Customer Service Automation: 14 Types of Automation + the Risks, Rewards, and Best Practices

Customer Service Automation: 14 Types of Automation + the Risks, Rewards, and Best Practices

A recent McKinsey survey asked customer service leaders about their top priorities in 2023. The most common answers were retaining top talent, driving efficiency to cut costs, and investing in artificial intelligence (AI) solutions. In other words, two of the top three priorities involve customer service automation. 

In support, automation can be a scary word: Isn’t automated customer service a bad customer experience? Frustrating chatbots are indeed something to be wary of, customer support automation can actually greatly improve your customer experience while saving your team hours per week on tedious, repetitive tasks.

This is your one-stop-shop guide to customer service automation. We’ll start by sharing some examples of customer support automations that automatically answer customer queries. Then, we’ll move on to some customer support automations to help your support reps skip repetitive tasks and become more productive. 

What is customer service automation?

Customer service automation refers to using technology and software to handle customer interactions and other tasks without human effort. It's like having a virtual assistant that can quickly respond to common questions, process orders, solve simple customer issues, and anything else to make things easier and faster for both customers and businesses.

Customer service automation could include automated answers, ticket triage, ticket tagging, and so much more. 

7 types of customer service automations to answer customer questions

This first set of support automations gives customers an answer without any agent interaction.

1) Automatic responses

Automatic responses (also called canned responses or Macros) are pre-written responses that get sent to the customer when certain conditions are met. You can send automatic responses for a variety of scenarios, including:

  • Letting customers know you received their message and will respond soon
  • Sharing your business hours and telling customers when you’ll be back
  • Answering basic inquiries (like “Where is my order?”)

With the right customer service software, you can send these automated responses on every channel (email, live chat, SMS, WhatsApp, and social media). 

How to set up automatic responses

In your customer service software, you can set up Rules (or automated workflows that fire when certain conditions are met). Tools like Gorgias use AI to scan each incoming ticket and — when the ticket meets the pre-determined conditions — execute the Rule.

Here’s an example from Berkey Filters of an automatic response to let customers know an agent is on their way:

Automated responses to an incoming question, letting the customer know an agent is coming.

And here’s an example of an automatic response for customers inquiring about the status of their order.

Automatic response to a customer asking about the status of their order.

(Note: If you use the Automation Add-on in Gorgias, you get access to a library of Autoresponders, which are automatic responses that you can start using without any setup required.)

2) AI chatbot

An AI chatbot responds to questions that customers ask in your live chat. Unlike automatic responses, which are pre-written by humans and fire when certain conditions are met, chatbots respond to every message. 

The benefit is that AI chatbots can try to respond to any type of question. The drawback is that AI chatbots don’t always have helpful or relevant answers. This can lead to a confusing and frustrating experience for customers. 

How to use an AI chatbot

AI chatbots don’t require any setup; you just have to buy and install them. Some helpdesks come with a chatbot, while other helpdesks integrate with standalone chatbots. For example, Gorgias integrates with Siena AI

Check out our list of the best customer service software to find the right solution for you.

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3) Knowledge base (or FAQ page)

Knowledge bases and FAQ pages are libraries of pre-written questions and answers that customers can use for self-service.

Automatic response to a customer asking about the status of their order.

Technically, knowledge bases and FAQ pages aren’t automated. They offer static content and don’t use any sort of advanced technology to help you skip tasks. However, they help you skip answering tickets by proactively giving customers information that would have otherwise become a customer support ticket. 

How to set up a knowledge base

To get started, you can simply create a page on your website with frequently-asked questions. Most likely, your website platform includes an FAQ page template — but here’s an FAQ page template, if you need one. 

When you want to upgrade to a full-blown knowledge base, you can find plenty of standalone customer knowledge bases or use a customer support software with a built-in knowledge base.

For instance, Gorgias’s Help Center lets you host a searchable, categorized library of help content — plus, other self-service resources like Flows and self-service order management (both of which we’ll cover below). 

📚 Want some examples of FAQ pages? Check out our list of examples of FAQ pages.

4) Article recommendations

With a robust knowledge base, you want to make sure the most helpful gets discovered when shoppers need it most. One way to do this is to use AI to automatically send articles to customers who ask a questions that's covered by one in your knowledge base.

This is a great way to instantly answer customer questions with detailed answers — including images, videos, and other rich elements that you can add to your Help Center.

