Companies invest heavily in product quality and marketing to present the best face to their potential and existing customers. But when they purchase from you, they might as well see another face—that of your customer service.
If your service agents are overloaded, undertrained, or undervalued, their attitude and competence will affect the customer’s feelings about your company. 80% of customers say that the experience a company provides is as vital as its products and services, according to the Salesforce 2018 State of the Connected Customer Report.
Companies are getting more and more customer-centric and view customer service as the responsibility shared by multiple departments. The role of service agents grows much bigger and transforms into a competitive differentiator.
Under these circumstances, customer-centric businesses need to check how their customer service department is doing. Do they experience overloads? How much time do they spend on administrative tasks? Do they have customer experience technology to rely on? Do they have opportunities to grow professionally? Are they connected with other departments?
If these questions only have disturbing negative answers, and you see that your service agents hardly contend with ever-increasing customer expectations, it might be a signal to switch to automated customer service.
In cooperation with customer experience consultants at Itransition, we have reviewed the major challenges of customer service automation, the service areas that can be automated, and the ways automation can bring value to customers, agents, and business owners alike.
Automation of any operation makes decision makers rearrange their priorities as well as seeing their processes and resources at a different angle. As a result of such an internal audit, companies determined to automate customer service may reveal the following challenges.
According to Salesforce’s 2018 research on trends in integrated customer experiences, 89% of service agents say that partnering with other departments is critical for ensuring digital customer experience is consistent. It means that sales, marketing and service departments need to communicate and have access to unified customer data. Otherwise, they don’t see a complete image of customers and lack data to offer personalized omnichannel experience.
Outdated or disconnected tools and non-standardized processes prevent companies from relying on their infrastructure and successfully adopting an automated system.
Service agents presented with a load of time-consuming manual tasks usually show a low level of tech literacy, underestimate their own value, and thus have a low demand for professional growth. In this regard, adoption automation requires companies to upskill their service agents, free them from manual administrative tasks, and allow them to redirect their efforts at building meaningful relationships with customers.
Salesforce’s 2019 State of Service Report reveals that 56% of service organizations were planning to implement artificial intelligence, with 24% more using AI in service at that moment across the following categories:
Unfortunately, adoption of AI-powered service automation is nothing like flipping a switch, where you purchase a tool and your service agents start leveraging it immediately to boost their performance. Automation means you first need to meticulously prioritize service areas, implement it step by step while pairing with training, and analyze the adoption dynamics after the launch.
For the article purposes, we have singled out a few service tasks that can be successfully automated with the help of an AI-powered CRM platform or separate purpose-built tools.
Ticket routing automation is a must-have in customer service. Such a system gets trained on keywords, products, services, and customer data and automatically tags, prioritizes, and assigns tickets and chats to the most appropriate agents and departments, depending on a query.
Ticket routing rules are set according to the language, channel, topic, relevance, and other conditions. These rules allow routing tickets to an agent with the corresponding competence, assigning ticket follow-ups to the agent who dealt with it initially, escalating emergency requests, and more.
Service agents have to deal with the same requests and questions over and over again, react to a flood of notifications from different channels, enter data manually, send follow-ups, and perform repetitive operations like generating discounts or sending emails. Such tasks take up a good share of their time, make them bored and prone to making mistakes.
One of the simplest ways to automate here is integrate canned responses to repetitive queries into a live chat. It helps service agents deal with a few conversations at once without hardly typing anything. Agents can tweak such quick responses to sound more personal.
Another way is to create a platform-based hub where all notifications and interactions with customers will be automatically aggregated and interconnected. This way, agents will have little chance of missing any notification. When creating tickets, they will be able to attach various materials, such as screenshots or call fragments, in one click.
This type of system has a few more benefits. It makes it possible to automate follow-ups using a simple ‘if...then’ algorithm: if the issue status is changed to ‘Fixed’, the customer receives a notification via email, or to automate feedback gathering via chat rating surveys, social media polls, contact forms, or emails.
According to the Zendesk 2020 Customer Experience Trends Report, 69% of customers claim they would rather use self-service channels for simple questions and issues than contact an agent, and 63% say that almost in all cases they prefer surfing the website first when they come across an issue. This is a big portion of customers expecting companies to give them self-service tools. In other words, they are open to using online knowledge bases and interacting with chatbots.
To make self-service experience efficient and satisfying, service teams can pair their knowledge bases with an AI chatbot. Agents will be freed from answering repetitive questions, while customers won’t have to study tons of articles in the knowledge base or contact an agent, instead asking a chatbot.
