The bots are coming.
Yes, they’re coming from the customer service department as well.
Does that mean we’re going to lose all human agents who support customers? No.
But with bots becoming more intelligent and better able to respond to customer requests, it is certain that big companies will have to resort to them in order to scale their customer service departments while keeping costs down.
Even if that means becoming less human and personal.
And that’s a chance for nimble and smart companies.
Our experience shows that for many customers personality and human touch come before speed:
This creates an opportunity for businesses that want to use their customer experience to differentiate their brand and take the battle to their competitors.
However, the challenge remains that these companies need to figure out how to provide that level of customer service at scale.
The solution: Use automation strategically to optimize how you use your customer service resources and provide a superior experience to your customers—delivered by a human—when they need it the most.
Doing that doesn’t mean you need to resort to AI and supercomputers. In the following sections, we’ve compiled some of the easiest ways you can start using automation in a smart way.
What is automated customer service?
The process of using canned replies, email automation, and other techniques in order to scale the capacity of a customer service department to serve a business’ customer base. Good automation never replaces the need to build relationships with customers, instead, it makes it easier to do so.
Build your self-support assets
That might sound like an odd thing to include when talking about automation, but it is actually the most effective way to put support on auto-pilot. Also, because it is one of the easiest ways.
Research shows that most customers prefer to solve problems on their own and would resort to reaching out to the support department as a last measure.
The most effective way to bump your self-support is by creating an extensive knowledge base that covers the most common questions and topics customers need help with.
That also means you need to design a process that allows you to identify those common topics and produce good content that helps your customers solve their problems.
Placing a widget on your site is a good way to put that information close to your customers and help them discover it when and where they need it.
Unify your inboxes
Everyone who’s spent at least a day working in customer service knows that people value convenience above all. They don’t want to use mystic software systems just to “open a ticket”. They want to use what they know and like—be it email, Facebook, or a good-old phone—to get in touch with a company when they need help.
However, when you try to offer that level of convenience for your customers, you create a lot of overhead for your team—they need to monitor multiple platforms, decide how to spread the work, and so on.
The best way to cut that overhead is by bringing all channels where you want to support customer into one place. For example, you can have multiple email inboxes, Twitter mentions and/or DMs, Facebook messages all come into one unified inbox.
Next, use collaboration tools to assign each incoming query to the most appropriate department or team member. For example, at Groove, whenever someone reaches offering to write a guest post for our blog, our support team immediately pings someone at the marketing department by assigning the conversation to them.
Empower your team with automated and canned replies
We know, automation gets a bad rep. To a large extent that’s because of messages that pose to look human, but ask you to “write above the line”.
However, that doesn’t mean that all automated messages are bad.
The difference comes from whether the message is perceived as useful by the recipient. At this point, most people are used to getting an automated reply especially when it contains useful information.
The classic example (and it’s something we use at Groove as well) is the message you get when you reach out to the support department of a company that’s telling you when you can expect to get a reply.
This type of automation can be expanded further by building on top of it through an API. One of our customers used this to build an automated system which replies to people asking common questions by replying with a link to a relevant knowledge base article or another similar resource.
Canned replies are another way to embed (semi-)automation into how you do customer service. They cut overhead for your team and allow them to focus their time and attention on the cases which require personal touch the most.
Trigger actions based on integrations with other tools
Customer delight is often found in small gestures.
Using tools like Zapier to deliver such gestures at scale is a great way to score a few points with your audience.
For example, by integrating your CRM system with your help desk tool, you can send an automated message to let customers know their order has shipped or inform them when a feature they’ve previously asked about, has been implemented.
Prioritize your customer service work
Using rules and tags allows you to identify the most serious support requests and prioritize those customers who bring the highest value to your business.
If you’re using a tiered support system, you can use rules to send specific requests to higher tiers of support.
Some companies offer “premium support” as part of a premium plan and this is one popular way to set this up to work on the back-end—moving requests from specific customers (i.e. those on the higher plan) to the front of the queue.
Reach out to customers proactively
It’s no longer enough for brands to offer a helping hand once customers know they need support. Brands nowadays need to be proactive and reach out before their customers realize they’re in trouble.
And this should start with the first steps a customer takes with your product. At Groove, we have an automated onboarding sequence that helps new users when they’re getting started with the software.
An NPS survey gives you another opportunity to automate customer outreach. A while back, we ran such a survey with the users of our knowledge base software (link)—we identified and tagged users which fell within the 3 categories (Promoter, Passive, Detractor). Then, we ran another campaign where we reached out to our most engaged users and asked them to review the software on one of the popular software review sites.
Finally, you can automate following up by snoozing messages and then following up on them to check in on customers. This is especially effective in cases where customers reached out to you with a problem.
We use this system to track customer requests and follow up once those have been implemented. We have a Trello board to track such requests—our team creates a new card every time we’ve identified such a request. In addition, we add links to every conversation in Groove, where a customer has requested the feature.
Once we launch it, we go through the list and let everyone know it’s available to use. (Using a canned reply can also help you save time with this.)
Personal support at scale
Automation is a superpower.
In the wrong hands, it can create a monster.
But used wisely, it allows you to achieve the hardest thing in customer service—provide personal support at scale.
Using the steps we suggested above will allow you to get started with it. But that’s just the beginning. There are literally hundreds of ways to use automation to enable your customer service agents.
What’s your favorite one? Share it in the comments section below.