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Automated customer service: A full guide

Automating customer service increases productivity, builds customer loyalty, and grows profits.

A comprehensive guide to automating customer service

If you find your business growing rapidly, or you’re looking for a way to streamline operations, you might have considered support automation. This comprehensive guide will cover the following topics on customer service automation, and give you the tools to make the right decisions for your business.

In the following sections you’ll learn:

What is automated customer service?

Automated customer service is anything that allows your customers to solve problems without interacting with another human. At first glance, it may seem counterintuitive to take people out of the problem-solving equation. But software has come a long way since the days of desperately trying to reach a human on the other end of an automated voice recording.

Automated support systems, unlike humans, are available to provide support 24/7, 365 days a year. They’re also more cost-effective than human customer support representatives. And they assist your customer support team by handling simple, repetitive tasks and directing tickets to the appropriate departments. This frees up your representatives so they can devote more focused attention to customers who genuinely need human support.

Why does automated customer service matter to customer service?

The need for automated customer service boils down to three key things:

  • Speed

    When it comes to customer service, speed is king. Customers today expect to get what they want fast. If your response times don’t keep up with your customers’ busy lives, you run the risk of giving them a negative impression of your customer service. And studies show that 80% of customers will go to a competitor after just one bad experience.

  • Convenience

    Customers expect to be able to communicate with their favorite businesses via their preferred method. Some want to pick up the phone and call, others prefer Facebook messenger or other social media channels, and some rely on email. They also expect to be able to switch between different methods without repeating what they’ve said on other channels.

    This expectation of omnichannel support brings its own set of complications. Support teams can’t monitor every channel at all hours. Automated customer support systems, on the other hand, can be deployed across channels. They can also be integrated into your business’s CRM platform (Customer Relationship Management platform) to ensure that every support rep who interacts with that customer has a complete view of that customer’s history with the company.

  • Autonomy

    A large percentage of customers just want you to help them help themselves. Many would rather figure out an issue on their own than have someone else do it for them. Automated customer service empowers customers to handle simple tasks on their own, cutting out the middleman and letting them solve issues in their own time. It doesn’t get more convenient or speedy than a solution that the customer is able to implement themselves.

    Even with the world’s most robust human support team, sometimes these benchmarks for speed, convenience, and autonomy will be impossible to achieve. But with support automation, you can ensure that your customers feel listened to, without burning out your teams.

How does automated customer service work?

Imagine one of your customers has an issue with an electronic product that they purchased from your company. It won’t turn on. Their first step is to go to your website. As soon as they click onto the “Support” page, an AI chatbot pops up asking them to describe the problem.

The AI picks up on the keywords: “won’t turn on.” Using these input keywords, it directs your customer to an article in your Knowledge Base. The article instructs them to check if they’ve removed the plastic tab in the battery slot. They realize that they haven’t, and remove the tab, causing the device to work perfectly.

But say the issue was larger than that. Maybe your customer purchased a product that is defective. It’s the middle of the night, and there are no human support representatives available. When the AI chatbot is unable to resolve the issue, it prompts your customer to send an email to your support team, which they do. They receive a canned response assuring them that a ticket has been created and that someone from your support team will be reaching out soon.

When your team comes back into the office, a support representative contacts your customer. Because your automated customer support system and your ticketing system are integrated, the representative sees that your customer has already done the basic troubleshooting steps. Without having to ask questions or make the customer repeat themselves, the representative understands that the product is defective, and is able to immediately process a replacement.

What are the benefits of automated customer service?

The companies that score high on customer satisfaction surveys focus on two things: proactive support and customer outcomes.

  • Proactive support

    The traditional model of customer support is reactive. A customer has a problem, so they call or email the support team. Only then does the problem begin to be resolved. But when your company practices proactive engagement, you can resolve problems before your customer even notices them.

    Say there’s a customer on your website whose shopping cart has been sitting full for some time without checking out. A powerful automated support system will detect that the cart has been abandoned, and send the customer a message asking if they have any questions or need help completing the purchase.

