While automation technology can streamline many processes and functions, customer-service automation can sometimes backfire and lose you business.
We’ve talked a lot recently about implementing automation technology into your sales and marketing operations. It can be a great tool for saving time and money while increasing your communication and customization with prospects and leads.
But a recent Harvard Business Review article by Ryan W. Buell, Professor at Harvard Business School, reminds us that the benefits of automation “aren’t universally rosy,” particularly when it comes to customer service. Here’s why customer-service automation isn’t always the best answer.
Your brand is at stake
People like technology when it works. But they can be unforgiving when it doesn’t. Customer service is the part of your business that is most likely to cause lasting damage to your reputation when automation fails.
Any point of contact between your company and your customers is part of customer service. Outbound emails, chatbots, automatic order confirmations, and interactive voice response (call trees) are all part of the customer experience. If any one of them disappoints, you’ve given customers a reason to think twice before doing business with you again.
Solving problems is more important than saving time
People want technology to make life easier and ordinary tasks faster. That’s why digital boarding passes, on-demand ride services like Uber and Lyft, and electronic payment systems like Venmo are “good” technology. With simple interfaces and a specific purpose, they make it easier to accomplish something that would take longer to do without them. People perceive companies that offer these services as innovative, helpful, and even indispensable.
If, on the other hand, “an action would be seen as annoying when performed by a person, chances are it will be annoying when performed by technology,” according to Buell.
Call trees are the most egregious example of bad automation, especially when callers are forced to listen to product pitches or survey requests before they can talk to someone who can solve their problem. “The best uses of technology are likely to make customers and employees feel more, rather than less, valuable to your organization,” says Buell.
No one wants to talk to a machine
Humans are emotional and social beings. Buell suggests “an instantaneous connection to a gracious and well-informed human should be a short stroll, click, or tap away.”
Machines are information deliverers, not problem solvers. They can’t deal with ambiguity or non-conforming situations. As they get smarter and more connected, they can fool you into believing they’re thinking when, really, they’re just processing inputs and responding based on rules. That’s not the same as hearing, caring and reacting with empathy. And that’s why great customer service should always include easy access to a human being.
When electronic service isn’t responsive, it can make your customers’ problems worse, not better. Tasks that require creativity or are unique to individual circumstances don’t lend themselves to automation.
Don’t let technology take center stage
Technology should be invisible to as great an extent as possible. When servers and cashiers are slaves to tablets and POS systems, they’re not making eye contact and talking to customers. When callers are asked to repeat the same account information while navigating from one department to another, they get justifiably irritated, which puts your call center agents on the defensive before they’ve even said a word. Automated services that are difficult to use or don’t lead to the right outcomes are more annoying than satisfying.
Experts at TechTarget offer the following advice to keep service technology in the background where it belongs:
- Unify management of different customer service channels whenever possible to provide consistent service.
- Integrate customer data so callers don’t have to repeat the same information over and over.
- Integrate business processes across departments to create logical hand-offs and a path to solving customer problems.
- Make it easy to reach a human at any time!
- Make sure humans test and update automated services on a regular basis.
If you’re looking at customer-service automation as a way to improve productivity, don’t make the mistake of prioritizing cost savings over customer satisfaction. Never underestimate the value of human connections for both employees and customers.
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