COMMENTARY

Why is everyone so freaked out about automated customer service?

Nov. 2, 2017

Photo: iStock.com

By Nick Francis, CEO, Help Scout

For years, I downplayed the use of automation in customer support. I did so because of all of the ways I've seen it used incorrectly, resulting in an awful customer experience. We all have horror stories about the automated phone tree we can't get through, or the chat bot that was completely useless and wouldn't connect you with a person. A personal touch is where it's at. Right?

Well, it's not that binary. Automation isn't always a bad experience, and talking to a real person isn't always a good experience. It all depends on how you execute.

Automation, done well, can lead to higher customer satisfaction and a better experience. In fact, 71 percent of consumers want the ability to solve customer service issues on their own. Instant gratification is the key benefit automation has over other forms of  one-to-onecommunication, and it's tough to beat. Not to mention it can also make your team more efficient/scalable.

So what are a couple ways you can invest in automation to deliver a great experience?

Provide proactive customer support

This is a big one. Being responsive to customers is no longer table stakes in customer support. Everyone does that. What differentiates companies today is their ability to offer proactive support, as or even before something goes wrong, so that the customer gets back on track with minimal delay.

Square is a company that's betting big on this very thing.

"Software can now detect with a high level of confidence whether a client is having a problem with their Square service, allowing the company to automatically send push notifications and emails with support tips before clients have to call the company."

Don't have the capital that Square does to make this sort of investment? Not so fast! Small businesses can leverage marketing automation to deliver this same sort of experience. Products like Drip, HubSpot, and Mixpanel enable you to track events (errors, other activity) and send emails or in-app messages to address the problem. And let's not forget that the same technology can very easily be used to identify an upsell opportunity.

Develop smarter people

People's first reaction to AI (artificial intelligence) is usually a defensive one. "They are going to take all our jobs!"

The more accurate perspective on AI, at least for the foreseeable future, is that it'll take on much of the monotonous work so that people don't have to, which elevates them into roles where they can develop new skills and have a greater impact. They can take on the more challenging issues, or get more proactive with outreach.

A staggering 79 percent of customer support professionals feel that handling more complex customer issues will improve their skills, and a further 72% say that it makes them feel that they are having a bigger impact in the company. I wouldn't think of AI so much as taking jobs, but elevating them and the people that are helping customers.

Technology like this is going to have a tremendously positive impact on customer support teams, once again freeing them up to do more impactful work. But let's be clear about one thing: AI is only as smart as the data you train it with. Customer support knowledge is unique per company, as everyone has different policies, procedures and answers for customers. So you need a lot of data for AI to do meaningful work for your team and your customers. Unless your company receives more than 5,000 emails/month, you probably aren't ready to invest in an AI tool. Once you meet that threshold, it can be quite useful.

Create more content

"I feel really good about both the company and myself when I am able to answer a question or solve a problem related to that company without having to talk with a customer service agent." That's what 65 percent of consumers (and 70 percent of millennials) said in late 2016, which was an increase of 8 percent over 2015.

People love being able to solve their own problems. That's one of the main reasons we love using Google, right? But we don't always make it easy on them to find the right answers. The most impactful thing you can do is create good content for your customers, and make it easy for them to discover it when they run into a problem. Many folks don't consider knowledge bases a form of automation, but I'd say that it qualifies because it's a form of customer support that doesn't require any human touch.

If a person on your customer support team gets a question from a customer that they've answered a few times before, ask them to stop what they are doing and create a knowledge base article right then and there. Teams that practice this habit end up creating dozens, or even hundreds of helpful articles each year, which in turn help countless customers solve their problem without having to ask for help.

Once you've created a knowledge base with outstanding content, the next most important thing is to make it easy to find. Ideally, they wouldn't even have to leave the page they are looking at to find the answer.

Automation isn't such a bad thing, right? These are just a few of the reasons I've come to love automation, as have consumers. Just keep in mind that only about 40 to 54 percent of customer questions would be considered "easy" and potentially handled by some form of automation, so make sure you always have a backup for the more challenging issues. Getting the backup strategy right is the best way to make sure automation never fails you or your customers.


Topics: Assisted Selling, Consumer Behavior, Customer Experience, Customer Service, Technology


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