2020 has been an unpredictable year and 2021 will most likely continue this path. Business is not as usual as working conditions have changed (and still are changing). Remote work has become the new normal for many companies. Customer service departments and contact centres are no exception.
The main goal of your business is to provide continuity and stability in these uncertain times – for both your customers and employees. Facing the challenge of increased customer service demand, triggered by the economic status quo and transitions from in-store to online consumer behaviour, support agents have to be extra well equipped to provide a great service experience while handling working remotely. Gartner predicts that by 2022 70% of all customer interactions will involve technologies such as machine learning applications, chatbots, and mobile messaging.
Now is the time to future proof your customer service by supporting this shift with the right tools. While customer service 2.0 with automation has become increasingly popular in the last few years, it’s implementation is more crucial, indispensable and urgent than ever. Automation tools powered by AI will help your agents to stay on top of the incoming customer requests and help to establish a more personal connection while working in a distributed environment. Here are some key insights on how to master your remote customer service with automation.
Create a powerful self-service strategy
Great customer service automation starts even before a customer gets in touch with a service agent. By providing automated self-service options, you can build a mighty buffer zone for your agents while offering your customers instant service and give them exactly what they want. According to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2020, 69% of customers want to resolve as many issues as possible on their own.
Self-service is far more than placing a FAQ page on your website or having a help centre. With a little help from a friend, much more is possible. You can create a first line of defense for your agents by implementing a chatbot which takes over the repetitive requests and lets them focus on the more complex cases which require a human touch. By having an automated self-service option like a chatbot, the flood of incoming requests is filtered and the amount of agent conversations reduced.
With remote work, you have to be even more strategic about your agents’ most valuable resource: time. Automation means efficiency. Automation means competitive advantage. Automation means empowerment. And it’s most visible in the form of self-service. Yet according to Zendesk, less than 30% of companies offer self-service options. That’s a big loss. For the companies, their service agents and their customers.
Approach omnichannel like a funnel – and automate it
If you are pursuing an omnichannel approach, that is great! But are you doing it the right way? Especially when working remotely, agents can get lost in the variety of contact channels. But not only do they suffer, it also harms the relationship with your customer and increases the risk of them leaving your brand due to frustration and dissatisfaction. Why?
Omnichannel in its most ideal state is meant to satisfy your customers by offering them their preferred mode of communication to contact your service team. But the reality is that service departments often struggle to manage the variety of contact channels. On top of that, today’s customers, especially Generation Z, are driven by digital impatience. They want their answer and they want it now. If you are taking too long to reply via Facebook Messenger, they are going to write you an email with that same request and worst case scenario, they are also going to call you. Does this sound like a familiar scenario? That is no great omnichannel experience either for your customer and your service agents.
Recent research from Gartner found that the more channels a company operates, the more contacts customers make to the service centre for a single case. Although the approach is intended to simplify customer service, more channel offerings actually create complex customer resolution journeys. Customers switch easily and frequently between channels and, in the worst cases, this can more than triple the costs associated with each contact request.
If not applied the right way, omnichannel is flawed. But there is a good solution for it. Rather than offering all channels at an equal level, your omnichannel strategy should be built up like a funnel. Self-service is hereby the first layer of it whereas agent activity comes at play at the second level. Prioritise your contact channels and actively guide your customers to provide a great service experience and relieve your service agents.
A chatbot is not a standalone service on your website. You can rely on it as an automated self-service option throughout your omnichannel approach. To relieve your customer service department from the pressure of digital impatience, you can integrate your chatbot with your customers’ favourite social media channels and messaging apps such as Facebook and WhatsApp.
Automating your self-service with a chatbot has the perks of being able to offer seamless handovers to agents if needed with the right integrations. When the conversation with the bot does not prove sufficient enough, the customer can reach a human agent again through their preferred contact channel: live chat, email or phone. The big advantage is to have a streamlined process of managing your incoming requests, outgoing messages and store customer information in one place. The customer will not have to repeat their problem again as the agent can access the chatbot history. That’s a win-win for both sides and makes working remotely a lot easier.
The cherry on top of this cake is combining remote service teams empowered by a chatbot with a customer engagement platform. This collaboration is pretty much invincible. Let your chatbot manage the incoming customer requests from digital channels and your team can take over if needed, unifying all conversations in one place. Setting up the chatbot to collaborate with such platforms ensures smooth transitions between agents and chatbots, helps you to reduce the answering time and increase customer satisfaction.