How to set up AI-powered Article Recommendations

Gorgias's AI scans every incoming message. When it detects that an incoming live chat or email message could be answered by an article in your Help Center, it send the message to the customer. It also gives the customer a prompt — "Was this helpful?" — that lets customers get in touch with a human agent if they still have questions.

Here's an example of Gorgias's Article Recommendations on Parade's website:

Note: You can activate Gorgias Article Recommendations without making your Help Center public. You just need to create articles in the Gorgias Help Center (but not share them externally) and activate Article Recommendations. Gorgias will treat your un-published Help Cetner like a hidden library to send to customers when appropriate.

5) Self-service FAQs

Self-service FAQs are buttons customers click to get instant, pre-written answers. Whereas, automatic responses require input from customers, self-service FAQs don’t require customers to type anything out — they just click a button for an answer.

Here’s an example of self-service FAQs from ALOHAS:

Automated FAQs in the chat.

How to set up self-service FAQs

The easiest way to set up self-service FAQs is to use a helpdesk or live chat software. 

In Gorgias, self-service FAQs are handled by a feature called Flows. Flows can even be interactive, prompting customers to share information (like their preferences or location) to give a more helpful, personalized answer. Here’s an example of Flows from VESSEL:

Interactive automation in the chat widget.
Flows give customers an easy, automatic answer to a lot of questions they would normally have. If we just had one response, we would link our FAQ page, but they don't always read that. Flows allow them to interact and get specific answers. —Alisa Ogden, Sales Manager at VESSEL

6) Self-service order tracking

For the average brand, “Where is my order?” (WISMO) is the most common question, accounting for 18% of incoming requests. And based on math from 12k Gorgias merchants, the cost of answering those tickets manually is $12/ticket. 

The cost of answering questions manually.

You can offer self-service order tracking to empower customers to track their own orders. This is more convenient for customers, who don’t have to type out a message or wait for an answer. It’s also more streamlined for your support team, who now has to deal with 18% fewer tickets, and can focus on higher-value interactions. 

How to offer self-service order tracking

Some chatbots can track the status of your order, but most have a hard time handling those kinds of requests accurately and with real-time data.

If you use Gorgias, you can use Order Management Flows (part of the Automation Add-on) to let customers see the status of their order in real-time, in your site’s chat widget and Help Center:

Track orders with automation.

📚 Want to learn more? Check out our complete guide to providing order tracking

7) Self-service returns and cancellations

After questions about order status, the most common support questions are “Can I cancel my order?” and “Can I get a return?” Automating these return and cancellation requests can be a major time-saver for customer service teams. 

Even if you don’t completely automate the returns process — some brands like to have a human approval process — you can automate the return request process. It’s much easier than getting an email that says “I need to return something,” and having to go back and forth to get all the details. 

How to offer self-service returns and cancellations

The best way to automate the returns process is to set up a self-service return portal with a tool like Loop Returns. Loop makes it easy for customers to log in, select a recent order, and return or exchange it — completely on their own.

Loop even gently urges customers toward a return, to protect your company’s revenue from expensive returns. 

Return products with automation

To automate the request process for returns and exchanges, you can use a tool like Gorgias. Gorgias Order Management Flows let customers request a return, request a cancellation, or report an issue with their order in an easy, structured way. They don’t have to type out a message — just log in and make a few clicks. 

Here’s an example of Order Management Flows in Loop Earplug’s chat widget (they’re also available in the Help Center):

Automated return request process.

You can even integrate Loop and Gorgias to send customers to your return portal from your chat widget:

Integrate Gorgias and Loop

📚 Interested in improving your returns? Read our guide to reducing returns in ecommerce. 

7 types of customer service automations to make agents more efficient

This second set of support automations doesn’t give automated answers; instead, it helps agents work faster, improving the efficiency and productivity of your team (giving them time to focus on human tasks). 

1) Personalizing messages

Even if you send responses manually, you can use automation to help personalize the messages. Specifically, you can use variables that automatically pull customer information (like order numbers, addresses, and more) into the message. 

This helps your customer service agents offer the most relevant, accurate information possible without forcing them to switch tabs and copy/paste the customer’s information. 

📚 Read more: Get more tips to offer more helpful, personalized customer service

How to automatically personalize messages

Every customer support platform offers some version of variables to help you personalize support messages — even Gmail, if that’s what you’re using. However, the best solutions can pull from your other apps to broaden the scope of possible variables. 

