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This is a guest post by the brilliant Lee Thomas of Infinet Technology. I hope you enjoy it and the two follow up articles.

Speaking with my connections – Czarina Sheikh Mathew and Michelle Spaul – we realised that successful automation of Customer Service has many facets. In this article, I will talk about IT considerations to give deliver an integrated service. Next week Michelle will look at project and process techniques to build a sustainable, compelling Customer Experience and the week after Czarina will tackle the importance of cultural change in your implementation.

Automated customer service is a method of customer support that is provided by an automated system such as a self-service solution, chatbot or other artificial intelligence solution, that’s the technology but what is the objective.

Automated customer service often comes along with the idea of multi-channel or omnichannel support meaning that you offer your customers multiple ways of contacting you such as telephone, email, online chat, mobile app etc. This strategy can reap great rewards for an organisation but it needs to be done correctly.

A bad example of automated Customer Service

We recently worked with a national company that has a conventional call centre, webchat, email and a mobile app.

The mobile app allowed customers to place orders but not amend or cancel them; to cancel or amend orders you either had to email them or call the contact centre. However, there was no way of calling them directly from the mobile app. Customers had to visit the website, get the phone number and then ring them and identify themselves again even though all of this information about the customer’s identity was available in the mobile app. This was a deeply frustrating and inefficient experience but also the company was missing numerous opportunities to provide excellent customer service.

A good example of automated Customer Service

A coffee shop is as “bricks and mortar” as it gets, but Starbucks pushed the boundaries by going digital as well and have produced an offer that is particularly attractive to time-starved coffee drinkers. The Starbucks app allows customers to browse the menu, order food and drinks in advance and view the estimated prep time.

Every time a customer pays with a Starbucks card – which can be accessed by the app, website or face to face in a Starbucks branch, rewards accumulate and all of the information gets updated in real-time across all channels. The app also allows customers to locate nearby stores and send gift cards to their friends via email or social media.

Which Experience Would You Prefer?

As a customer which of the two experiences would you prefer? The answer is fairly obvious. But also think of the effect that disjointed customer service has on the company’s employees. The employees of the first company described above were fed up with dealing with frustrated customers and disconnected systems that they had lost their job satisfaction.

Essential components of customer service automation

Customer service automation requires a “single view” of the truth. You need a comprehensive view of your customers in one place so that you don’t end up requesting the same information from your customer’s repeatedly. This is the role of the Customer Relationship Management or CRM system but many companies, even large ones, don’t have that single view.

  • Use technology to provide positive feedback. How many times have you contacted an organisation and had no idea whether they have seen your request and whether they are dealing with it? A good example of this is the food delivery app Uber Eats which provides regular updates on what is happening to your order and even alerts you when the driver is arriving with your food.
  • Give your customers the ability to “change the channel”. Provide the customer with the ability to change from a webchat to talking to a person, to communicating via email. Having a record of customer interactions in one place allows this to be done seamlessly.
  • Automation without coding. You can change the way your automation works without having to write code. Customer service environments can evolve very quickly and you need to be able to evolve without waiting for somebody to write or adapt code.
  • The key to any automation is to automate the right things in the right way. Automate processes to make it easy to engage with your customers rather than automating processes to make it easy for you. Remember don’t just automate what you do today.

There is a range of automation software solutions. Your first impression of the processes that should be automated and how that automation should work is very likely to be wrong. It is critical to carry out extensive user testing and to choose a software solution that can easily adapt and grow with you.

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