Making the Best of Automation in Customer Service
There are many ways to provide excellent customer service, but the key is to put the customer’s needs first. Sometimes customers require personal attention and the human touch, other times they just need a quick answer to a straightforward question.
When customer service agents are bogged down dealing with a high volume of simple inquiries, wait times lengthen and customers with complex issues don’t always get the help they need. Automating customer service processes is one way to solve this problem, but overusing automation can alienate customers. When should merchants use customer service automation, and what are the best ways to implement it?
Today’s consumers expect and demand top-notch customer service, and merchants have endless good reasons to provide it. Thoughtful, responsive customer service strengthens your relationships with your customers, building loyalty and encouraging them to continue to shop with you. Great customer service is also a pillar of any worthwhile chargeback prevention strategy.
Many chargebacks occur because the customer is frustrated with a lack of communication from the merchant, or the merchant has refused the customer’s request for a refund or some other corrective action. Sometimes merchants have good reasons to say no, and a not-insignificant percentage of these chargebacks could be considered friendly fraud.
But whether these chargebacks originate from actual merchant error or the false claims of a disgruntled customer, many of them could have been avoided with more accessible or attentive customer service.
It’s not always easy for merchants to scale up their customer service operations in a cost-effective way. Automation is an affordable solution that can speedily respond to basic customer inquiries, freeing up human agents to spend more time with customers who need some extra care and assistance. Merchants just have to be careful not to overuse it and give customers the impression that there isn’t an easy way to reach an actual person.
What is Customer Service Automation?
Customer service automation is the use of any technology that eliminates the need for human involvement in a customer service process, whether it’s a simple scripted program or a sophisticated AI-powered bot. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of examples:
- Chatbots that answer customers’ questions in a conversational manner.
- Automated workflows that route inquiries and support issues to the appropriate departments.
- Integrated voice response technology for phone systems.
- CRM integration that allows for automated retrieval of customer information.
- Social media monitoring software that alerts merchants to online chatter about their brand or products.
- Self-service help centers, knowledge hubs, and FAQs.
Automated solutions can be deployed to handle inquiries from any source—phone, email, text, social media, and more. When merchants understand their customers’ preferred ways of interacting with them, and which channels generate the largest number of easily-resolved inquiries, they can determine the most effective places to implement automation.
What are the Pros and Cons of Customer Service Automation?
First, the good stuff. If you need to expand your customer service coverage, automation is much cheaper than hiring additional staff. Automation supports the productivity of your human customer service agents, giving them more time to handle difficult inquiries and helping them avoid burnout on rote, repetitive responses.
It keeps your call and email volume down and reduces the wait time for customer service. Best of all, automated systems don’t need sleep or lunch breaks—they can make 24/7 customer service availability possible for smaller merchants.
The downsides? Automated responses can feel impersonal, and when customers encounter them at unexpected or unwanted times, they can come across as barriers to getting help from an actual human agent. They also show their limitations pretty quickly when customers have nonstandard issues or complicated situations to explain—even the latest AI chatbots get stumped by novel problems.
Who Should Use Customer Service Automation?
Customer service automation is not a necessity for every merchant. If you don’t deal with a large number of customer service interactions on a daily basis, and your customer service staff has a manageable workload even during your busiest sales seasons, then you might not need to automate anything.
If you’re a merchant who gets a lot of customer service inquiries, and finds yourself occasionally (or frequently) overwhelmed with the volume to the point where your staff can’t always respond in a timely manner, then you stand to gain the most benefit from customer service automation.
How Should Merchants Get Started with Customer Service Automation?
For the most part, consumers—especially younger ones—are favorably disposed toward customer automation, as long as it helps them resolve their issues faster. The first step in implementation is to identify the aspects of your customer service where automation could make the most immediate difference.
Start with the obvious: the most common, easily-answered questions your agents get. Chatbots and self-serve knowledge bases can field these questions for you. It also helps to look at customer service automation as a collaborative process: the automation isn’t there to deflect customer service inquiries, but to quickly connect the customer to the information they need, whether that comes from an AI or a human agent.
With that in mind, your automated processes should always come with an “escape hatch,” a way for them to quickly disengage from the automated system and connect with a real live person.
Excellent customer service can help merchants avoid chargebacks by resolving product issues, correcting shipping errors, and identifying the customers who are sufficiently bent out of shape that they need a little something extra to keep them happy, whether that means a refund or just some human empathy.
Automation can’t do all of these things, but it can take the pressure off of your customer service agents and allow them to focus on providing the best help they can.
By strategically deploying automation in customer service, merchants can create better customer experiences and bolster their chargeback defense at the same time. When customers are satisfied and disputes can be avoided, everyone wins.