To Bot or Not — What Should You Automate in Customer Support?

There’s a reason businesses around the world are pouring millions into Artificial Intelligence - but it’s also not meant to replace the human in the frontline manning help desks or live chats.

Edmund Ovington
Posted by Edmund Ovington
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This is a guest post by Edmund Ovington, VP of Global Alliances at Unbabel.

 
Automation in CS

They say humans yearn for human contact.

That given a choice, they’ll always prefer to interact with another human. The logic behind this is that we are a social species, we live in society and have benefited from a collective intelligence that evolved through thousands of years of interacting with each other. And it stands up to scrutiny:

In one study by Ryan W. Buell, customers who used ATMs more than human tellers had a lower level of satisfaction with their banks. Buell, who is the faculty chair of the Achieving Breakthrough Service program at Harvard Business School, also found in a different experience that people calling Metlife to claim death-related insurances, received an automated condolences message – and were (understandably) a bit freaked out.

Empathy is a powerful thing, and when we’re upset even more so. In a perfect world, we would voice our problems and concerns to understanding human beings offering some comfort, quick solutions, and a cookie or two. But this is not the case. Customer Support interactions are expensive and slow, customers are harder and harder to please and the sheer volume of customer interactions is enough to make a grown man cry.

It’s often hard enough to manage business as usual, let alone go the extra mile.

Getting by with a little help from AI

There’s a reason businesses around the world are pouring millions into Artificial Intelligence.

It’s fast, cheap and scalable. It doesn’t need to be hired, trained or fired, it doesn’t need to sleep, and it certainly doesn’t a three-week vacation to get away from the slack notification madness (alas, the tragedy of the digital commons).

But it’s also not meant to replace the human in the frontline manning help desks or live chats.

Automation is great, if – and only if – it brings you closer to your customer. Anything else is a bad move.

If you do things right and get automation in just the right places, you can get the best of both worlds: delegating the grunt of the work to the machines which are built to handle massive volume seamlessly and in (near) real time, and letting your agents do what they do best: delighting your customers.

Since I joined Unbabel as the VP of Global Alliances, I’ve been working closely with companies like Zendesk, Salesforce and Convergys, to figure out ways to improve customer experience and make them more efficient.

So how do you know what to automate and what to not? How do you make your customer support operations more efficient without losing the personal touch?

Understand your customers

Before getting into any kind of binding yearly plan, take a step back.

What business are you running? Is it B2B or B2C? Is it an international e-commerce platform, a SaaS company with a complex implementation process, a petting zoo with fun for all ages? Chances are your customers are wildly different, and so is the reason they communicate with you.

Some still like it the old-fashioned way. Like my dad, for instance, who hates all automated things, and dreams of simpler times when we could have a really good morning chat with the toll operator. And it’s not just about age. Geography, or rather culture, is key. According to a survey by LivePerson, 59% of Americans said they preferred talking to a human.

The thing is, not all customers are like my dad, or that 59% slice of Americans. Personally, the fewer humans I need to ‘deal with’ in everyday tasks, the better.

Is it a millennial thing?

Most experts seem to agree on one thing: if millennials are your audience, automation is great. Help Desk claims 72% of millennials literally do not want to talk to your customer service team, and that’s probably why Gartner claims that by 2020, only 15% of customer interactions will be handled by humans.

But Paul Adams, VP of Product at Intercom, explains that younger audiences don’t actually expect less contact with your company: they expect it to be better. Faster, smarter and more transparent. Because technology has made contact between people so rich – those growing up with it, expect that same to be true when they deal with businesses.

Automated for the people

Automation is not a fort for you to hide in. You shouldn’t have your customers jump through hoops while you stand behind your marble walls and only support the brave few who manage to wade through your self-service labyrinth (a few of these will, by this point, not even want any help any more: they just want to hurl abuse at you).

Use it as the first line of response — 81% of all customers attempt to take care of matters themselves before reaching out to a live representative anyway — and always give the option to switch to a live representative choose your customers wish to do so.

There are a few ways to use automation to boost your customer support processes:

  1. Solving issues before they arise: if you notice your users having a recurring difficulty in any step of the user journey, you can make sure that signs of this will trigger a reaction (be it a chat window or an invitation to check out the Help section).
  2. A helping hand in times of need: if you detect signs of struggle (like going back to the FAQs several times in a row), you can automate the sending of emails/texts letting customers know exactly who to contact if they need help.
  3. Helping your customer support agents: you can automate what information your staff needs to know (who the customer is, what they’re trying to do, what they’re struggling with). This will result in a faster, better customer-service: making the customer happier, while also freeing your agents to answer other queries sooner.

But whether you’re developing an FAQ or the knowledge base that feeds your bot, the general rule of thumb is: Common queries and easy questions? Automate away! But the hard, complex stuff is what us humans are really good at.

Much like our customer Daniel Mooney, Head of Support at GoCardless, once said:

Technology frees us to have the good conversations. People don’t want to talk to you about the straightforward, easy stuff. They want to talk about more educational and complex issues. Those are the real conversations, the ones that build brand loyalty.

Use automation to help your customers get better, faster, more personalised customer support by another human when they need it and you’ll see an improvement in conversions, sales, customer retention and loyalty. Plus, people tell their friends — and followers — about great customer support, so they may just bring some new customers along.

But what about your international ones?

Can’t read, won’t buy

A European Commission report found that “42% of consumers said they never purchase products and services with sales and support in other languages.” (it’s right there in page 18).

But when it comes to speaking your customers’ languages, keeping a call centre stocked with an international community of CSAs to rival the Eurovision Song Contest is not exactly an option.

First of all, there’s a long tail of languages whose volume just doesn’t justify hiring a native speaker. Second, we believe in hiring amazing customer support agents for their skills, not the languages they speak. Third — you always need a third — you’ll want to keep a consistent support coverage across time zones, weekends and holiday peaks.

At Unbabel we worry about all that, so you don’t have to.

Remove language barriers between you and your customers

Our Translation as a Service platform combines state of the art AI together with a crowd of 50,000 editors across the world, enabling multilingual communications between you and your customers, in 28 languages.

And the best part of all?

It’s built to go everywhere. Our platform gives your team multilingual superpowers without changing their workflows by seamlessly integrating with popular CS, CRM and chat platforms, such as Salesforce and Zendesk.

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