Finding the Perfect Balance Between Automation & the Human Touch in Customer Service

Customer service is one of the most interesting topics with regard to automation in modern companies. Many see automated service as an inevitability; we’ve already watched plenty of businesses move toward machine-driven services, from touchscreen order systems in fast-casual restaurants, to chatbots on company websites. At the same time though, consumers still appear to have a clear preference for “the human touch,” so to speak.

Just a few years ago, Forbes cited a study on CX that actually made this quite clear, revealing that 75% of customers want more human touch. It also showed that 64% feel companies have “lost touch of the human element of interface with their customers.” Together, these findings almost seem to speak to a sort of nostalgia among consumers; they want the human touch, but they can already feel it slipping away.

This actually creates an opportunity for modern businesses though, even as they explore some of the benefits of automation. By striking a balance between automated practices and the human touch, a business can enjoy some of those benefits while also giving consumers something they’re yearning for.

Here are a few ways to go about it.

Maintain Live Interaction in CX

Expanding automation does not necessarily have to mean that live agents lose work or become less valuable. As was pointed out in a note on responsibility in our ‘8 Examples of Artificial Intelligence in Everyday Life’, AI should always “support people and expand their skills instead of restricting them.” Now, it’s true that where call centers and CX services are concerned, there is a degree of inevitability to the rise of automation. Automated services can take pressure off of representatives, offer customers 24/7 assistance, and often solve simpler problems with maximum efficiency. Businesses with the ability to use these services would almost be foolish not to.

At the same time though, these services don’t have to replace live worker actions so much as assist and simplify them. Generally, automated service should be used to address straightforward issues, or issues that arise during odd hours. If anything though, this should be used to free live agents up to interact personally with customers on other issues. This can lead to more effective issue resolution, and it can provide customers with that human touch they’re looking for.

Offer Chatbots as Options

Similar to automated service representatives, chatbots can offer undeniable benefits. They can handle simple issues with ease, make customers feel cared for, and manage inquiries at all hours. Furthermore, some of them that are available today are so sophisticated that they can be virtually indistinguishable from human representatives, at least in fairly straightforward conversation.

That said, a chatbot should be just one option, rather than the only option. At least during ordinary working hours, businesses should provide site visitors with chatbots that offer to help with questions, but which can also connect the visitors with live representatives.

Gather Data to Improve Customer Interaction

Another use of automated practices in modern business is in the gathering of data. Basically, companies today can use a variety of digital tools to collect information about customers, which in turn directs engagement and advertising efforts. And it isn’t just happening online, either. Some businesses with in-person locations are also using tiny devices known as beacons to do similar data collection in stores.

These are clever little pieces of technology that have been brought about as a result of improving Bluetooth and wireless connectivity capabilities, as well as stronger accompanying devices. Altium’s explanation of rigid-flex PCB designs details how today’s printed circuit board designs can be made to address “strict mechanical housing requirements,” essentially packing powerful circuit boards into small or awkward spaces. These PCBs are built with flexible but durable materials without sacrificing capability, and can thus help a number of very small modern devices to work properly. Beacons are excellent examples. They can be small enough not to be noticed, yet packed with the electronics and wireless capabilities to interact with in-store customers’ devices — which basically means some customers are participating in automated data collection without really thinking about it.

The data gathered, either via beacons or more traditional online methods, can help a company in a variety of ways. But it should also help to direct customer interaction. In other words, data shouldn’t just be used to drive targeted marketing, or to automatically pull up customers’ histories, etc. When possible, it should help human service representatives to interact more personally with customers.

Build Relationships via Social

Finally, there’s social media to consider as well. Generally, a company’s social media presence doesn’t have a great deal to do with automation. But social accounts an still be perceived was tech-related elements of a business, and when they’re not managed in an engaging way they can come across as somewhat obligatory, or even robotic. Consumers might think of such accounts as further indications of businesses growing stale or impersonal.

As was stated in Hackernoon’s look at balancing automation and human support though, business is built on relationships. As engaging as robots can be, as that article put it, customers still bond with people. Now, again, a social account doesn’t necessarily have to be automated to come across as less than personal. But any company can address this problem simply by taking a more human approach. As other aspects of business do inch toward further automation, a social account can help to balance things out. It’s an opportunity for a company to put forth a distinctly human front with which it can build relationships with entire communities of customers.

Ultimately, striking that perfect balance between automated and human service is increasingly difficult. From improved electronics and data-gathering tech, to sophisticated chatbots and service reps, companies have a lot of compelling reasons to let machines engage on their behalf. Even by taking advantage of these technologies though, a strategic business can maintain an invaluable human element.

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