Automation is everywhere. What started with assembly lines in the manufacturing space has now moved into knowledge-based work involving digitisation and data, such as marketing and customer service.
This means that whether physical or intellectual, many tasks that were once time-consuming can now be automated for a better result – and customer service is no exception. Many of the elements of customer service can now be automated, taking pressure off busy teams working to help provide customers with the best possible experience.
Does this mean that automation will ever take the place of human-led customer service? Absolutely not! Far from it. As the famous writer Walter Lippmann once said, “You cannot endow even the best machine with initiative.”
Indeed, the human touch is incredibly important when it comes to customer service. People still want to know that there’s a real human being at the end of their customer service interactions, understanding their problems, showing empathy and using ingenuity to develop solutions.
But there are many ways in which automation can help make a typical customer service proposition better, faster, and more efficient — giving you an edge over your competitors.
Read on to find out why automated customer service is worth considering when planning your customer service approach.
What is Automated Customer Service?
Automated customer service is a process that is developed specifically to reduce or eliminate the need for human involvement when providing advice or assistance to customer requests.
In other words, think of all those little tasks customer service agents do, such as replying to simple questions on email or chat, updating and prioritising support tickets, and more.
How many of those tasks can be automated by creating smart, efficient processes? This is the question that automated customer service seeks to answer.
Automated customer service is more than just automation itself, however. It’s the process behind the automation that matters. To create the process, you need to understand your customers’ needs and how you can meet those needs by creating intelligent processes where automation makes everything easier for each customer.
At its core, automated customer service is customer-focused, built with the customer’s needs in mind. With 66% of consumers saying that the most important thing a company can do is value their time during a customer service interaction, employing automation within customer service does just that – it shows your customers that you care about their time and want to help them as efficiently as possible.
How to Automate Customer Service
To automate customer service, the best way to get started is by implementing customer service software like eDesk. The software is ‘always on,’ meaning that it runs in the background, completing the tasks that must be done but are both time-consuming and redundant for customer service representatives.
By automating these tasks using customer service software, you take the pressure off your reps. Customer service automation tools can help by responding with generating automatic emails and creating tickets. Workflows are improved through the implementation of automated processes, such as automatically offering customer feedback surveys following each transaction.
In addition, automating customer service through customer service software can help your business save overhead costs by eliminating the need to have customer support staff working at all hours of the day around the globe. Customer service automation technology such as chatbots can instead be implemented to help manage customer queries outside business hours.
This way, customers get quick responses regardless of time zone or business hours, and the chatbot can point the customer in the right direction towards answering their questions or solving their issues.
Examples of Automated Customer Service
We’ve discussed what automated customer service is and how it can be helpful and have touched on how it can be implemented.
To take it a step further, let’s now look at some specific examples of ways in which a business might implement automated customer service systems:
We’ve touched on this one above. Chatbots are tools that use artificial intelligence (AI) to respond to customer enquiries when a live agent isn’t available. They are designed to learn from interactions and can interpret keywords within a customer’s query to provide useful information.
For example, when a customer initiates a customer service query with a chatbot, the chatbot will pick up keywords from that query and will deliver pre-programmed solutions against it, pointing the customer in the direction of the information they need to solve their problem. If a chatbot cannot solve the problem, it can log the interaction so that a live agent can pick it up within business hours.
2. Automated workflows
One of the most valuable benefits of using customer service software is the ability to automate workflows. How agents work all follow a pattern: there’s a customer enquiry that must be logged, ticketed, prioritised, then answered and logged again (for example).
Automating the processes around this workflow can ensure that everything is logged and placed in the correct queue for resolution while cutting the manpower required to do so in half.
3. Email automation
Similarly, large volumes of email can take a lot of time for an agent to manually wade through. With automation, you can use templates to scan, recognise and respond to commonly asked questions, or simply to provide auto-responders and place emails into a smart queue, ready to be answered by a live agent in an orderly, prioritised manner.
4. Self-service help centres and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Another way of automating the customer service process is by providing self-service help centres and FAQ documents and signposting to them in the areas where your customers might go to seek customer support (e.g., on your website contact page or via automated support emails).
Help centres and FAQ pages provide your customers with a comprehensive amount of helpful information that they can easily access on their own without needing to open a query with an agent.
These are especially helpful for empowering customers to solve their own minor issues without going through the entire customer service contact process. When you provide methods of self-service, you save both your customers and your agents valuable time.
The Pros and Cons of Automated Customer Service
As with everything, there are pros and cons to automating your customer service. When considering adopting automation strategies, it’s essential to review the pros and cons to make the best decisions for your business.
