‘Artificial Intelligence’ is one of those buzzy concepts that causes ripples of wildly mixed feelings whenever it is mentioned — especially in its capacity as a tool for customer service. Traditional ideas of what customer service is and means evoke pictures of smiling agents with headsets on, working hard to address the inquiries and complaints of calling consumers. We tend to think of good customer service as a one-on-one conversation between two humans, and it can be difficult to imagine a helpful and personal customer experience when real-life robots enter the mix.
But implementing AI into your customer service processes has the capability to make a good experience into a great one. The implementation of customer service automation helps customers and agents alike by allowing for better self-service for consumers, a lighter workload for staff, and increased speed and efficiency all around.
What is Customer Service Automation?
Automated customer support is a purpose-built process which aids the customer experience by using AI driven modes of communication such as chatbots, speech recognition, self-service help centers, and other technologies. It can look as simple as a pre-recorded message on an answering machine, or as sophisticated as a full-service chatbot. And it also includes in-house features such as automatic forwarding to appropriate agents, and automated queue building based on factors such as urgency or time received.
Its objective is to relieve pressure placed on human intermediaries, or the need for agent involvement altogether in some places, and speed the pace at which customer service is able to assist their callers.
The idea of replacing human agents with robotic counterparts causes anxiety for many. We might imagine that trope of the factory worker’s job being taken away by a super-fast machine. In reality, customer service automation methods are there to help agents do their job, and in turn provide better and faster service to their customers. A balance must be struck between the automatic and human processes for a truly successful implementation of customer service automation.
The Pros and Cons of Customer Service Automation
The benefits of automation, especially for enterprise companies, far outweigh the pitfalls if done correctly. And being well aware of the risks of automation is your best bet for getting it right the first time.
Pro: Streamlining. Automated systems can help improve workflow for your team. Scripted responses to common questions or issues will save your agents time by eliminating the need for them to respond to FAQs. Additionally, automated task prioritization and attribution, including follow-up messages and status reports to waiting customers, can save days of work annually, and free up your agents to perform more pressing and complex duties.
Con: Personalization. Or more accurately, lack thereof. Automated response systems work best for quick and simple answers, but they cannot be relied upon as a comprehensive stand-in for a human customer service assistant. Gladly’s annual customer expectations report notes that 84% of consumers go out of their way to spend money at companies which provide a personalized service experience, and this is rarely a possibility when conversing with an automated system. Like we said before, automatic responses must be offset by other, more human interactions.
Pro: Reduced Friction. No customer likes waiting for what feels like hours for their call to be answered. With a customer service software system composed of 100% human agents, there is bound to be a long line of customers drumming their fingers while listening to your carefully selected hold music, no matter how many service reps you hire. Automated systems such as interactive voice recognition, chatbots, and self-service help centers get customers the help they need faster by answering simple questions up front, and forwarding them to the right agent before they wait. Having shorter wait times also means reduced customer churn, and increased retention.
Con: Poor System Design. Bad IVR, not-so-smart chatbots, or poor routing systems can result in repetitive and redundant conversations, and customers might feel like they’re just going around in circles. When a customer is seeking support, the last thing they want to do is repeat themselves — 86% expect their conversations to flow seamlessly through different communication channels, and a bad system might make this impossible. A “badly wired” automated customer service system will cause more pain than it’s worth, and businesses must be careful to configure any AI implementations for maximum functionality.
Pro: The Next Generation. Millennials are fast becoming the largest consumer base worldwide. These tech-savvy customers know their way around web-based support systems, and are more likely to consult a community or self-help system before reaching out to a human agent. Speed and self-reliance is the name of the game for this generation, and if they can fix the problem themselves with a little help from your AI assistants, they’ll gladly do it. 60% of Gen-Y-ers surveyed have a better opinion of a company with good automated systems — money in the bank for your company, if you can pull it off.
How Some Companies are Currently Leveraging Customer Service Automation
Here are some practical examples of how real companies are using automated customer service to their advantage.
- Creative giant Adobe seems to be catering to the millennials. A glistening self-help page offers convenient links to FAQ and instructional pages categorized for product use and installation, subscription, general inquiries, and enterprise. Each link provides a wealth of information, graphics included, enabling the querent to fix their issue to the best of their own abilities. If the information displayed is unsatisfying, users can click the chat symbol at the bottom of the page to contact either customer support, or sales.
- Famous for their luxury cars, Lexus is also known for excellent customer service. The vehicle manufacturer’s financial services contact platform is a whitepage of phone numbers, inquiry categories, and comprehensive instructions for finding the precise help which customers may require.
- Beloved by crafters everywhere, JOANN subscribes to Gladly’s services, for a radically personal customer service experience which strikes the right balance between automation and interpersonal communication. 8 different communication channels are built into the program, meaning that customers will never have to repeat themselves when moving from AI messages to human voice conversations. The system additionally auto-sorts and prioritizes customer inquiries, reducing JOANN’s email backlog by 93%, and their email response times by 70%.
- Rideshare app Uber has unique customer service requirements, necessitating specific availability for drivers, riders, and restaurant patrons. Initial chatbots connect each category of customer to live chat agents with particular expertise in each realm. Uber even uses live chat and other automated systems to onboard new drivers remotely.
- E-commerce behemoth Alibaba blurs the line between human interaction and automated service with a hyper-intelligent customer service chatbot known as the Alime Shop Assistant. Complete with old-fashioned etiquette — “yes of course, sir”, “very good, ma’am” — this AI assists shoppers with all the poise and grace of an in-person shop attendant, and is even capable of responding to the whims of an indecisive customer.
[Read more: Ecommerce Customer Service]
How You can Implement Customer Service Automation Today
77% of customers expect their problems to be solved at the first contact with a company. Realistically, without some form of automation, this is impossible. But leveraging customer service automation for your company will boost your customer service capabilities by leaps and bounds. Done right, it will be your competitive advantage.
Start with the right product. Your requirements as a business will determine which customer service platform is best for you. Enterprise companies will need systems with high-traffic capabilities, whereas startups and small businesses want something scalable that won’t crowd out your human assets. Enterprise retailers that traditionally use platforms like Zendesk or Oracle, are also migrating to platforms that better operate within the modern customer experience. (May we recommend Gladly for all your customer service needs? Read more: Zendesk Alternative)
Work with a confidence scoring mechanism. Especially early on in your AI journey, you’ll want to know how your customers feel about your automated systems. If it’s good, great! If it’s neutral, also great! If it’s bad, you may want to rethink your approach, or your demographic. This also helps your AI to recognize when a customer is frustrated, and whether to then forward them to a human representative.
Integrate information. We know customers don’t want to repeat themselves, and your automated systems should enable this. Any chatbot, self-help, or email outreach mechanisms you have in place should contribute to a customer’s ongoing history with your company just as much as live chat and phone communications do. Do not sacrifice personalization for the sake of cheap automation. [Read more: Live Chat vs Phone Support]
Seek not to replace. DO NOT assume that your AI systems will be usurping your customer service agents — they are your company’s bread and butter. You must have a concrete understanding of what your AI is there to do before you attempt to implement it. And that is to make your rep’s jobs easier, and to better help your customers.
Try Gladly. Our platform integrates human power and automated processes to give your customers the best possible service experience. To see if Gladly is right for your business, visit us today at Gladly.com.