    That same customer then checks out, because of the prompt from your automated system. But their order is experiencing a shipping delay outside of your control. Your system will notice this, automatically send an email informing them of the delay, apologize, and give them a way to reach out to your human support team if they need it. For many customers, being kept in the loop is enough to prevent frustration.

  • Customer outcomes

    Of course, the goal of every customer interaction is to achieve an outcome that satisfies all parties. Happy customers are loyal customers. And it has been proven that loyal customers are willing to pay a little extra for the brands they believe in.

    However, when your support team spends their time troubleshooting common, simple customer issues or rerouting calls and tickets to their appropriate departments, the truly difficult problems can get pushed to the backburner. Automated customer support prevents these types of oversights by making focusing on outcomes easier for your team.

    Your Knowledge Base (more on this later) empowers customers to troubleshoot easy problems, while an AI chatbot triages tech issues for your tech support team and answers simple questions about charges to your billing department. In this way, your team is freed up to handle the more complicated tasks that cannot be addressed by automation.

    As you can see from these examples, your automated customer support system will improve your support team’s proactive engagement and your customer outcomes.

How does customer service automation benefit small businesses?

If you’re running a small business, personalized customer service can be a big selling point. So you may be hesitant to trust such an important part of your business to non-human resources. But with the right software, support automation will enhance your already excellent customer service.

A smaller business is less likely to have an army of customer support representatives at its disposal. Every hour those workers spend on the clock is precious. When smartly implemented, a robust automated customer service platform increases their productivity, providing a better experience for everyone.

How does customer service automation benefit enterprises?

For a larger corporation, it’s all about scaling customer service resources to meet demand. As a big company, your customer support tickets will grow as quickly as your customer base.

Imagine that a simple reboot of your product is usually all that’s needed to fix a common problem. If just one customer calls about this issue per day, your support team can handle that. But if hundreds of customers call in every day, your entire support team will get bogged down explaining something that an AI Chatbot could solve in seconds.

Moreover, humans can only converse with one customer at a time. An automated support system can handle multiple requests simultaneously, saving you significant labor and operating costs.

What are some cons of support automation?

The biggest disadvantage of using automated customer service is losing the personal touch that human interaction can provide. The technology for automated systems that can resolve complicated problems is improving every year, but it’s still no replacement for someone looking for a real human conversation. And if your customers are unable to reach a human representative when they need one, you risk leaving them with a bad customer experience.

Suppose a customer has already searched your knowledge base for a solution to their problem, but come away empty-handed because it’s a complex issue. Next they turn to the AI chatbot. A less sophisticated automated support system might send them right back to the knowledge base. And since AI systems aren’t adept at identifying frustrated customers, the chatbot may not escalate to a human representative when it needs to.

So your frustrated customer turns to the phone line and is greeted with an IVR menu. After working their way through the phone menu, they finally get to a human representative who is able to fix their issue. The problem was resolved, but only after a lengthy and frustrating journey for the customer—one which could have been avoided with a more powerful automated customer service platform.

The good news is that automation technology is improving by leaps and bounds every year. And it’s worth investing in the technology and adapting to its upgrades, rather than waiting until it’s “perfect” before benefiting from its customer service capabilities.

How to automate customer service and increase customer satisfaction?

If you’re ready to automate support and reap the rewards, there are two important steps: identify areas of need, and select the right software.

When identifying the areas of need, think about where automation will have the biggest impact. If your phone queues outpace your email inbox, you might want to focus on an IVR system. But remember not to neglect customers’ preference for omnichannel support. If your online chat function isn’t popular, it may be because the user experience isn’t a positive one.

This is why it’s vital that you choose a platform that has high functionality and responsiveness. As you determine the best way to incorporate your software into your company’s workflow, keep in mind that it should be powerful enough to keep pace with changes.

For example, say you’ve installed a sophisticated AI chatbot onto your website. As your customers learn that your chat support is more efficient, your chat queues may start to outpace your phone queues. An integrated customer service platform allows your agents to transition easily to wherever demand is highest.

What customer service tasks should be automated?