For example, Gorgias has 100+ ecommerce integrations so you can pull customer information from Shopify, marketing software, subscription software, shipping software, and more. This makes Gorgias a CRM of sorts: It gathers and stores customer data that you can use to personalize the interactions. 

With Gorgias, these variables can even be used in automated responses (on top of responses your human agents send):

Automatically personalize messages

2) Assigning tickets

If each of your tickets need to be manually reviewed, you’re adding to your set of customer service challenges, and eating up tons of time. If a generalist agent receives every ticket and manually passes technical or escalated tickets to the right person, you’re delaying the resolution times for those key tickets. 

Instead, you can set up automation that scans incoming tickets and automatically assigns tickets to specialized teams, like Level 2 team for complex issues or a team of Support Engineers for technical questions. 

How to automatically assign tickets

Most helpdesks include features to automatically assign tickets. To get started, you’ll need to set up assignment conditions. Helpdesks like Gorgias scan every incoming ticket to understand the tone and contents. Then, it can automatically assign tickets based on what it finds based on your set conditions.

You can get creative with these assignments. For example, you can assign: 

  • Repeat customers to a VIP support team
  • Subscription questions to a subscription team
  • Wholesale questions to a specialized team

Here’s an example of a Gorgias Rule that automatically assigns incoming live chat tickets to a dedicated team:

Automatically assign tickets

3) Prioritizing tickets

Just like assignments, ticket prioritization is another valuable automation. It can remove a manual step if you currently have someone triaging all incoming tickets. Plus, it can make your team more strategic and effective by ensuring you answer time-sensitive or high-value tickets before it’s too late. 

For example, you can automatically prioritize pre-sales questions that come in on live chat — these kinds of questions often block sales for someone who’s actively shopping on your site. 

How to automatically prioritize tickets

You can prioritize incoming tickets in your helpdesk with Rules, or configurable automations. Just like ticket assignments, Rules fire off automations when a ticket meets certain criteria — including support channel, ticket intent, sentiment and tone, and hundreds of other factors. 

Here’s an example of a Rule that prioritizes tickets about orders that were placed in the last two days:

Automatically prioritize tickets

The logic here is that you want to see tickets about recent orders in case someone needs to cancel or change their address — you can catch it before the order ships, saving on unnecessary shipping costs.

Want to get strategic with ticket prioritization? Read our Director of Support’s guide to prioritizing customer support requests

4) IVR (Interactive Voice Response)

If you offer voice support, interactive voice response (IVR) is an easy way to automatically route customers to the right agent and even answer some basic questions without talking to an agent at all. 

Have you ever called a business and been told to press 1 for hours, 2 for electronics, and 3 for all other questions? That’s IVR. It saves agents and customers alike tons of time transferring calls and answering repetitive questions. 

How to use IVR to automate voice support

Most phone support systems include IVR — you just have to decide how you’ll map out your IVR automated system and set it up. Remember, IVR can automate two things:

  1. Answers: Customers can press a number to get a pre-recorded message, answering common questions without speaking to an agent.
  2. Ticket routing: Customers can press a number to get directed to the right team, department, or location’s phone line.

If you use Gorgias support, you can set up IVR with voice recordings or text-to-speech:

Interactive Voice Response in Gorgias

5) Ticket tagging

When agents process tickets, giving a helpful answer is only part of the job. Another key element of support is tagging tickets. Tags help you:

If agents have to manually tag each ticket, you’re adding a time-consuming step to the process. More importantly, you’re opening yourself up to human error. If an agent rushes through their work and misses a few tags, this could skew your data and reporting and cause bigger issues down the line. 

Luckily, automation never has an off day.

How to automatically tag tickets

The right helpdesk tool scans incoming tickets and can tag them based on the ticket’s channel, contents, tone, and more. In Gorgias, this automated ticket tagging happens through Rules. 

Here’s a Rule that automatically tags tickets as Urgent when they contain key words that indicate the customer accidentally made an error while ordering and needs to update the order before it ships. 

Automatically tag tickets

You could use a similar approach to automatically tag tickets with customer feedback, shipping issues, product malfunctions, and so on. 

6) Closing spam tickets

Another helpful automation helps agents identify which messages don’t need attention. 

