September 9, 2021

The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Customer Service Automation

We’ve come a long way from corded phones and toll-free numbers. Despite unrelenting progress in technology and digital commerce, some businesses still force their customers to suffer through the painfully familiar “on hold” music. Wanting a real human to troubleshoot a problem doesn’t seem like much to ask. 

The rise of digital experiences, e-commerce, and SaaS pricing models are driving higher competition and leveling the playing field. With customer expectations at an all-time high, businesses are finding new ways to deliver value faster without compromising on product quality. Personalized white-glove service is no longer an ornamental marketing perk—it’s a standard offering your business should prioritize, and automation can help you do it.

Why Businesses are Reprioritizing Customer Service

Customer service departments used to rank low on a business’s hierarchy of attention. The old thinking viewed customer service departments as a mere necessity, generating little ROI. Now, that’s all changed.

Once a budgeting dead-end, the indirect benefits of good customer experiences are becoming more and more obvious. In a study conducted by the Harvard Business Review, customers who have a great experience with a business spend 140% more compared to those who had a negative experience.

Businesses that commit to improving their customer service increase their chances of earning loyalty, reducing churn, and generating more revenue. What can businesses do to reprioritize how they deliver customer service? Bolstering their customer service teams with automation opens up new ways to provide consistent value to consumers.

High-functioning customer service teams are now a primary contributor to retention and long-term growth. The Microsoft 2019 State of Global Customer Service survey conveys the critical role of customer service. 90% of respondents indicated that customer service plays a significant role in where they decide to spend their money.

3 Reasons Why Automating Customer Service is Worth It

Automation is commonly pursued to reduce costs and increase efficiency, but those are only surface-level perks. When automation is used to empower customer service teams, the benefits compound over time, creating exponentially more value for the business.

1. Provide a Better Customer Experience

Retention, loyalty, and brand reputation all depend on your company’s ability to make its customers feel appreciated. When automation is introduced to the way customer service teams function, it can satisfy customers and contribute to their overall purchasing experience.

Getting that experience right or wrong comes with tangible rewards and consequences. According to PwC, 32% of survey respondents said they would stop doing business with a brand they loved after one bad experience. On the flip side, customers are willing to pay a premium for better services. Depending on the industry, PwC also found that customers would pay between 7-16% more for a good customer experience. Taking care of customers when they have a problem is absolutely an ingredient in that formula.

For companies that offer multiple products, the rewards get better. Customers are more likely to try different products and services from the same company if they know their business is appreciated and they’re in good hands.

Although many businesses concentrate on attracting new prospects, it’s cheaper and more valuable to retain present customers. According to HubSpot, “investing in customer service can decrease your churn rate, which decreases the amount you must spend on acquiring new customers…” Word-of-mouth, positive reviews, and a strong brand reputation are the result of delighted, “bottom-funnel” customers.

What’s standing in the way? Manual tasks.

If your customer service team is getting shortchanged on menial duties like data entry, your customer experience value is being cannibalized.

Completing manual tasks requires energy that could be spent doing more productive tasks like attending to customers or improving processes. By automating manual tasks like data entry, record-keeping and working across multiple systems, you’re creating a customer service team that’s proactive instead of reactive.

Of course, there’s also the waste and added costs of manual tasks: compliance penalties, security risks, and human errors can become serious issues when information is kept in non-automated spreadsheets.

2. Future-proof Your Business

The business world is embracing AI and automation at a rapid rate, and they’re bringing consumers along for the ride. Gartner predicts that by 2022, 70% of customer interactions will involve emerging technologies. Businesses late to the digital game will risk losing tech-savvy customers while they try to catch up. Offering your customers a smooth customer experience, backed by automation, is a competitive advantage—one that doesn’t seem to be fading away anytime soon.

Automation can help businesses stay ahead by supporting personalized experiences customers expect. For example, when a drastic increase in tickets bombards your customer service team, automation can soften the blow with ticket assignments, omnichannel funneling, and streamlined processes.

Interactive knowledge bases can help customers find quick answers without having to enter the system queue. Automated strategies such as these are increasingly becoming the standard level of service.

What’s standing in the way? Complicated processes.

If a business wants to remain nimble in the face of disruption and competition, it has to be able to change. Customer service teams need to adapt alongside their customers to make sure they’re always delivering value. That means refining internal workflows and processes.

A confusing customer service process can halt the level of attention and personalization businesses need to offer to stay ahead. Teams that have to operate across a number of spreadsheets, integrations, and applications waste precious time switching between them.

Going down the rabbit hole of an endless process document in search of an answer only widens the gap between value and customer. Onboarding new employees onto a team with a complicated process structure requires more time and learning before they can start helping their team.

Automated decision trees, protocols, and knowledge bases keep the wind in your team’s sails when you need to chart a new course. With easy-to-access workflows, new employees can seamlessly find the right answers and start helping customers from day one. All of these measures keep your business ready for new challenges and opportunities.