Here are some common benefits that businesses experience with automation (aka ‘the pros’):
1. Cost savings benefit
There’s no denying that when you can automate redundant tasks and lighten the load on your agents, your business will save money. A recent report found that companies that implement technology within customer service can save up to 40% on customer service costs.
2. Improves efficiency and speed
When customer service agents aren’t bogged down by repetitive tasks, they can spend more time doing the customer-facing work that really matters – that’s helping your customers! Automating the redundant bits helps improve each agent’s efficiency and means that they can move through the customer service queue more quickly.
3. Keeps information centralised
When you implement customer service software, such as helpdesk software and customer relationship management (CRM) software, it means that all of your customer information will be in one place. So when a customer contacts your business with an issue, their information, including account history and purchase details, are right there in one place, making each query easier to resolve.
4. Supports a more uniform, process-driven workflow
Because automation software works by automating specific repetitive tasks, it ensures that each customer service query is processed in the same way. Each query will be tagged, prioritised, have a ticket set up and entered into the system, and so on. Ensuring that the same process is automatically applied each time makes your team’s workflow more standardised, predictable and easier to sift through.
5. Enables 24/7 support
Using automation in customer service means that you can employ chatbots to answer customer queries any time of day or night. You can also use automation to set up automatic email replies to queries. These are just two examples of how automation can provide instant responses to customer queries. So even if they’re not resolved until a live agent can pick up and action the query within business hours, the automation means that your customer is still getting a response no matter what time of day or night.
6. Cuts down on human errors
Everyone makes mistakes. After all, to err is human. That’s why automation can help businesses cut down on the number of mistakes made in customer service. Automation can improve speed and reduce errors by removing assumptions and picking up on small details.
7. Maximises important human touchpoints
When automation takes care of the small, repetitive tasks, your agents have more time to focus on the human part of customer service, solving complex problems while displaying empathy with your customers’ issues. Helping build these human relationships is important towards driving customer loyalty, and automation can play a significant role in freeing up time and headspace to have more productive interactions.
8. Makes life easier for your customers
Today’s modern customers are online, using technologies such as text and chat to get information in minutes. With a growing population of ‘digital natives’, automation in customer service can help deliver the instantaneous, speedy, digitally-led service that customers are looking for. When automation directs a customer to an FAQ or knowledge base page, for example, it helps them solve their own issues within minutes. This means your customers get the help they need quickly, in the digital format they’re used to.
And, it’s got to be done! Here are the cons. There are some drawbacks that businesses may find when implementing automated customer service solutions:
9. It cannot solve complex problems
While artificial intelligence can help solve many customer problems, it just isn’t there yet when it comes to being able to solve complex problems like a human can. That’s a good thing because it means that nothing can ever replace the customer service human touch!
Due to this fact, it does mean that if you implement automation, you must be aware that it can never replace your team. Hiring the best seasoned customer service professionals should still be a top priority, no matter how sophisticated your technology.
10. It can make things impersonal
If you end up relying too heavily on technology, your business may fall into the trap of overusing artificial intelligence for too many customer interactions. When automation solutions such as chatbots are overused, the customer experience becomes less personal, and your customers can tell that they are simply interacting with technology.
Human relationships are crucial to building customer loyalty and relationships, so while it’s great to be keen on technology-led solutions, just make sure you strike the right balance between using tech and having it inadvertently dehumanise your brand.
11. It can be resource-heavy
When you deploy any new technology, it typically takes quite a bit of time to onboard, finesse and get right. Design and usability are also important factors. With this in mind, it’s important to remember that you will need technical resources to ensure your automation solutions are running smoothly and genuinely serving your customers’ needs.
Fortunately, there are many powerful tools on the market today that can make adding automation to your customer service strategy easy, but as the architect of your customer service programme, you’ll need to put the work in at the outset to make sure the implementation is just right.
Overall, these ‘cons’ can all be overcome by devising the right strategy and using the available automation tools thoughtfully and within the correct context.
With many tools and technologies available on the market today, adding automation into your customer service strategy can help you take your customer service to the next level.
With automation, you’ll never replace the heart and soul of your customer service team – the people – but implementing the technology in useful ways can help make the repetitive (yet necessary) tasks run more smoothly and effortlessly.
This not only frees up your customer service reps’ time to do what they do best (helping people) but will help your company as it scales its operation. By streamlining your approach to customer service, you’ll be able to grow your company while building loyalty amongst your customers.