Customer service is a resource-intensive but necessary part of any business. And when you’re a growing company, scaling customer service with human agents is expensive and requires a considerable time investment in hiring and training. As technology has progressed, there are now more opportunities to automate customer service and make it less costly, more efficient, and faster.
So what is customer service automation?
Automated customer service is the process of reducing or eliminating the amount of human intervention and manual work that’s needed to help customers. Customer service automation enables companies to deliver faster customer service, lower costs, improve agent productivity, and scale customer service quickly.
Companies can automate customer service by harnessing the power of technology, like machine learning and artificial intelligence, and integrating data and applications.
Examples of customer service automation
Customer service automation takes many forms, including:
- Self-service help centers and knowledge bases
- AI-powered voice assistants
- Templated email responses and snippets
- Automated routing and workflows
- Agent assist
Self-service help centers and knowledge bases
A help center or knowledge base is a website where customers can find answers and information to help them resolve their question or issue. Help centers typically contain frequently asked questions, steps for troubleshooting, and instructions on how to use the service or product. Well-organized and useful help centers give customers the answers they’re looking for fast, reducing the need to contact customer service and your costs.
AI-powered voice assistants
AI-powered voice assistants use conversational AI to understand how humans naturally speak and verbally communicate in a humanlike manner. When calling, customers can speak to the AI as if they were speaking to another human. The AI understands the customer’s intent and can understand multiple intents. Voice assistants drive operational efficiencies while also providing customers with fast and easy service. They can resolve Tier-1 issues, authenticate callers, and collect information that’s needed for a call-back. Contact centers can scale servicing inbound calls more efficiently and even scale proactive customer service by using AI-powered voice assistants for outbound calls.
Interactive voice response, or IVR, is the automated telephony system that presents incoming callers with a menu and takes them through a series of questions or options. By collecting information about the customer issue upfront, IVRs route customers to the agent who’s best suited to help them. They can even walk customers through a series of steps or provide information. IVRs reduce the average handle time and can help customers resolve issues on their own.
A chatbot is technology that simulates human conversation via text. Chatbots use AI and natural language processing to understand what humans have written or said and respond back through websites, mobile apps, messaging platforms, SMS, or phone. They can resolve Tier-1 issues and are available to customers 24/7, helping companies scale their customer service and decreasing the amount of issues that need to be handled by a human agent.
Templated responses and snippets
Templated responses and snippets are predefined messages that are typically used to answer commonly asked questions. Instead of typing out a message or email manually, agents can respond back with a templated response in just a few clicks or using keyboard shortcuts. Although these templated messages aren’t a sophisticated example of automation, they save agents valuable minutes.
Automated routing and workflows
There’s a lot of manual work involved in customer service processes. Agents need to triage issues, look up customer accounts, categorize support tickets and calls, and complete call notes, among other things. Automated routing and workflow technologies reduce these manual, repetitive tasks to make agents more efficient. For example, they can match a customer’s email address to their account or prioritize tickets based on the customer’s net promoter score.
Think of agent assist as an agent’s personal assistant and coach. Agent assist surfaces information and answers to agents, automatically captures call notes, recommends next steps, and coaches agents. With less post-call work and more guidance, agents are more productive and empowered to provide the best customer experience every time. And for quickly growing contact centers, managers can easily scale training, supervision, and quality assurance.
The evolution and current landscape of automated customer service
Companies have been automating customer service since IVRs came out in the late 1900s. IVRs gave customers the ability to self-serve or route themselves to the most qualified agent through touch-tone dialing. Although basic, the first IVRs sped up issue resolution.
As technology has advanced, customer service automation has evolved to include help desk software, visual IVRs, chatbots, and voice AI. Now, automation is primarily being driven by AI. Despite what some think, the increasing use of AI won’t replace human agents. Instead, human-AI collaboration will be the key to offering unparalleled customer experiences and transforming contact centers into revenue generators.
Customer service organizations need to harness the advantages that the latest AI-driven automation offers — particularly as competitors do so. Incorporating more automation involves a mindful and strategic approach. Automation isn’t just an add-on. It needs to become integral to the foundation of customer service operations.
Automation can also easily frustrate and alienate customers. To prevent this, it’s important to understand where and how automation is being used, in addition to your desired results. “[I]n nearly half of the cases handled by automated systems, customers had to resort to other support channels to resolve their issues.” However, by integrating automation into your customer service experience and processes correctly, you can achieve both increased efficiencies and higher customer satisfaction.
How to get started with customer service automation
Before contact centers or call centers can implement automation, there’s some groundwork that needs to be put in place. And after you’ve implemented automation, the work doesn’t end there. Here are five steps that will help you successfully adopt automated customer service.
1. Move to a modern cloud contact center platform
Legacy on-premise contact center solutions and first-generation cloud contact centers are inflexible, which makes it impossible to keep them up to date with the latest digital innovations. Moving to one of the latest cloud contact center solutions will lay the foundation for automation. Most even come with automation and AI baked in through features like intelligent routing and actionable call insights.
2. Integrate your data and applications
For automation to work, data has to flow to and from every core system, such as your CRM, ERP, and other applications that inform the customer journey. Integration itself has been automated with integration platform as a service (iPaaS) technology. Most applications also come with out-of-the-box integrations. You want to avoid manual point-to-point integrations because they take too long to develop and require too much manual maintenance to keep data flowing smoothly.
3. Identify automation that not only improves efficiency, but also the customer experience
Customer service automation can easily frustrate customers and make it more difficult for them to get the help they need. Just think of IVRs and how they force customers to sit through a long list of options, don’t offer the right option for customers, or make it hard to reach a human agent. When adopting automation, make sure you’re not trading increased efficiencies for a poor customer experience. The time and cost savings you’ll gain won’t make up for the negative impact to your brand reputation and loss of customers. Automation should boost both efficiency and customer satisfaction.
4. Upskill your human agents
Automation removes manual work and resolves Tier-1 issues, freeing up agents to handle more complex, high empathy interactions or even take on new work. Depending on how you decide to allocate agents and their time, you’ll likely need to teach agents new skills and expand their knowledge. For example, you might need to teach agents to do proactive, outbound customer care, upsell and cross-sell, or train AI.
5. Measure performance and iterate
Automation is not a set-it-and-forget-it tactic. It’s important to establish benchmarks and continually measure how well the automation is performing. Is it truly saving you time? Is it making agents more efficient? How is it affecting customers? By keeping a close eye on this, you can make sure the automation is helping you achieve your goals and constantly improving.
Automated customer service is essential to competing for share of wallet and meeting customer expectations. By taking a thoughtful, strategic approach, contact centers can benefit from customer service automation today.
To learn more about AI’s growing use in automation, download your free guide to The Contact Center of the Future: Human-AI Collaboration for Happier Customers.