If your email is publicly available, it’s only a matter of time before you’re added to spam marketing lists. For instance, if your email address is connected to Shopify, you’ll get automated emails for every payment notification. Agents don’t need to deal with these, and you can save time by using automation to clear them from the queue. 

How to automatically close spam tickets

You can set up Rules in your helpdesk to automatically detect and close tickets that don’t need an agent’s attention.

Here’s an example of a Rule that targets payment notifications by identifying messages that contain words like “Payment received” or “You received a payment,” as well as messages from emails starting with “noreply@” or “donotreply@.”

Auto-close tickets

Gorgias’s Automation Add-on also automatically closes all no-reply tickets. Thanks to Gorgias’s always-improving machine learning, you don’t have to set up a Rule.

7) Proactive chat campaigns

Most customer service is reactive; answering incoming questions and resolving incoming issues. However, top brands know to offer robust proactive customer service. One way to do that is by reaching out to shoppers actively browsing your website. 

With the right automation tools, you can automatically reach out to shoppers, targeting certain browsing behaviors and customer attributes (to ensure you reach the right person at the right time). These are called chat campaigns. 

Proactive automated chat campaigns

How to automate chat campaigns

With Gorgias, you can easily set up chat campaigns to target visitors based on a wide variety of factors:

  • Total value of the shopping cart
  • Goods added to the cart (based on product tags)
  • Visiting particular page
  • Time spent on a particular page
  • Time spent on the website
  • # of visits (new vs returning user or x# of times)
  • Intent to exit the page
  • Type of device
  • Time of purchase
  • Time of visit (during or outside business hours)
Proactive automated chat campaigns

Once you set up the automation, you can write a message that lets the customer know you’re available to answer questions, reminds them of a promotion, offers a special incentive, and so much more. 

If the customer replies, they’re connected with a live chat support agent and can get any additional information. 

Biggest benefits and risks of automating customer service

Benefits of automating customer service

Why invest in automation? The main reason is to achieve more efficient customer service processes. But let’s drill down into some of the specific benefits.

Faster responses

Automated customer support has a 0-second response time — even the fastest agents could never respond to customer requests that quickly. While automation answers simple inquiries, your team is free to jump on complex issues.

While some brands think that automation ruins the customer journey, response and resolution times are one of the most important customer service metrics to boost customer satisfaction (CSAT).

No human errors

For some issues — like complex or sensitive ones — a human touch goes a long way. But for repetitive, rote interactions, the “human touch” might mean forgetting a step or explaining something poorly. When automation is set up correctly, it never makes an error.

Low costs

Research from McKinsey found that companies save 20-40% on customer service costs with an effective rollout of automation technology. While automation shouldn’t take jobs away from human agents, it can help businesses grow without burning out their agents or falling behind on tickets.

Your tool’s pricing may vary, but Gorgias’s Automation Add-on handles an average of 30% of all tickets, for 1/5 the cost of a customer service agent. 

Frees human agents for more complex tasks

Your agents have better things to do than copy/paste order statuses. As automation handles more menial customer service tasks, your team can ensure they’re providing the best experience to higher-value customers and more complex issues. 

24/7 support

Your business might not have the resources to staff a 24/7 support team, but by automating customer service — even the most basic functions — you can offer a layer of 24/7 support. 

Accurate answers and consistent brand voice

People have different communication styles and personalities. They can also make mistakes and cut corners. Onboarding reps may even give the wrong answer while trying to keep up.

Automation is an avenue for ensuring answers are on-brand and accurate. This helps give customers a consistent experience and also helps prevent newer staff members from making unnecessary mistakes.

Works across channels

Customers expect to reach you through a variety of channels, including email, social media, phone, SMS, and more. As your team explores an omnichannel support strategy, customer service tools with automation features can streamline your progress. 

Potential risks of automating customer service

Frustrating customers

When automation is used in the wrong ways, it creates a terribly frustrating experience for customers. 

AI chatbots are a great example: While they can answer some basic questions, they might also attempt to answer complex questions but return with inaccurate answers. If customers can’t easily get in touch with a human, they’ll leave your site.

The best course of action is to use automation that consistently improves specific parts of the customer experience. Avoid supposedly catch-all solutions. And always give people an easy way to contact a real person. 

Robotic answers

Automation — especially generative AI, which writes messages from scratch — can be stiff. Rather than rely on automation to draft messages to customers, consider using automation that triggers a pre-written message from humans (adding customer data where appropriate). 

