Here’s a riddle: who is hard to find, even harder to retain, and very easy to lose? It depends on whom you ask, but if you ask business owners, their answer will be loud and clear: customers. And don’t take their word for it, here are some numbers that speak for themselves.
Today, a business’s number one goal is not finding new customers, it’s keeping the old ones. In fact, attracting new customers rather than keeping existing ones has become so much more expensive that we’re talking about exponential numbers here. This priority shift points at good customer service as the cornerstone of a successful business.
Customer service mistakes are quite costly these days. Even though fewer customers may be experiencing problems, more customers are inclined to complain about customer service problems than ever before. There is good news too though – Harvard Business Review has figured out that if you manage to increase customer retention by only 5%, your revenue can potentially rise by as much as 95%.
So this is the environment customer support is in – high stakes, high risks, and high rewards. As we enter the world of great expectations from the customer side, we also expect customer service tactics to adjust accordingly, but this is not always the case.
Speed of adaptivity plays a key role here, as consumers tend to have their expectations for customer service increasing. Companies feel immense pressure to catch up – and that’s where customer support automation can save the day. Let’s see what it’s all about and how much of it you actually need.
What do we mean when we speak of automated customer support?
Customer service automation involves using tools and techniques to partially automate the processes performed by human customer support agents. Its purpose is to increase reps’ productivity, reduce human intervention, and solve customer problems more efficiently. As a consumer, each of us has come across some form of customer support automation. For example:
- Chatbots (social media, texting, chat on a website)
- Automated workflows
- Interactive Voice Response (IVR)
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and self-service help centres
- Automatic ticket routing
- Unified system of interactions with a customer
Fully automated customer support remains a dream for the future. However, partial automation to improve CX is accessible and quite necessary already, for a number of reasons. In fact, respondents to a recent survey reported that they believed around 25% of customer service duties could be automated – and that number could be higher, frankly. At the end of the day, it’s all about the right balance suitable for every business.
Advantages of automated customer service
Automation comes in many shapes and forms
There are a great variety of customer support tools available to help companies provide support to customers at their own speed. There are many ways to go about automation here, one of them being offering a self-service page on your website. Websites and apps are expected to be the primary digital channels that customers use to engage with companies, accounting for 30 to 60% of self-service.
In such a case, instead of asking the agents to answer simple questions, customers can access the self-service resource centre instead, which is created to cover most common issues and how to deal with them. This kind of centre is an easy-to-navigate library with a knowledge base, a FAQ section, tutorials and how-tos.
Incorporating a chatbot is also an example of automating in this direction. Bots can answer simple questions pretty accurately, help out with signing in or provide customers with actionable self-help articles. If your chatbot is enhanced with natural language processing and machine learning, it can learn to recognise intent more effectively over time and handle more complex requests later on.
In any case, even the most basic, polite answer from a chatbot is better than silence, because it acknowledges that the customer needs attention and that you’re there for them immediately. If this is not a sign of a good attitude towards customer service, we don’t know what is.
Handle more requests with precision
Time is of the utmost importance among customers these days. Not only do they expect a business to be available 24/7, but also they expect their queries to be solved as swiftly as possible, or else.
Luckily, self-service help centres and chatbots can actually work 24/7. Yes, they can only cover so much complexity in terms of requests but at least this makes it possible to shield your team during after hours as well as handle requests coming from a different time zone, and thus reduce the number of customers left unattended.
When it comes to speed of handling requests, it seems to be a similar story: 71% of customers claim to be happy to use a bot if it leads to improvement in handling their request and 40% want companies to focus on taking care of their needs quickly. How can companies keep up with those demands? One way could be establishing an automated ticket routing system.
The reasoning behind this is that at the beginning, meeting your customers’ needs can seem quite manageable. However, it can become more challenging as your business, team, and scope of operations grow. At this point, hiring more people to handle the workload seems like a viable option, albeit not the only one. Automation is key to being able to manage the flow of requests. Plus, it doesn’t have the financial impact that hiring new people entails and can be completed within a fairly short amount of time.
Thanks to the automatic ticket routing system, the incoming queries will be smoothly assigned to the most competent person for the job. With simple categorising (such as by language or subject), tickets will be automatically redirected to the right rep, saving you resources. Now, instead of spending time on matching agent cases manually, your team can actually focus on troubleshooting.
66% of adult customers say that valuing their time is the most important thing companies can do to provide them with good customer service. So automated ticket routing is also where prioritising comes into play. Software based on natural language processing can automatically deem certain customer requests to be urgent and grade others on a 1-5 priority scale. In this way the reps can head straight to urgent tickets without spending time on decision-making and priority checks on which tickets need to be processed first.
Cut the response time in critical situations
Most internet users believe social media is an effective channel for customer service, and while that might not seem that problematic, 31% of customers report being ready to reach out to a company via Twitter. And that’s not usually to praise the company. Today if a customer is dissatisfied, they are more often than not inclined to take the issue to the court of public opinion – social media.
Customers are becoming both particularly rewarding and punishing in this respect, and expectations rise. On the one hand, if everything goes well, they are more likely to praise or recommend a brand on social media. At the same time, every 2nd customer expects a response from a company’s social media within a 24h period. Which just means social media is an important channel to cover for customer support and staying vigilant is the solution.
In a situation where a timely response plays a crucial role from the PR perspective, it’s especially important to stay on top of things. There are simple automated solutions like a Twitter scraper that can regularly and tirelessly monitor social media for mentions of your company. You can get notified about the unfortunate event immediately and it is then only a matter of a quick and adequate response from your agent to tone the situation down and, potentially, get virtual reward points for efficiency from online passers-by.