Your automated customer service software is your first line of defense. What are the high-volume, simple tasks that your support representatives spend their hours on?

These tasks might be:

  • Greeting customers and assuring them that their message has been received
  • Gathering customer data (like account numbers) to populate future forms
  • Prompting customers to reset passwords
  • Verifying accounts
  • Basic troubleshooting for products that aren’t working as expected
  • Triaging tickets to appropriate representatives

Tasks like these are simple to automate. And the right software will handle them all with ease, while seamlessly integrating into your existing operations.

What are some examples of customer service automation?

Automated customer service can be simple or complex, depending on your industry and business’s size. Perhaps all you need your customer service software to do is assure customers that you’ve received their message and will get back to them. Or maybe your support team has enough volume to merit a sophisticated AI chatbot that can learn and problem-solve on its own.

Depending on your needs, you could set up any one of the following systems:

  • Knowledge Base or FAQ page: A searchable database of the most frequent customer issues.
  • Canned responses: A preset email response to every ticket that assures customers your team is working to resolve the issue.
  • Pre-written responses: A database of pre-written responses to the most common customer questions.
  • IVR (Interactive Voice Response) system: An automated phone receptionist that recognizes keywords, then either provides solutions or forwards the call to the most qualified human representative for that issue.
  • AI (Artificial Intelligence) chatbot: An in-browser chat feature that can answer customer questions, direct customers to answers, or route them to the proper channel for support.

What are some best practices to automate customer support?

It’s not enough for you to choose a powerful customer support software, set it up, and walk away. When automating customer support, you need to install your program with three key processes in place:

  • Include an “escape hatch” for customers. Provide an easy route for them to bypass your automated system and communicate with a human. Or, if it’s after hours, give them a way to leave a message that will be addressed as soon as possible.
  • Gather feedback: You can’t fix problems you don’t know exist. Every customer service interaction should end by giving your customers a way to rate their experience and provide feedback. One or two star reviews give your operations managers a chance to reach out and turn that customer’s experience from a negative one into a positive one. And if you discover hiccups in your operations, you can address them before they have a larger negative impact.
  • Audit everything regularly: This includes your Knowledge Base, your pre-written responses, your phone menu, how responsive the chatbot is, etc. Business is fluid and things change every day. If your automated support isn’t constantly evolving with the rest of your business, you risk leaving your customers stuck in limbo, or having them flee to the competition.

How Zendesk helps with automating customer service?

Zendesk provides one of the most powerful suites of customer service software on the market. From the simplest task to the most complex issues, Zendesk has the tools to quickly solve problems so that your customers can enjoy a fast, positive customer experience.

Designed with service agents in mind, Zendesk’s intuitive interface is simply laid out for optimal navigation and ease. From the help center, users can guide themselves to the best possible solution in their own time, rather than waiting for an agent to answer a phone. With an expansive and easily searchable knowledge base, users can quickly locate the answers they need, even from their mobile device when they’re on the go. Or, if they’re short on time, customers can engage with Answer bot, Zendesk’s AI-powered chatbot, which can instantly assist them by pointing them to an answer or guiding them to the best qualified service agent.

Here are some other ways Zendesk is leading in automating customer service:

  • Priority response in the queue
  • Instant in-product chat for admins
  • Top-of-queue phone number and email address
  • 24/7/365 Global support
  • One hour Global First Reply Time (SLO available in English only)
  • Guaranteed 99.9% uptime (SLA with service credits)
  • Easy collaboration for agents to share information
  • Live editing that shows who is viewing a ticket

When integrated with an intuitive ticketing software and CRM, Zendesk’s automated customer service software will transform your customer experience overnight.

Frequently asked questions

Are you ready to try automated customer service?

It’s time to give automation a shot. Powerful, sophisticated software like Zendesk’s Automated Customer Support will empower your support teams, leading to better experiences and happier, more loyal customers. Most importantly, happier customers and more efficient customer service teams will improve your bottom line.

Sign up for a free trial of Zendesk to experience just how easily this system can be incorporated into already-established workflows.

Bring your business into the 21st century, and get started with Zendesk today.

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