Customer service automation: how to smash it vs. how to suck at it

Lake Falconer
16 January 2024

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Gartner predicts that ‘by 2025, 80% of customer service and support organizations will be applying generative AI technology in some form to improve agent productivity and customer experience’. 

But it’s a new (and shifting) application of the technology, and many companies are still working through their automation teething problems. So we’re here to show you how it’s done…or not done, as the case may be.

Let’s start with how not to do it. And then move on to how to actually do it (so we end on a good note).

How to suck at customer service automation

Do you feel like your customer service automation is just too efficient? Do you want to make sure your customers are just that little bit less satisfied? Glad you could make it. We’re here to spill the secrets to terrible customer service automation.

Make sure none of your systems are integrated

Congratulations! You have multiple systems that don’t talk to each other. This means your customers will have the pleasure of repeating themselves over and over again, because no one in your company knows what they talked about before. They’ll enjoy the thrill of leaving a message on one system, calling another representative, and having them ask for the same information, only to find out that neither system has that information.

Use automated voice recordings that last forever

Nothing says ‘we care’ like a never-ending automated voice recording. Make sure to use one that has at least 20 different options, none of which actually apply to the customer’s issue. This will make them feel like they’re stuck in an endless loop, where the right choice is always out of reach. Bonus points if you make it impossible to return to the previous menu, forcing them to call back and start the whole process over again if they make a mistake.

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Respond with generic automated templates

Personalization is so yesterday. Dry generic emails are the future. Your customers will appreciate the lack of effort, especially when they’re dealing with a complex issue that requires a specific answer. 61% of customers say they feel like companies treat them like numbers, and with a generic response, you too can do your part to increase this statistic. Even better, make sure they can’t respond directly to the email, and don’t provide any contact information for follow-up. This won’t create any confusion or frustration at all.

Make it impossible to reach a human

Who needs humans anyway? Just rely on your automated systems to handle all customer inquiries. Yes, even ones like “the account holder has passed away” or “I’ve been charged twice for the same purchase.” Your customers will love feeling like their problems don’t matter. If you want to up your game, make sure to hide your customer service number in a hard-to-find location on your website. That way, they can have hours of fun searching for it.

Never update your automation technology

Why invest in new technology when your old one still works (kind of)? Keep using that outdated IVR system from the early 2000s and watch as your customers struggle to navigate through its clunky interface. It will be kind of like “survival of the fittest” – see which customers can stick it out the longest without giving up on getting their issues resolved.

How to smash customer service automation

Want to do this properly? We don’t blame you. According to Salesforce, 65% of high-performing service organizations use automation, compared to 41% of underperformers. There’s a clear connection between automation and customer service success. The trick is to do it right. 

Integrate your telephony and ticketing system

Integration is everything when it comes to customer service automation. Make sure your different systems are all connected so that customer information is readily available. This way, customers won’t have to repeat their problems every time they speak to a different representative. It’s also helpful for agents, who can easily access past interactions with the customer.

Invest in conversational AI

There’s just no need to make customers press buttons and listen to automated menus anymore. Even the old style “say one for technical support” is outdated. With conversational AI, customers can interact with a virtual agent using natural language, mirroring an actual conversation. Voice automation can help you automate the first 45 seconds of every call – and save 800 hours per month.

Give your customers choices

Automation doesn’t have to be a blunt instrument. One of the great things about automated systems is that they’re the perfect opportunity to give back a sense of control to your customers. You can allow them to choose how they want to interact with your company – whether that’s through self-service, a live agent or a combination. Everyone is different, and channel preferences vary wildly across demographics. For example, research suggests that around 75% of Gen Z customers prefer to solve their problems themselves, without ever speaking to an agent.

Personalize your automation

This comes back to the first point – integration. Automation doesn’t have to be impersonal. When your systems are connected, you can use customer data to personalize the interactions. For example, email automation software such as MailChimp or Hubspot will allow you to personalize emails based on details like their name or purchase history.

Know when not to automate

Automation is great, but there are times when human interaction is necessary, and it’s important to recognize those situations. For example, when dealing with complex or emotionally charged issues, customers may prefer to speak with a live agent. You might have an older customer base that struggles to interact with digital technology. In these cases, you need to be aware of when automation is doing more harm than good. It’s also important to have a way for customers to easily escalate their issues if they feel that automation is not meeting their needs.

Become an automation hero

People sometimes get the wrong impression about automation – that it’s there to cut corners and cut costs. But automation doesn’t have to be a source of frustration for your customers. It’s there to help them, not hinder them. Thoughtful, well-integrated, automation is a winner for both your business and your customers. Just make sure you don’t suck at it.

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