Don’t lose the personal touch with automation
Using automated solutions for communicating with your customers does not mean that you cannot provide a personalised service experience. Customer centricity is the core of many businesses and influences how customer service is perceived which has shifted from a pure cost centre to rather a profit centre. While it seems like the only way to really connect with your customers personally is a 1:1 conversation, technology has come a long way and is able to offer personalised experiences at scale.
A chatbot is a fun and easy way to cater to your customers’ needs and make them feel like they are in good hands. – Karen Bartel, @Solvemate_HQ Click To Tweet
A chatbot is a fun and easy way to cater to your customers’ needs and make them feel like they are in good hands. By training your chatbot, you give him not only the knowledge of how to solve which request, but you actually can give it its own personality. This starts with the name and profile picture of your chatbot and goes as far as giving its messages the tone of voice of your company for a coherent corporate identity throughout all of your communicating channels. Your chatbot does not have to be the anonymous conveyor belt which is only used to get your customers’ request to the right person. It has the potential to be the friendly and helpful flight attendant, who points you to the right direction, answers all of your questions and serves you your choice.
Integrating a chatbot into your CRM is the key to providing self-service with a personal touch. It enables you to deploy user authentication as a powerful way to engage with your customers in both a personalised and automated manner. Feeding the chatbot with information from your internal database when the user is logged in is one way to provide personalisation within the automated conversation. Through this, the chatbot is able to answer highly individualised questions, such as changing account details, informing about the delivery status, or making a change to a placed order. A security token in place ensures encrypted data exchange between the CRM, the website and the bot – no need to worry about security issues.
But even when the user is not an existing customer or simply has not logged in yet, the chatbot is able to tailor the conversation to their individual situation. Characteristics such as geo-location, the device they are using to browse your website and their on-site behaviour are known to your system and can be used for personalisation. And if it is not personal enough, handing over to an agent is as easy as 1, 2, 3. Real human touch is always only one click, phone call or message away.
Think of a chatbot as your request-deflecting buddy
Conversations with customers can be a challenge. Angry customers on the phone, having to repeat their problem all over again and most often it is one of these trivial and evergreen redundant inquiries that does not necessarily need human interaction. Onboarding a chatbot to your remote team helps them focus by creating this powerful first line of defense which deflects those repetitive requests. AI is here to help, not to replace your human service agents. It is high time to recognise this and team up to master customer service together, especially when working remotely.
Although it seems challenging to implement a new solution while being in the middle of a health crisis and working remotely, it still offers huge benefits as the results of musicMagpie, a UK-based online retailer that buys and sells refurbished electronics, show. With the beginning of the pandemic, musicMagpie experienced a steep ticket increase of 35% while the waiting time rose from 60 seconds to 8 minutes. With the help of their chatbot Maggie, they are able to deliver a time to solution of only 20 seconds while having 50% fewer live chats and cutting waiting times by 88%. Having the right automation solution helps them manage the repetitive requests while having time to focus on solving every customer problem with the dedication it requires. Through their joint efforts, they are delivering a great service experience. Being hesitant at first, musicMagpie’s service agents would not want to miss their new buddy.
No matter which contact channels you are offering, placing automated self-service at the very front of it will help you improve your customer service in many ways as CSAT rates go up, the contact ratio decreases while the self-service rate increases. Having the right self-service strategy in place will help you drive your business by increasing your ROI and maximising your revenue. How? With automation, your support agents can cut through the noise and focus on delivering great, personalised service experiences. Making customers happy is hereby both goal and result. In return, happy customers are loyal customers, which keep on buying and most likely advocate your brand. It is full circle and starts with a simple decision.
Now is the right time to invest in automation
With the ongoing crisis, a shift of perspective is needed in order to be able to adapt to new situations. Remote work is probably not going anywhere soon and some companies already made it a permanent state for their employees. Deploying automation is equal to empower both your employees and your customers and deliver a better service experience. The steps towards entering the road of customer service automation are simple and clear:
- Implement a chatbot to provide a powerful self-service option for your customers
- Guide your customers through the funnel to relieve your service department
- Personalise your automation with user authentication
- Experience the vast benefits of a chatbot for your business and you never want to go back
By prioritising your contact channels and adding automation to the backbone of it, you provide stability to your service offer and ensure that customers will continue to do business with you. And most importantly, you make working remotely so much easier for your service team.
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Originally published Nov 19, 2020, updated Jan 16, 2023