are perfectly capable of doing – it’s time to alert the sales team. Bots can even auto-check IP addresses to see if visitors are coming from companies likely to need your product.
Bots are great at coming in at the right time

We’re all on the lookout for ways to be relevant to the consumer – creating relevant content, relevant experiences, relevant products. Nothing is more relevant than delivering the right kind of help exactly when it’s needed.

Not only can bots be programmed to trigger based on friction-linked user behaviors, they can be triggered by users entering in specific keyword terms, landing on specific pages, scrolling down to parts of pages, or even staring too long at the FAQ or sales page.

With a combination of website analytics, user surveys, and interviews, you can pinpoint where prospects and customers run into trouble and smooth over those rough patches with a well-timed chatbot.


Use bots to keep the conversation going

Most chatbots are relegated to serving inbound traffic, but some are using them in tandem with cold email outreach. Here’s how it works: You send an email to a cold lead with a link to content they might be interested in. If they click on the link, they’ll arrive on the page with the content – and an automated live chat window that not only initiates the conversation, but personalizes it with a message like this:

“Hello [firstname]! I’m so glad you could make it. I think this e-book just might be what you need to [reach prospect’s desired outcome], but if you have any questions, I’m here to help.”

If you send that initial cold email from a sales rep’s email account, not only will open rates rise (as they do when emails are sent from individual people instead of companies), you can add that level of personalization too by linking the rep’s image and name to the chat window. Then, when the prospect responds, they’ll be instantly transferred to the same person who sent the cold email they opened.

It’s an effective way to warm up cold outreach and begin building those all-important relationships at scale.

Some bots even allow you to assign conversations to specific team members or group of team members based on a variety of customizable rules, like time of day, conversation topic, agent availability, what page the customer is on, and custom settings – making sure users are connected with the best possible person to help them.

5 ways to make your chatbot experiences more human-friendly

  1. Use chatbots to answer simple questions.
  2. Trigger live chat boxes to pop-up at the first signs of friction, which you can predict using analytics and user surveys.
  3. For more complicated questions, move the conversation to a human representative.
  4. Use the questions asked, as well as any other data available (such as IP address) to segment customers and deliver an ‘appropriate experience.’ (i.e. What they need to achieve their goals on your site).
  5. Make sure that when the bot-to-human hand-off is made, the human representative is trained to respond to questions and problems with empathy, and is empowered to go off-script when the situation demands. (And always be helpful to writers, because we tell the world what you do and how well you do it)

Bots have so much potential to enhance not just customer experience, but the human experience at least when used with the best interests of customers in mind. Freshdesk Messaging is constantly working on enhancing their bot capabilities (including introducing ‘Bring Your Own Bot’ integrations later in 2018) for more enjoyable, more personal, interactions.

(Cover illustration and images by Karthikeyan Ganesh)