Automation has a bad reputation, especially in the context of customer interactions. Many say that a company can’t provide a memorable customer experience without “the human touch.”
The thing is: you don’t need to choose between automation and human interactions. You can have both, as automation is there to help humans — both your customers and your support team — not replace them. In other words, you should automate certain activities carried out by your customer service team, not entire jobs.
So is it still economically feasible if robots are not there to take jobs from humans? Yes, and contrary to popular opinion, it’s the human-centrism that maximizes the ROI of customer service automation. A hybrid of repetitive tasks automation and high-touch human interactions will bring a long-term return on investment instead of short-term cost optimization.
Look for growth opportunities in customer service automation
Managers often think about automation only in terms of cost reduction, something along the lines of “let’s do what we’ve been doing before but cheaper” — and rightfully so — but the real power of automation lies in the business opportunities it creates.
AI needs to be used as a catalyst to engage with customers on a human level, helping you scale personalization: from improving customer retention to increasing employee morale to providing services that weren’t possible without automation. Excellent customer experience is becoming one of the most important competitive advantages, and strategically implemented automation is the way to provide it.
So how do you make the shift from cost-cutting to customer-centric automation? Here are 6 steps that help you get started:
Map out the process and find spots where automation brings value
Map out the customer journey to discover processes that bring value to customers and your team when automated, and see areas where human-to-human interaction brings the most benefits.
Let’s say you sell custom made bikes online. Some customers are experts themselves and won’t need much of your help. But a lot of them will rely on your expertise to set up the best bike for their needs. This step requires empathy and critical thinking, which is something that a virtual agent doesn’t have.
But steps leading to this process like answering common questions about warranty and shipping can be handled by AI-powered agents. What comes after customer advisory, like placing the order, parcel tracking, tech support, complaints, and customer satisfaction surveys, can also be automated. As long as the virtual agent is set up correctly and lets customers use natural language, the process will be more productive for customers than if handled by live agents.
This way, your human team has time to provide their expertise, conversations aren’t rushed, and customers feel that you care and want to help. And this is how you build customer loyalty; if the human part felt deeply personal, and the automated admin side was smooth, you can be sure that customers will come back and/or recommend you in the future.
Choose automation technology that is right for your customers
There is a growing need among customers, especially younger, to communicate with companies online — via email, messaging apps, or live chat. But there are still 50% of customers that prefer phone support, and they’re not going anywhere any time soon. To accommodate those needs, you can provide automation to those channels accordingly:
- Live chat and messaging apps — chatbots
- Phone support and texts — virtual agents
- Email support — helpdesk and email automation tools
Customers don’t need to change the way they communicate with you and your team has the help they need to provide amazing customer service.
Automate one customer service process before going all in
Start with just one process before you invest more time and money in customer service automation. You will see the effects quicker and have an internal buy-in to make organizational changes that will facilitate the automation of more tasks. It will also make the transition to AI-powered support easier for the customers.
When choosing the first process to automate, find one that is particularly painful for your team and your customers. For example, if you provide services, scheduling and managing appointments can take a lot of time for your team and be annoying to customers because they need to wait on hold for a long time just to have a 20-second conversation.
Virtual agents or chatbots can simultaneously have hundreds or thousands of conversations like that — customers don’t wait on hold or, worse, hung up and call a different business — and your team has time to deal with more complex tasks.
Once your team and customers feel comfortable with the changes, you can automate more and more processes in customer service and across the entire customer journey. Additionally, with conversational AI platforms, you can build upon virtual agents you’ve already created, cutting deployment time in half.
Help customers get used to AI-powered agents
When customers first come across an AI-powered agent, they might feel uneasy and unsure of what they can say. Especially if they had bad experiences with traditional bots that don’t support natural conversations and only work if the customer keeps repeating one word over and over again.
Getting used to change always takes time. But the fear of the unknown can be alleviated by letting customers know that:
- AI-agents are there to save your customers’ time because they make simple processes like returns available immediately and around the clock
- Customers can talk to the virtual agent like they usually do, e.g., use full sentences and speak at their regular speed
- In case their problems turn out to be more complicated than expected, they can get routed to a human being
Put that information on your website next to the contact information. Transparency builds trust and makes the first interaction with an AI-powered agent anxiety-free. The second time around, the conversation will feel as natural as with a live agent.
Make sure that what comes before and after the automated process is clear
Let’s say you automated call routing in your call center. The virtual agent asks what the customer problem is. The customer answers, “I’d like to get house insurance.” The virtual agent asks qualifying questions like the address or house size. The call is transferred to an insurance specialist, and the sales rep asks the same questions as the virtual agent did. Infuriating to the customers and rendering the virtual agent useless. That’s what happens when you don’t take care of connections between what’s human and what’s automated.
Here’s how to ensure a smooth hand-off between humans and machines:
- Easy access to the conversation transcript and information collected by the virtual agents — you can connect your virtual agent platform to a CRM or other systems used by the customer service team, so they don’t need to switch between the apps looking for what was said before while the customer waits on the other side of the line.
- Training for the live agents — ensure your customer service team understands how virtual agents fit in the customer service procedures. How and when calls are being transferred, what information is collected by virtual agents, and how to make the transition between AI-powered and live support smooth for the customers.
Make sure your customer service team knows AI is there to help them, not eliminate their jobs
If your team feels like AI is there to take their jobs, they might go a long way to prove its inefficiency. You will not only lose the money spend on implementation but also the time your team spent on making AI seem useless.
Meet up with your team and let them know that AI-powered agents are there to support them. At the end of the day, it’s a tool that makes the job more manageable and helps provide a better experience for customers. AI can indeed take over repetitive tasks, but human involvement will always be needed. What’s more, adding AI-powered agents to the team creates an opportunity for professional development, as someone needs to help create scenarios, train the virtual agent, check reports, and recommend improvements.
By switching from cost-centric to customer-centric automation, you can go beyond short-term cost reduction and achieve a long-term return on investment. Using automation to remove limitations for customers and your team, you can get multiple wins: memorable customer experience, the cost for value, and higher engagement. Implement automation in your business strategy now to gain a significant competitive advantage.