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Customer Service Gone Bad – How to Leverage Automation to Your Advantage

a bunch of people having bad phone calls

When it comes to good customer service, the most important thing that consumers crave is efficiency. When a problem or issue is encountered, they want answers as fast as possible. Surveys have actually shown that a short response time ranks the highest among customer support needs. More than three-quarters of those sampled cited this as a top priority, so it’s not surprising that businesses have embraced customer service automation to speed things up. But not all automated support systems are the same. And implementation can vary greatly resulting favorable and unfavorable results. Given that the cost of poor customer service is substantial, leveraging automation is critical.

Without question, customer service automation has become a necessary tool for most businesses in the modern world. Consumers have come to expect some level of automation. But that doesn’t mean every aspect of consumer support services should be turned over the chatbots and FAQ responses. In an effort to avoid the cost of poor customer services, businesses have to find that “sweet spot” of automation. With a few tips regarding best practices, this can easily be attained. A little bit of foresight and ongoing refinements go a long way in helping companies use automation to their advantage.

(Automation in customer service has been growing in recent years–read all about it in this Bold story.)

“Automation is good, so long as you know exactly where to put the machine.” —Eliyahu Goldratt

The Benefits of Customer Service Automation

Understanding customers want solutions as fast as possible, the obvious advantage of automated services is speed. Providing a quick response time is one of the main drivers of customer service automation today. But this is not the only benefit these systems offer. When implemented well, automated services can significantly increase the number of customer calls addressed. Plus, with automation, fewer customer service personnel are required, saving a business substantially. From this perspective, implementing such a system looks to be a no-brainer from the business side of things.

This may or may not be true from the consumer side, however. Without question, customer service automation can provide benefits to customers as well beyond speed of service. Many consumers today, particularly Millennials, prefer opportunities for self-service when it comes to issues. In this regard, automation can actually reduce the cost of poor customer service if human assistance is slow or inaccurate. Likewise, automation can be used to engage customers while directing them to the correct resources. In this instance, automation prevents consumers from waiting in long queues, becoming increasingly frustrated in the process. Savvy businesses today appreciate these advantages in using automation effectively. But as always, knowing how much customer service automation is just right can be the challenge.

“The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.” —Bill Gates

The Cost of Poor Customer Service Automation

Most of us have experienced a less than desirable interaction with a automated phone response system or chatbot. There may be different reasons why this happened to occur. But as a general rule, there are two main pitfalls when it comes to customer service automation. The first is the failure to recognize when a human element is needed. Chatbots and automated responses can be great for tackling common problems. But the one thing they cannot do is provide real empathy and emotional support. Failure to appreciate this and provide options for live human support can definitely be a negative. The cost of poor customer service related to this practice is unfortunately not uncommon.

A trio of emotive faces
Customer service automation can be a double-edged sword–don’t get cut!

The second major pitfall of customer service automation is one related to design and implementation. Poorly constructed systems may direct customers to the wrong resources. They may also fail to understand a customer’s issue, causing frustration and repetition. This is not uncommon when automation is added to some legacy systems. Poor integration can cause more problems than solutions and increase the cost of poor customer service. For this reason, it’s essential that businesses invest time and energy into automated system designs. And they should also continue to collect analytical data and feedback in efforts to make ongoing refinements.

“Rather than wringing our hands about robots taking over the world, smart organizations will embrace strategic automation use cases. Strategic decisions will be based on how the technology will free up time to do the types of tasks that humans are uniquely positioned to perform.” —Clara Shih

Adopting Best Practices in Customer Service Automation

Finding that happy middle ground when it comes to customer service automation is important for all companies. In this regard, there are some best practices that should be routinely considered. The first rule of thumb is to use automated responses wisely and selectively. Over-automation can be the kiss of death and a major cost of poor customer service. But using it for repetitive and common support needs helps optimize its advantages. The same is true for accurately directing customers to self-service options and FAQ information resources. By adopting a collaborative frame of mind, automation is best leveraged to address consumer problems fast and effectively. Selective use and a good system design can allow businesses to achieve these pursuits.

In addition to these efforts, one thing customers dislike is redundancies and inconsistencies. Being asked to repeat the same story again or being told different information is routinely irritating. Therefore, businesses must design systems to direct consumers to the right resource the first time while also documenting consumer complaints. Likewise, all channels of customer support should be merged and well-aligned to provide consistent messages. Emails, phone responses, texts, and chatbots need to be connected in order to avoid this cost of poor customer service. And most importantly, all customers should have an option to connect with a human support staff member at their discretion. Consumers differ in their needs and preferences, and some will require human assistance earlier than others. Taking this approach to customer service automation will greatly improve chances of success for any company. And in turn, they’ll not only avoid the cost of poor customer service but enjoy higher levels of customer loyalty.

Keeping Customers Waiting? – It Could Mean the Kiss of Death for Your Business

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