The introduction of automation within the customer service industry continues at a rapid pace. Whilst it’s always well intentioned and designed to increase efficiency and improve the customer experience, what happens when things go wrong? We take a look at some of the potential pitfalls of automation and put forward our thoughts on how to avoid the poor use of technology within your customer-facing operations.

What’s going wrong with customer service automation?

When the customer experience is not managed well, the consequences are serious. According to Accenture’s 2018 research, 60% of customers had not made a purchase due to poor customer service, and 61% of customers had completely stopped doing business with at least one company in the last year for the same reason.

As customers ourselves, most of us can recall experiences where our interaction with a brand has been harmed by poor automation. Poor handover between automatic and human systems; confusing and over-long sequences of button-pressing either on the phone or computer keypad; excessive recorded announcements… the list goes on. It’s situations like these that are often badly implemented, which should be designed with the customer in mind to avoid potential loss of purchase or cancellation of a service.

Common mistakes include:

Replacing a system instead of complementing it. Recognising when humans are needed is important, because it’s not practical to expect automation to address all issues and enquiries.
Relying on a single channel. Put simply, customers use multiple channels and they expect to be able to receive customer care through the one they’re using right now. This means that information has to be available across all your channels, which need to be able to share data between each other.
Automating complex support issues. Some issues are just too complicated to automate. Humans are better at understanding complex issues, negotiating and solving difficult problems. Good agents are also much more effective at empathising with frustrated customers. A well-handled complaint can be worth ten issue free transactions.
Using outdated systems and information. Not maintaining data in customer-facing systems can easily result in bad information being passed to your customers. Up-to-date information allows your agents to act quickly and correctly.

Caring for your customers

From research by Salesforce and Interactive Intelligence Group – 83% of consumers need some degree of customer support while making an online purchase. The most important factors for customers who use your customer service channels are:

1. Short response times
2. Consistency across channels
3. Knowledge of staff

It’s vital that you provide an effective customer service, which addresses these factors.

Implementing robust systems to deal with the most common enquiries quickly and effectively will improve your customer experience, enabling your human agents to deal with the more complex situations with empathy and expertise, resulting in happier customers. This handover from systems to humans can also be improved with good IVR, call recording analysis and usage monitoring to enable predictive call handling.

How can your business avoid pitfalls?

There are clearly some things to avoid when implementing technology and automation in your customer service operations. If you want to improve your customer experience, not harm it, then consider the following before implementing your next automation programme:

Automate your FAQs. The most common questions that people ask of your business should be built into an automated FAQ system, or a chatbot. This will help to solve most customer issues quickly and reduce the burden on your customer care team.
Build automated follow up. Most visitors do not become paying customers on their first visit. By automating follow up, in the form of surveys, emails and/or targeted ads on social media, the time consuming process of sales conversion can be made much more effective.
Predict customer behaviour. Many customer issues are predictable. By capturing data on ever interaction, repeated enquiries can be predicted and customer service times can be minimised whilst keeping customers happy.
Design systems that are able to handover seamlessly to humans. 72% of customers blame their bad customer service experience on having to explain their problem to multiple people. This also applies to systems. Make sure that data is handed over to your agents from your systems, so that the human interaction adds value, rather than starting over again.
Track confidence scoring. Automated systems can record words and actions which flag low confidence and negative feelings towards your brand. By redirecting selected enquiries to a human agent, customer satisfaction can be maximised.
Update a knowledge base for every customer. After every customer interaction, update the purchases, questions, location and preferences so you can cater to their needs in future. This is as important to straightforward no-nonsense buyers as it is to customers who make frequent enquiries.
ASK FOR FEEDBACK! Automation is not easy. Regular testing and requests for feedback from users not only helps you to improve your systems, it makes customers feel more valued while you find better ways to serve them.

While there are certainly bad examples of automation hindering the customer experience, a well-designed, tested and implemented set of systems will help you to increase customer happiness, reduce costs and improve sales. If your automation is having a negative effect or you require help finding and implementing a system, get in touch. At CCP, we have access to a network of highly skilled technology and automation experts who will be able to assist.