This grants you the benefits of automation while still ensuring the customer gets an on-brand, accurate, and human-sounding message. 

Missed opportunities for upsells

If AI automation is responsible for managing too many customer interactions, it might not notice or take advantage of clear opportunities to upsell or cross-sell customers. 

For example, if a customer claims their device dies too quickly, your chatbot might generate tips for them to make their battery last longer. A human agent might do that plus send a link to an upgraded device that lasts longer.

The best course of action, again, is to avoid over-relying on automation. Choose automation that’s really great at automating specific tasks, so human agents are still integrated into the process and can capitalize on these particular situations. 

Technical glitches

Automation, like any technology, is subject to the occasional glitch or downtime. While this shouldn’t scare you away from using automation, it’s a good reason to avoid over-relying on automation to complete all your customer service duties.  

Best practices of customer support automation

Automation is only helpful if it’s strategic and set up correctly. Here are some automation best practices to keep in mind:

Always offer a clear path to humans

Never trap your customers in automation (or chatbot) hell. Always offer a clear path to human support. 

The most common example is in the chat widget. Even if a human isn’t immediately available, at least give customers a way to submit a message that your agents answer via email once they’re available. 

If you use Gorgias, every automated interaction offers customers a clear path to talk to an agent. Here’s an example of this in action from Steve Madden:

Automated interactions with a clear path to human support

Don’t try and trick customers

Customers generally appreciate the speed and convenience of automation. But they get grumpy when they think they’re chatting with a human, and get an inaccurate, robotic response. 

When you’re sending automated messages, consider labeling the message as Automated to be transparent with customers. In Gorgias, automated messages are labeled as automated, and you can choose an avatar that sends automated messages. 

Here’s an example of this in action from Loop Earplugs:

Be honest about what is a human interaction and what is an automated interaction

Use automation to personalize more, not less

One fear of automation is the robotic, inhuman tone of messages. But automation can actually help you personalize conversations more. The trick? Use on-brand, pre-written messages and introduce variables that automation fills in with customer data. 

In Gorgias, you can use a wide variety of variables to populate the automated message with the customer’s name, shipping address, order status, estimated delivery date, and much more.  

Automated Macros in Gorgias

Choose software built for specific purposes

There’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all automation software. If you’re selling software or a subscription-based SaaS platform, you’ll likely need a different toolset than a vendor selling clothing or tea via an ecommerce website.

Daily interaction types are going to vary considerably. For instance, customer support at a clothing company will deal with sizing and out-of-stock issues or returns and exchanges. None of those needs apply to a B2B software company.

Rather than choosing automation that claims to work for each of these different use cases, choose automation custom-built for your unique needs. 

Always maintain the software

Automation isn’t set-it-and-forget-it software. You should consistently review automated interactions and be prepared to tweak your automation software to ensure:

  • It works as expected and without (frequent) errors
  • Customers are successfully reaching resolutions with automated answers
  • You’re adding new applications to maximize the value of automations

Empower humans, don’t replace them

The best automation replaces tasks that don’t need human input, like repetitive tasks that humans find tedious.

Instead of turning to automation as a replacement for a human team, look for ways automation can speed up the work of humans or let humans focus on complex problem-solving and conversations that require empathy and human interaction. 

Choose low-code tools

Be sure you’re choosing a tool that aligns with the technical abilities of your team — especially if you don’t have any highly technical staff. Most customer service software companies now design their products with non-technical users in mind, as a result.

Mind data security and privacy

Automation introduces a small amount of risk when it comes to data security and privacy. When shopping for customer service automation software, be sure to check the vendor’s security. At a minimum, look for software that has single-sign-on (SS), SOC 2 Type II certification, and HIPAA compliance. 

Discover Gorgias, the automated support software built for ecommerce

Gorgias is the customer service platform built exclusively for ecommerce companies, and powered by a suite of AI and automation features. Your agents will save hours per week by cutting out tab-switching, copy-pasting, and manually assigning and tagging tickets.

Gorgias also features the Automation Add-on, which includes a variety of self-service features to help your customers get instant answers to basic questions. Automation Add-on users can automate 30% of all customer interactions — up to 45%, for top users!

To learn more about Gorgias and the Automation Add-on, book your demo today.

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Jordan Miller
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