3. Put Less Pressure on Customer Service Agents

When customer service agents are stressed and overworked, the quality of their care and attention to detail will diminish. Automation enables agents to steadily handle customer issues consistently and accurately. The average number of support tickets one technician can handle per day is 21. Once you include manual tasks, reporting, and other non-automated actions, that number starts to fall rapidly.

When customer service agents aren’t overburdened, they can focus on ways to enhance customer relationships, improve processes, and increase their own knowledge. BI Worldwide found that 87% of surveyed respondents said they’re able to offer the company their best when they’re hard work is acknowledged. When customer service teams can focus on their core duty, the business and its customers are the clear winners.

What’s standing in the way? Ticket backlogs.

In addition to manual tasks, ticket backlogs are sure to make customer service agents feel like they can never get enough work done. This never-ending pile of tickets can demoralize a team and dissolve any incentive to try their best.

Worse, customers are left wondering if a real human is even available to help. Emails get missed, which leads to superfluous calls and unresolved issues. More errors will occur because agents will feel rushed and overpressured. Customer service teams can alleviate much of this stress with automation. Auto-assigned tasks, automated data entry, and omnichannel intake systems take the pressure off agents so they can stay confident and effective.

Three Customer Service Tasks You Should Automate

Customer service teams need to be available, empathetic, and knowledgeable. Automation should be used to empower those human attributes of your team, not put an AI wall in front of your customers. Although automation isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, a number of applications can be considered low-hanging fruit for most customer service teams.

1. Automate your workflows and processes

Workflows consist of everyday tasks completed by customer service teams. These are nested in the wider team’s process. By automating your process and its workflows, you can create a living source of truth, so your teams always know where to turn for answers. Over time, static spreadsheets and process databases become labyrinths of outdated information.

When it’s time to update your process, automation enables managers to add, amend, or delete workflows behind the scenes. Need to revise the way your team handles shipping returns? If your process is automated, you don’t have to stop shipping to make changes.

Automated processes also save time because they can be unified in one integrated system. No more jumping around between applications and datasheets. Automated tools such as BrightReps Sidekick put your workflows directly in your CRM for even more convenience. It also gives teams the ability to turn complicated workflows into easy-to-follow Yes or No questions.

Basic actions are perfect for automation. Was the item purchased within the last 30 days? Yes. Does the customer live in the United States? Yes. By following this automated decision tree, any member of your team will be able to solve the issue without additional resources.

2. Automate ticket assignment, emails, and customer feedback

Automating the way your team receives customer queries alleviates “decision paralysis” and makes sure every customer is heard in a timely manner. Today’s customer service teams have to field customer feedback from many different channels; email, online forms, texts, calls, mobile applications, and social media are often supported by one team.

Investing in an automated omnichannel system funnels all of this data into one database. This keeps your customer service teams consistent and accurate across each lane of communication. Instead of having one person delegate customer tickets, an automated intake system can cohesively assign tickets. This alleviates bottlenecks while also distributing the amount of work evenly across your team.

Another opportunity to elevate your team’s communication is through automated replies. Sometimes a customer just wants to know their voice is heard. An automated initial response can ease tensions and let the customer know their issue has been received. Just make sure it’s not a totally canned response. Include an expected timeline and additional contact information for that extra touch.

To make sure your team is hitting the mark, you can use automation to collect customer feedback. Surveys and questionnaires can be an extremely useful component of understanding how to satisfy your customer. This data can then be collected so your teams can always be improving their service and updating their processes.

3. Chatbots and instant messaging

Automated chatbots give your customers a quick avenue to find a simple answer. When the problem is less complex, chatbots can address these concerns, so there isn’t a backlog of surface-level problems. Additionally, chatbots enable customer service to be available across more time zones and off-hours.

Customer service teams with automated workflows and processes can integrate their knowledge base directly with their chatbot. When information is updated in the knowledge base, it won’t have to be manually calibrated to the chatbot. This offers another level of precise, customizable customer service.

For some businesses, a simple chatbot may not fit within the context of their brand or level of customer service. If businesses want to offer another avenue, they can add an option inside the chatbot to connect with an agent via instant message. This method can lead to more resolutions on the first touch, which saves the customer time and the business money.

Whatever You Do, Remember the Human Touch

Although the business world is having a digital revolution, consumers still value products and services that acknowledge their humanity. As we learn to coexist with AI and adapt with its advances, the human touch is something that will never be replicated.

When deciding what to automate, keep customer satisfaction and retention at the forefront. In most cases, you should avoid automating tasks that require human intervention. This means complex issues that live in the gray area between Yes or No. For B2B companies, automated customer service might not be the answer for new clients.

Our advice? As you seek to offer the best customer service you can, use automation to open the doors to value, not to hide behind them.

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