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How Automation Is Changing Customer Service (and What to Do Now)

Customer service has perpetually evolved in response to the current needs of consumers, and to improve companies’ capacity to deliver satisfaction as efficiently as possible. Often, such adaptations depend on the latest technology developments.

For example, when the Internet became ubiquitous, businesses began to use email as a method of communication, and offered online resources for support. Today, the latest breakthrough is customer service automation: a series of technological tools and processes that provide customer service immediately, automatically, and without the need for human supervision.

This offers advantages to both companies and consumers. The former have to spend less money on human representatives, which allows them to divert funds to other areas of brand development; and customers get faster, more convenient, and sometimes more effective service.

How Automation Is Changing Customer Service (and What to Do Now)

What are the main areas in which automation is unfolding, and how should companies be adopting it?

Key Areas of Automation

Here are some of the most prominent examples of customer service automation:

Automated attendants

You could have an “auto attendant” answer your phone calls and communicate with customers. It should be able to direct callers to the right department, or potentially provide them with the answers they seek. This breakthrough is a natural extension of automated dial-based menus, which have been common for more than 20 years. These menus would read through a list of options, and callers would push a specific sequence of buttons to get to the right department.

At this point, attendants answer calls with a human, conversational voice, and are capable of comprehending customer needs when they speak into the receiver. It’s a more personalized experience, and one that gets customers to where they want to be, faster and with greater convenience.

Chatbots

Online companies are leaning toward chatbots to field online conversations, rather than employing human agents to handle questions, comments, and concerns in chat format. Chatbots use a combination of natural language processing and machine learning algorithms to mimic human conversations, identify the needs of human callers, and provide whatever information or resources they need.

In most cases, this means giving customers a direct answer to their question, or directing them to a human being or resource that can provide it. Chatbots are growing in diversity and sophistication; some are even capable of practicing therapy.

Ticketing systems and emails

Rather than serve as a means of direct communication, such as auto attendants and chatbots, ticketing systems and automated emails are designed to make human jobs easier. These systems are usually tied to some means of customer communication, such as flagging an issue in a piece of software, or sending an email via an online contact form. When this happens, an automated system creates a “ticket,” which must in turn be reviewed and resolved by a human agent, who may be able to use template-based emails to address the problem.

This mode of automation still requires some limited human supervision, but it automatically handles many of the organizational and delegation tasks necessary to complete the process.

Interactive troubleshooting

Some companies have also used interactive troubleshooting guides, which don’t rely on much technology, but do present customers with a means of helping themselves with various problems. The guides may take the form of a massive digital content archive, which customers can search to find the answers to their questions, or involve a secondary question-and-answer-style layer that relies on a chatbot for further direction. Either way, customers are more able to solve problems and answer questions on their own, which reduces customer service staff time to address them.

Tips for Businesses

Are you looking to incorporate more automation into your business? These are the strategies you should investigate and adopt:

Shop around

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of companies that offer automated customer service solutions, and not all of them provide the same services. Some will be more expensive and have more robust features, while others will be inexpensive and simpler. There’s no right or wrong answer; you’ll want to do some research and shop around for the best fit for your firm.

Offer multiple forms of service

If you can, rely on multiple forms of customer service, including some automated forms. Not all customers are going to have the same preferences or capabilities, so the more distinct forms of customer service you can provide, the more your customers will be apt to find one that works for them. For example, you could offer human phone-based interactions, chatbots, and digital content at the same time.

Optimize over time

The first iteration of your customer service strategy isn’t going to be perfect, even if automation is involved. If you want to be successful, you have to be prepared to evaluate your performance, and make tweaks to improve the system over time. This includes changes in your software as well as systematic adjustments.

Collect user feedback

If you aren’t sure what to improve, or you crave a sharper barometer to gauge your performance, collect more user feedback. When customers request assistance, send them a follow-up message and ask them to complete a survey or tell you what they thought. It’s an easy way to determine the effectiveness of your system.

Watch for new developments

New automation technology is emerging all the time. You don’t need to have the latest, greatest architecture in place for every facet of your customer service department, but it pays to keep a lookout for software and features that could give you a significant leg up.

Always have a human option

No matter how glamorous or effective your automated customer service options seem to be, you should always have a human option in place. Some of your customers will prefer to speak with a real, live person no matter what.

Just because customer service automation exists doesn’t mean you have to take advantage of it. But if you don’t offer the latest technological breakthroughs in service to your customers, your competition may easily overtake you in both efficiency and customer satisfaction.

The more you learn about the possibilities, and the more you’re willing to invest, the more successful your customer service program has the potential to achieve.


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Jenna is a freelance writer and business consultant who covers business, technology, and entrepreneurship. She's lectured for several universities, and worked with over 100 businesses over the course of the last 15 years. Follow her on Twitter.

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