Chatbots can also take up simple tasks such as password resetting, order tracking, and meeting scheduling. If a chatbot can’t provide a correct and complete answer, it can route the customer’s request to a human agent most equipped to handle it.
Salesforce’s 2019 State of Service Report found out that 95% of service teams offer customer service via phone, while 93% of customers still use it, particularly when all other options proved ineffective. Due to a high call volume and a growing complexity of requests, it’s hard to provide a great connected experience via phone. For instance, service agents have to toggle between multiple screens to access necessary information while making notes in an effort to record conversation details.
Unfortunately, telephony has been excluded from innovation and automation until recently, thus making service agents find manual workarounds to keep up with customer expectations. Now service teams can make use of telephony integrations that unify data from incoming calls and other customer channels within a single platform.
Such solutions boost personalization as they route calls to the right agent, transcribe calls, as well as providing recommendations for next-best actions, relevant articles from a knowledge base, and customer data to agents during a call. At the same time, customer service managers can monitor calls in real time, review them to see how agents handle various issues, and provide assistance if necessary.
Service teams can employ automation to scrape customer data from each interaction and build fuller customer profiles. It allows recognizing existing customers, picking up the previous conversation, and providing consistent experience across various touchpoints. It’s also possible to train chatbots on customer behavior data and agent reactions to various requests. As a result, chatbots can accumulate multiple scenarios and imitate human behavior while offering anticipated actions and personalized solutions.
Automated customer service tools can be used to decipher customer intent based on the past and current interactions and provide tailored recommendations, offer discounts for products and services the customer views over and over again or keeps on a wish list or in the shopping cart, generate loyalty bonuses, send targeted follow-ups to re-engage customers, and more.
Sentiment analysis tools offer a non-intrusive way to learn how customers feel about your products and services. These solutions automatically monitor the web and social media channels, gather mentions about your brand or competitors, and identify sentiment in the mentions based on negative, neutral and positive keywords.
Service agents can use these tools to instantly spot complaints and address them via customers’ preferred channels, find leads dissatisfied with a competitor’s service and offer them your products instead, understand what your customers think about a new product line, and more.
Service agents get more of their most valuable resource—time. Chatbots and automated algorithms take up a part of agents’ responsibilities, letting them deal with more challenging tasks.
Additionally, service agents get more satisfied with their job once freed from repetitive tasks. They are no longer nervous about making a mistake or lacking knowledge in particular areas, as they get the right data and tools at their fingertips.
What’s more, an automated system empowers service agents to win the omnichannel race and fully address increasing customer expectations. In spite of the fact that customers use about ten channels on average to reach companies, service agents can be not only present on those channels but provide a truly consistent and contextualized experience.
As a result, service agents can grow into a strategic workforce that does much more than resetting passwords and copy-pasting responses. They start dealing with complicated requests, building meaningful relationships with customers, providing personalized experiences, and even engaging in upselling and cross-selling.
Similarly to service agents, automation helps customers save time. Customers can get almost instant answers, receive updates when their issues are fixed, access self-service options, and navigate them with the help of chatbots. Chatbots help customers get support round the clock and find answers to frequently asked questions. In case the request can’t be resolved by a chatbot, it will route the customer to the most suitable agent.
Another important benefit of automation for customers is personalized and connected experience via their preferred channels. There’s no longer the need to provide personal information time and again, repeating questions when routed from a chatbot or another assistant. During communication, customers can get a feeling the company knows them and is ready to offer targeted help.
Business owners are able to reduce costs as they don’t need to hire and train more agents when the ticket volume grows, or when agents leave because of job dissatisfaction. Naturally, automation requires considerable financial investments. However, it’s a one-time effort that lays the foundation for process streamlining and further automation when the business scales. Plus, an automated system can run round the clock without any extra HR-related costs.
As automation improves customer experience, companies see a boost in customer satisfaction and loyalty and get better retention rates. When customers feel they are valued, they are more likely to stay with a company rather than switching to competitors.
Although automation brings considerable business benefits, companies need to be careful about the extent to which they automate. Automation should augment service agents’ potential, not to take over it.
At the same time, automation should span all the channels customers prefer to use. Algorithms should be properly trained to help customers get answers faster and in a more personalized way, rather than puzzling. There should always be an option to talk to a real person whenever customers feel like it.
All in all, companies need a mix of both robotic and human assistance to provide a balanced and helpful service.