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Automation in Customer Service: Finding the Best Balance Between Humans and Technology
January 10, 2022 Blog


Authored By: Anand Venkatraman, Vice President and General Manager, APAC – Freshworks

Technology today lets us automate just about everything, but is it always the best solution? Automation in customer service will lower your costs, but this shouldn’t be the only consideration. It is also critical to consider the impact that automating a service or helpdesk will have on your business, your employees and your customers.

Most importantly, although customers appreciate the convenience and efficiency of automated customer service when it is done well, they have a natural preference for human interactions. Any automation programme must put the customer first, so the first step is to identify which services can be automated and which ones need the value that your human service agents add, demonstrating to customers that you care.

Once you have a clear understanding of your customers’ needs and preferences, you should examine your business strategy and processes, and the limitations of your current systems. Remember that the objective of automation in customer service is to help deliver an improved customer experience at a lower cost. Rather than jumping headlong into an automation strategy, spend some time looking at the advantages and disadvantages.

Deciding What to Automate

For automation to be worthwhile it needs to help either your customers or your support staff. If it doesn’t benefit either then don’t do it.  The key to success is finding the right balance between automation and the human touch. Start by looking at the most common customer queries and automating the repetitive simple tasks—checking the status of an order or a delivery, changing a booking, account or payment details, etc.

You should also have clear goals for your automation project. These might be cutting queue waiting times, improving Net Promoter Score or reducing customer effort, lowering your cost to serve or reducing abandoned shopping carts. Whatever metrics you choose, you must be able to measure the success of your programmes against them.

Key Benefits of Customer Service Automation

Faster Response Times and Enhanced Convenience for Customers

Customers expect a quick response to their queries. This is one reason why chatbots have now become mainstream. According to research by kbv, the Asia Pacific chatbots market size is anticipated to grow by 37.4% CAGR from 2017 to 2023. And according to research in December 2020 by the Call Center Management, 58% of people are happy to use chatbots for customer service inquiries.

Chatbots help speed things up for customers and are perfect for straightforward tasks or simple enquiries, as they remove the need to wait in lengthy contact centre queues to do simple stuff. They also let businesses provide support whenever a customer needs it, 24/7.

Reduced Costs and Improved Employee Satisfaction

When customers can self-serve,  you’ll see a significant reduction in the business cost to serve. According to McKinsey, the successful implementation of an appropriate automation strategy can reduce service costs by up to 40%. Companies can service more customers without increasing headcount and can then reinvest some of the savings into providing better tools and training to their frontline staff.  It also frees agents up from doing repetitive mundane tasks and answering the same questions again and again, giving them the time and space to focus on delivering a better customer experience.

Some Common Pitfalls 

Inability to Solve Complex Issues

Unlike frontline agents, even sophisticated chatbots don’t have the ability to help customers solve complex problems. They can’t understand the totality of a problem and they can’t think out of the box to provide a solution.

Lack of Human Touch

The best customer service is all about empathy, and automated solutions just can’t provide that. This is especially important when an enquiry has a high emotional component. In such cases, customers can resent being forced to spiral down an automated service when what they really need is support or advice. If automated support is all a company offers, the impact on your customer relationships can be huge because people can’t form an emotional connection with a machine. While the company is busy looking at the cost savings, it can miss the fact that it has become vulnerable to losing customers to competitors who offer a more human service.

Poor Design

Too often we come across automated channels that are difficult to navigate, don’t join up or hit dead ends.  We get frustrated by chatbots that don’t understand our issues or poor Interactive Voice Response scripts and call routing that stop us from getting the help we need. Even worse is when it is difficult to move from one channel to another when we need extra help and then having to repeat all the information already provided in an automated channel when we finally get to speak to an actual human. This all results in customers feeling extremely frustrated because they are wasting their time, jumping through unnecessary hoops with no results for their efforts.

Automation in Customer Service: Two Keys to Success 

To ensure success, you need to recognise and address the potential pitfalls. There has to be synergy between automated and human engagement.

Make It Easy

For complex or emotionally loaded enquiries, your automation system must make it easy for the customer to quickly move to interact with a person. This way, they won’t feel that they are being forced to interact with you in a way that doesn’t meet their needs, and they will feel valued, rather than just an issue that is being processed.

Make It Seamless

All your channels, automated and human, must be integrated. They must be able to capture a customer’s interaction history and provide it to agents. When the context of a customer’s issues and their previous history are clear to the frontline agent, they are better prepared to deal with the problem. Customers won’t have to repeat themselves, helping agents build rapport with them. This leads to increased confidence and trust.

Your investment in this technology is not just to gain a short-term reduction in costs—it is about delivering a better customer experience and building long-term relationships. The best way to achieve this goal is by using automation in the areas it is good at while maintaining the human touch to provide an empathetic and all-encompassing service that customers value. Call it “delight made easy.” Get this balance right and your automation strategy will be a success.