Get better chances at improving CX
According to a recent study, customers today don’t really care which channel customer support uses to reach them, as long as this helps to sort out issues as soon as possible. Those are the expectations, now what’s the reality?
In reality, 75% of customers will use not one but multiple communication channels to contact customer service. They value it when the issue gets resolved within a single interaction and consider having to explain their problem to multiple agents to be poor customer service, read: annoying.
Most consumers expect customer service reps to have access to a complete overview of past interactions. But agents seem to be rarely provided with the necessary data and context from the get-go, which has a big impact on the quality of customer support.
When customer satisfaction is at stake, there are no games to be played. Companies these days tend to invest into a unified omnichannel system that centralises all data for the agents to deliver a comprehensive, all-round customer experience.
Using a CRM platform makes your customer data centralised, easy to analyse and to get used to delegate responsibilities. Consolidated contact information, real-time access to transaction history, data from incoming calls, email or chat provides your agents with a helicopter view of the customer’s issue. Now they can offer a great customer experience without having to navigate through countless tools, spreadsheets or tabs.
Cut the costs and enhance the human touch
If automation still seems a bit daunting to you, here’s a fun fact: people actually expect to talk to robots primarily now. Only 38% of consumers actually want to talk with a human when engaging with a brand, especially if we’re talking about simple queries. And that option plays out well not only for customers, but also for the company itself.
Implementing a chatbot or virtual customer assistant can reduce inquiries via calling, chat and/or email by up to 70%. Automation in customer service also has the potential to create a 20-30% reduction in call centre calls, lowering call centre operating costs by as much as 25%.
By outsourcing the monotonous repetitive tasks to automation, you can both improve customer satisfaction metrics and let customer service representatives focus on what truly matters in their job. Your agents will have the opportunity to participate in interactions that require experience, empathy and emotional intelligence. It would be a waste of agents’ time to keep answering the same simple repetitive questions.
With this laser focus on complex and challenging tasks, the agents will also be able to improve as professionals and foresee customer needs before they are expressed. Happy customers and competent customer support reps is a hallmark of an excellent customer service system.
Disadvantages of customer service automation
Automation implemented badly is frustrating and costly
It’s one thing when channels of communication are not interconnected and customers end up repeating the same issues over and over like a broken record. That could be a minor automation sin. But when the customers find themselves in conversational loops or get irrelevant questions from misguided chatbots, they can easily choose to punish the business either by walking out silently or leaving a bad review on social media.
Here, the road by which a customer walks away is paved with the good intentions to automate certain aspects of CX.
Yes, we know we have to be patient with chatbots as they need time to learn and process. However, when launched with an intention to improve the CX, some chatbots can cause quite the opposite, creating problems for companies that now must struggle to keep the customers from leaving.
It’s hard to tell exactly how much the frustration and confusion over unautomated customer support actually costs businesses, but in 2018 UK businesses were losing about £37 billion every year due to bad customer service. And 60% of web users consider bad customer service a red flag when making an online purchase.
Automation can be a hard and expensive endeavour
It’s not all that dire in the chatbot department – they do learn over time, improve the CX and can bring significant ROI – otherwise there wouldn’t be one on nearly every web page.
However, installing AI-powered chatbots remains a significant investment risk because incorporating them is not a one-time purchase. As with nearly any SaaS product, they require a whole support system of their own which manifests as maintenance and upgrades.
All this sounds like extra investment, and it is – very extra. The solution is to automate only those tasks that are best suited for automation, and scale up as you reach first positive results.
The transition to the new model also includes an adjustment period for your customers which requires preparation, planning, training and testing. The migration process has to feel smooth. That’s why for the early stages of implementation, most of the work has to be done in a carefully managed testing environment. This is done so that the chatbot or automated emails don’t accidentally irritate customers, since there’s little charm in the mistakes of a bot.
Once the bot has proven to be effective in learning or emails score well in audience reception, they can be launched to communicate with real customers. However, this too, can take quite a while to become a natural part of a customer journey.
Automation stumbles at complex or sensitive issues
As mentioned earlier, customer support automation solutions really work best for standardised requests. But a lot of cases need involvement and perspective from actual people.
For more complex interactions (such as payment disputes), 40% of customers prefer to talk to real people over the phone. According to a 2018 PwC study, 75% of consumers will prefer talking to a real person even as the technology for automated solutions improves, and to take this point to its extreme, only 3% of people want their CX to be automated completely.
To illustrate those numbers, consider an unpleasant situation with the bank – identity theft, for instance. And imagine the level of your frustration as a customer being stuck with a polite bot while precious time is slipping away and creating more opportunities for the criminal, as well as more financial trouble for you. This is capital “P” Poor customer service.
In certain spheres and situations, customers need experienced and considerate reps to address their particular issue. It’s especially good to feel actual support as you find yourself in a vulnerable state. And customers will appreciate the support they receive based on how they feel after the interaction.
Automation stopped being a question a long time ago. It’s now a question of when and how to implement it in order to to shrink time spent on tedious tasks. Companies now aspire to a certain level and form of automation so it can transform their workflow and increase productivity.
Yes, paying your customers the attention they deserve is not easy these days. The future of service appears to belong to those who provide fast, convenient and personalised support on the channels of their choice. Clients want their problems resolved quickly, but they do value a human approach in complex or delicate issues.
So no worries about robots stealing our jobs – if done properly, automation will only enhance, rather than replace, your representatives, thereby helping both your customers and your business.
Originally published Aug 04, 2021, updated Jan 16, 2023