How the 'human and machine' model will transform customer service

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This week, October 1-5, is National Customer Service Week and should be a celebration of the improvements and advances that have been made in this area of business. One key advancement is the automation plus humans customer service model, which is garnering more attention as businesses look for new ways to increase efficiencies, reduce costs and boost the bottom line while maintaining and improving customer loyalty.

That said, applying AI and automation in customer service also needs careful thought. Get it right and customer experiences will be ones of efficiency and positivity, but get it wrong, and customers will leave in droves - often quite noisily. So, what are the key considerations?

Understand your audience

This precedes all else. Where are customers located? How are their demographics? Has the importance of language and culture been considered? For instance, would customers in France - a country renowned for its staunch protection of the French language - be put off by a chatbot that attempts to communicate with them in English? More than likely, oui.

Demographics such as age, location and nationality really do matter. According to a survey by LivePerson, for example, European customers tend to be receptive to chatbots, while more than half (59 percent) of Americans prefer talking to a human over a machine. So, do your customer research and ensure this drives your decision-making when it comes to offering ‘man’ or ‘machine’ - or in an ideal world, both.

All of these factors must be carefully considered if optimal customer experiences are to be upheld as automation becomes more entrenched in the customer service landscape. Companies that can recognize these nuances and act upon them will reap significant competitive advantage.

Think product - and do what’s right for your customers

Is your product easy to use? Are you B2B or B2C? Would automation complement your existing customer service operations? Do you have physical contact with customers, or are purchases conducted online?

These are prudent questions that every organization should be asking before any form of automated technology is added to the customer service mix.

In general terms, if your product is complex in nature - such as a laptop or printer, it makes sense to have helpful humans on hand to solve customer problems. In these instances, many would argue that the application of a fully automated customer service help desk would only frustrate buyers at a time when they are searching for human understanding and experience.

That’s not to say that automating customer service on some level isn’t a good business strategy for companies with more complex product offerings, however. The secret to success lies in being able to apply automation and AI in conjunction with humans so that customer interactions can be enhanced at every opportunity.

Start small and keep it simple

When it comes to commonly recurring customer queries, automation can be an especially powerful tool. You know the ones - refund requests, cancellations, order status enquiries … the basic, day-to-day interactions that many are already automating to differing degrees, but all to great effect.

But if you’re a company leader unfamiliar with or new to automation, how do you know if automation is right even for these most basic of customer exchanges? In short, test the waters, and keep people at the helm to oversee your customer service experience and operations and to provide complementary or enhanced support.

The good news is that automated interactions will only become more tailored and efficient in the future as more businesses turn to AI in order to understand conversations in any language, automate repetitive processes and solve customer problems faster than the competition.

Ultimately, it’s not a matter of AI and automation replacing customer support agents but rather enabling them to become ‘super agents’. And, the advantages that these ‘super agents’ pose for business growth are undeniable - from visibility (AI knows everything your users are doing, your customer support team does not), to sheer productivity (AI doesn’t need to sleep, eat or take time off).

Inevitably, the decision to add automation to the customer service mix requires smart decisions and a solid understanding as to where and how automation can achieve cost savings while always fostering better, more personalized customer experiences.

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