Customer service automation may have been around for a while, but it keeps improving as technology advances. And that’s a good thing: rather than diminishing the role of humans, automating key processes helps them do their job better.
But, automation shouldn’t happen haphazardly. It should be the result of careful planning and based on customer service needs and expectations.
So, if you want to automate customer care or are trying to improve your existing automated processes, check out our guide — it’s packed full of benefits, tips, and strategies to help you.
What is customer service automation?
Customer service automation is the process of reducing the number of interactions between customers and human agents in customer support.
This puts automated customer service at the very heart of servicing customers and involves elements like:
- AI chatbots
- Email automation
- Knowledge bases
- Triggered actions
- CRM process automation
These technologies (especially artificial intelligence) can be used to provide quick, real-time support, and engage customers proactively.
What are the advantages of automated customer service?
Customer service automation increases efficiency, reduces costs, allows for continuous 24/7 service, and helps with data collection and analysis.
Here’s a more detailed breakdown of all possible benefits. Automated customer service can help you:
Improve efficiency and speed
This is probably the biggest and most intuitive advantage of automation. With software able to pull answers from a database in seconds, companies can speed up issue resolution significantly when it comes to non-complex customer queries.
Automation will also speed up tasks behind the scenes: think about customer service agents spending huge chunks of time filling out forms or updating information. In fact, 69 percent of a manager’s workload could be automated by 2024.
Implement after-hours service
Some companies may ask their employees to work shifts to cover around-the-clock support, but that’s not always feasible (and not often pleasant for human agents). Automation means you can provide assistance day and night and make sure no customer is ever left hanging.
Reduce service costs
The cost of shifts, as we mentioned above, is eliminated with automation — you don’t have to hire more people than you need or pay any overtime. And as speed is increased, so is the number of issues your business can resolve in the same timeframe, as automated programs can serve multiple customers simultaneously.
Research clearly indicates the benefits: for example, 74 percent of IT leaders say process automation has helped save at least 11-30 percent of time previously spent on manual processes.
Improve experience for human agents
We already mentioned that automation helps resolve non-complex customer queries in seconds. But it’s not just customers that stand to benefit, agents do, too — they won’t have to spend time addressing simple and repetitive FAQs. Instead, they can focus on solving the more complicated problems that may have a greater impact on customer satisfaction.
It can be difficult to keep the same tone and voice across communications — especially as it’s impacted by each individual, their experiences, and even their passing moods. Because of that, the “face” of the company the customers see can be very inconsistent . The possibility of human error is always a real concern, too. But with automation, errors can be reduced and the brand voice can be heard consistently in every customer interaction.
Streamline data and analytics
The key here is integration of different systems. Automated service doesn’t usually happen in a silo — most effective customer experience systems provide multiple routes to automation and integrate with CRMs and other databases. This way, data is stored in a centralized location and easily accessible for analytics and reports.
And, by collecting and analyzing different data points, automation can also help you track KPIs and make sure you meet your SLAs. You can set up alerts, for example, that warn you when you’re about to miss a goal.
When data is collected and analyzed quickly (and when different systems are integrated), it becomes possible to see each customer as an individual and cater to their specific needs. For example, chatbots can determine purchase history and automatically offer relevant recommendations.
What are the disadvantages of automated customer service?
The main issue with automation is that it lacks the human touch. It can also be difficult to set up correctly (and keep track of). Here’s a more detailed list of some of the drawbacks with customer service automation:
It lacks the human element
This is an inherent contradiction in the idea of automated service. On the one hand, we’ve already said that automation makes personalization efforts much easier, and minimizing errors and reducing costs are very important advantages.
On the other hand, that same lack of human resources means there’s no human for customers to fall back on. Customers are still very much aware they’re chatting to a machine, not a human. And this can be a source of real frustration when human agents and automated service aren’t integrated properly. In fact, not being able to reach a live agent is the single most frustrating aspect of poor customer service according to 30 percent of people.
Pro tip: Combine automated personalization with superior human service — integrate channels like chatbots and knowledge bases with human-reliant channels like live chat and video chat.
Once you set up a knowledge base, an AI chatbot, or an automated email sequence correctly, things are likely to go well. But until you do that, it will take time and effort to get it right. For example, chatbot design is a science in its own right— there are even experts in the field that have this exact job.
Pro tip: Choose the right software — it can be a massive help in the correct set up of customer service automation. Some key features to look for are unified customer profiles (allowing you to keep customer data in one place) and omnichannel capabilities (e.g. integrating all customer communication channels and other systems seamlessly).
It threatens jobs
The thing is, technology isn’t meant to replace humans. It’s meant to help them do their jobs more efficiently and minimize routine tasks. However, this isn’t how it often works. In fact, according to research, 43 percent of businesses plan to reduce their workforce due to technological integration and automation. That’s because technology can completely take over a number of different tasks.
But, automated software is still unable to solve really complex problems — and that’s possibly why there’s another 34 percent of companies that plan to expand their workforce due to technology integration, according to the same research.
Pro Tip: Technology disruption is more likely to transform jobs and skills, rather than eliminate positions. Plan ahead for workforce management, re-training, and redefining roles.
3 popular customer service automation solutions
There are many ways companies can use automation, but a few in particular catch the eye: chatbots, self-service, and triggered actions. Here’s what you need to know about each:
Chatbots are great for automating routine questions. Your chatbot can be directly connected to your knowledge base and pull answers instantly. It can also be trained to answer specific questions that people ask over time (artificial intelligence means the chatbot will keep learning the more it interacts with people). For example, chatbot software uses NLP to recognize variations of customer questions.
