Automation is not a necessary evil of scale. It doesn’t signal the end of great human service or the sad inevitability of technology’s takeover. Widespread adoption actually proves the opposite: as customer expectations evolve, innovations improve and agents’ skills expand, affordable, quality service at scale becomes a reality.
To take full advantage of automation, to grow self-service capabilities, to enhance personal touch and remove internal or external obstacles, leaders must keep these keys in mind:
Do: ensure that automation improves customer and agent experiences
A plan to introduce efficiency in one area can backfire if it creates more work elsewhere. A customer-facing bot may reduce the routine tickets created for a front line support rep, but if it’s one-dimensional or prone-to-error, customers may abandon their requests or duplicate efforts in a different channel to get answers. Gene Alvarez, managing vice president at Gartner, says that automation tools should offer “[..] more than just information. [They] should enrich the customer experience, help the customer throughout the interaction and process transactions on behalf of the customer."
Do: take it slow
Not every business process is a good fit for automation. Leaders need to understand the cultural implications of introducing technology and gauge the team’s sensitivity to automation. They should also avoid trying to introduce mass automation that touches multiple systems and processes simultaneously. A tendency, particularly for companies feeling like they’re behind the innovation curve, is to “rip off the band aid” and go all in. Instead, test. Find processes that are resource and time intensive, but may not be mission critical on day one to improve. Forbes’ suggests an iterative approach:
“Rather than building end-to-end solutions to automate whole parts of your business, an iterative approach can be cheaper and quicker to go live. For example, find a manual process for which simple tools can be inserted to make that process quicker. Over time, as these tools get more and more sophisticated, you may organically evolve to a fully automated process.”
Do: focus on experience consistency
In the past, support was a single channel. Customers called and an agent got all the information they needed in real-time. Later, web forms were popularized and agents had customer and account detail served up to them prior to live touches. Today, customers may Tweet, call, chat with a VA, ping a bot and then email support. Agents are forced to piecemeal order, issue or situational context together on the fly. Automation tools should create and reinforce consistency for agents and customers. If one support channel format doesn’t “speak” to another, then companies may have multiple agents addressing similar requests. To avoid this, companies may introduce automation that handles routine activities, but that also brings systematic organization, like a modern ticketing system. This ensures that customers are free to connect via a preferred channel, but also that agents have an updated view of a customer’s history to deliver consistent service over time.
Do: make human intervention easy. Customer-facing automaton isn’t an all or nothing proposition. The empathy, understanding and creativity required to resolve complex issues is a human discipline. Regardless of the automation tool introduced, human intervention should be readily available. If information ambiguity or problem complexity grows, a hybrid solution should be in place. This approach allows support scale but reduces customer frustrations. Harvard professor and customer engagement researcher Ryan Buell believes: a gracious and well-informed human should be a short stroll, click or tap away.
Do: educate people on why automation matters
The idea of automation brings visions of mass layoffs, robot takeovers and cold customer interactions to some. Support leaders need to champion the vision to elevate existing support teams, create easier, faster support resolution for customers and increase the quality of personal interactions, when required. Agent fears can be alleviated with a reminder that no longer will they be spending their days working off scripts and asking the same basic questions. Instead, they’ll be empowered to tackle more complex, interesting work. Leadership can be reminded that improvements in cost-savings, customer loyalty and attrition are byproducts of automation.
With the advent of automation, support leaders no longer have to choose between excellent service and operational performance. In keeping these keys in mind, companies can elevate their existing teams and use technology to fill in the gaps.