AI chatbots can also be used for personalization. We already mentioned tracking purchase history to make suggestions. They can also refer to customers by name and keep track of information the customers provide, so they won’t ask for them again later.
And the biggest benefit of chatbots is that you can inject some personality into them. Their scripts don’t have to be dry, they can have a conversational tone that captures customer attention.
Self-service is here to stay — customers don’t have the time or patience to sit around waiting on the phone or write an essay in a live chat window to get an answer. Search engines have already trained us to find quick answers with simple searches, and customers expect that same experience with businesses.
In that sense, your knowledge base can be a help center for both customers and employees. If you make sure it’s easy to search, well-organized, and well-written, it counts as automation: whoever searches for an answer and finds it doesn’t have to spend time on asking other humans.
Triggered actions for better workflows
Automated workflows is a simple idea, but it can make a big impact on customer experience. For example, think about a customer who wants to ask a question about their receipt and a customer who wants information on product availability.
With an automated system, each of them will speak directly to the person most relevant to their query — the first customer will be routed to accounting and the second to a chatbot that can answer the question instantly or an agent that has access to inventory. No need for back-and-forth or manual routing behind the scenes.
The same thing can happen with data. Data is collected and analyzed automatically and can trigger automated actions. For example, if a customer starts buying various pieces of ski equipment, an email can go out to them with other relevant products. Or, if a customer keeps looking things up in the knowledge base, the chatbot can pop up to ask whether they need more help. This is the core idea of proactive customer service that can elevate digital experiences.
How to automate customer service
If you want to improve the level of automation of your customer service operations, here are seven steps to follow:
1. Determine your needs
The first thing you need to ask is: do I need automation? It’s very possible you do if your team is frequently overwhelmed by repetitive questions. Or if you’ve seen metrics like average handle time go up. Take a look at the state of your customer service experience and see if and where automation can resolve any inefficiencies. It’s also a good idea to evaluate your current tech stack and identify the gaps that need to be filled.
See tools you need to automate workflows and offer better experiences.
And of course, every effective customer service strategy hinges on knowing your audience. If you sell primarily to millennials, for example, you can afford to experiment more with technology as this generation (and the ones after) are more familiar with automation and AI. Conversely, previous generations might still be more comfortable using phone and email, so automation rollout may need to be done more gradually.
So, make sure you understand what your audience wants before you implement customer-facing technologies.
2. Set up a chatbot
Setting up a chatbot can be the pillar of customer service automation at your company. Fielding queries, rerouting to the right agents, and collecting data — a chatbot can do all this in the background with no extra cost to you.
Start with easy-to-use chatbot software that will help you set up or refine your chatbot. Once you have the right system, pay attention to creating the right chatbot scripts. Gather questions your customers usually ask and create variations. Then, construct clear answers — they should be crisp and easy to read, but also have some personality (experiment with emojis and gifs, for example).
Want to learn more about chatbots?
Check out our complete guide to chatbots to learn types, benefits, and how to implement them.
3. Build up your knowledge base
The technology to set up a help center is often included in your customer experience solution. But to make sure it’s set up correctly and is well-designed and neatly organized takes some effort.
For example, it’s useful to look into the kinds of questions customers are asking and make sure the answers are there. Organize topics in intuitive categories and create well-written knowledge base articles.
Did you pass knowledge base 101 yet?
Find out everything you need to know about knowledge bases in this detailed guide.
4. Implement templates and routing
Your agents don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time they talk to customers. Just give them a few templates to help them construct consistent and helpful responses. Templates can also be used in email marketing or other aspects of customer communications. Customer experience platforms often have built-in templates you can use or modify for your purposes.
Routing is also a part of automation you need to implement as soon as possible. You need software for that, of course — your CRM, your marketing platform, or even your chatbot can handle correct routing of queries.
5. Integrate channels and humans
The only way to speed up customer service without losing the human element is to provide choices for your customers. Your emphasis may vary based on your audience, but it’s always better to have channels available and simply turn them off and on if you need to.
Thankfully, there are platforms that help you do that. Channels no longer have to be disparate, they can be part of the same solution. That way, you can have both automated and human customer service seamlessly integrated, without any loss of data or inefficiencies. Chatbots can be connected with live chat, email with phone support, and so on. This allows for a unified view of customers that results in better personalization.
If you’re just starting out, it’s best to start small. See how you can automate key processes or queries. For example, your chatbot doesn’t have to know everything or understand everything before it’s deployed — train it to answer a handful of FAQs and keep training it over time.
6. Train agents
Agents need training, not only to learn how to manage automated workflows, but also to understand how to move up to more complex tasks after customer service automation takes off in your company. Make sure agents know what technologies are used and why, and how to manage instances where automation fails.
Ironically, this can also be solved with technology. For example, if a chatbot is unable to help a customer and routes the question to a live agent, that agent should be able to see the information the customer already gave the chatbot. They shouldn’t need to ask for it again. Using software that keeps updated customer profiles and shows agents past customer interactions can help make this happen. This is a great way to create better and more effective conversations.
7. Get feedback
Not sure if your customers like customer service automation? Ask them. And be sure to ask them over time to capture shifts in perspectives, too.
You can send questions related to automated service alongside regular NPS or CSAT surveys or separately. What’s more important is to pay attention to feedback and do something about it. Most customers don’t expect their opinions to translate into action so it’ll be a good look for your company to prove them wrong.