Implemented well, customer service automation can do exactly what businesses need: relieve the strain on human customer support agents and help those team members to work more quickly and efficiently. It can also increase customer satisfaction by getting customers to the right answer more quickly.
On the other hand, if implemented poorly, automations in customer service can frustrate customers and damage company reputations.
After reading this article, you’ll understand the benefits and risks associated with customer service automation tools, and you’ll have a much better sense of whether (and where) your business could benefit from automation in customer service.
Table of Contents
- What Is Customer Service Automation?
- Top Benefits of Automating Customer Service Tasks
- Potential Risks With Customer Service Automation
- Best Practices When Using Customer Support Automation Software
What Is Customer Service Automation?
Customer service automation refers to a variety of tools and systems that solve customer issues and questions without direct human intervention by customer support agents. Businesses use automated customer service across multiple service channels to increase capacity, reduce costs, and improve customer satisfaction.
Customer service automation can include a variety of strategies. Many rely on newer tech solutions, including AI and natural language processing, but several are low-tech in nature. An ideal customer service automation strategy leverages a mix of high- and lower-tech solutions to create a cohesive, customer-friendly support experience.
Below is a list of some of the most common forms of customer service automation in use for 2022.
- Email automations: Auto-generated email responses can be a placeholder until an agent reviews the request, or they can serve as a first-level response, guiding users through the appropriate solutions.
- Live chat: This tool allows users to initiate customer support interactions from nearly anywhere on your website with human agents or chatbots.
- Chatbots: Artificial intelligence-powered automated chatbots respond in similar ways to a human agent, solving basic queries or directing customers to the appropriate resources. (Learn more about the difference between live chat and chatbots.)
- CRM-related automations: Customer relationship management (CRM) software can automatically personalize message replies and send them, move customers into different queues and segmentation groups, and more.
- Social media monitoring: These automated tools track social mentions and notify you when something on social needs attention, freeing up reps or interns who may be dedicated to constantly monitoring Twitter and Facebook.
- SMS messaging: Text messages can automatically provide relevant info (place in line, estimated time of restored service, etc) via a variety of apps and mobile carriers.
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): As you likely know, an FAQ page is a database of useful information organized as common questions your customers and clients might have. It’s particularly useful as a self-service customer support resource. (Check out our free Shopify FAQ template generator to get started.)
- Knowledge base: Many businesses provide articles, tutorials, product setup pages, or other similar resources to form a self-service customer support library or even a blog for their ecommerce niche. Both your automated customer service strategies and your human agents can point customers to these resources, reducing manual interactions and escalations.
- Interactive Voice Response (IVR): IVR is automated phone-based support (a prerecorded voice) that collects information from customers, presents them with options, and automatically transfers them to the right department. Some IVR tools can understand what customers say and direct them, a feature called natural language processing.
Recommended reading: Everything You Should Know About Ecommerce Automation
Top Benefits of Automating Your Customer Service Tasks
Businesses across many sectors are recognizing numerous benefits from automating many of their customer service tasks. Here are nine of our top observations.
1) Improves Speed to Value and First Response Times
First, customer service automation typically lowers the speed to both first response and customer value. Typical customer service interactions aren’t usually known for being speedy. Ticket-based customer service can take days, and phone-based channels may leave users waiting for upward of 10 minutes before they reach a human agent.
There are human ways to improve these times, like the Everyone on Support model. But organizations benefit even more from customer service automation. With these solutions, customers get an initial response in seconds, not minutes or days. When that response is accurate and helpful, customers receive near-instant value.
This is certainly the case when an automated service interaction fully resolves the customer’s issue. But even in situations where they don’t solve it right away, it gives the user some actionable information or helps them feel like your company is actively working on a solution.
With the right automation software, you can even automatically prioritize customer service requests to ensure you're getting to high-value and time-sensitive tickets before it's too late.
2) Prevents Common Human Errors
Human agents excel in nuanced, complex situations and in expressing empathy. But when performing highly repetitive tasks, such as typing very similar emails and messages, it’s tougher for your human agents to stay consistent and engaged. People are also more prone to making simple mistakes or errors than any automated solution.
For simple or highly repetitive customer encounters, automation is perfect for keeping mistakes to a minimum and messages on-brand.
Email templates are another great strategy for scenarios that your automated tools aren’t capable of independently resolving. Your customer support teams can rely on scripts as the basis for their responses, rather than writing messages from scratch each time.
3) Reduces Customer Service Costs When Used Correctly
Staffing a customer service team remains a challenge, and smaller companies may face resource constraints, with greater customer support needs than they can afford to staff.
Customer support automation can help you bolster the team you have while reducing costs in the process. When implemented properly, customer service automation reduces the average cost of service per customer.
How much can companies save through automating customer service? Research from McKinsey found that companies save 20-40% on customer service costs with an effective rollout of automation software.
4) Allows CS Representatives to Spend More Time on More Complex Support Tickets
Not only can businesses reduce costs, but they can also increase customer satisfaction. The same McKinsey report found an uptick in customer satisfaction by up to 20%. One reason for this uptick: Your human team no longer spends their time solving minor issues. Instead, they get to focus more of their resources and attention on those more complex support tickets, the ones that are most likely to devolve into negative customer interactions.
As your automated customer support solutions take on the more menial tasks, your customer service teams can ensure they’re providing the best experience on higher-value accounts and more complex issues.
5) Satisfies Customers With 24/7 Support
Your business might not have the resources to staff a 24/7 support team, or it may not make business sense to do so. Still, by automating customer service (at least the basic functions), you can leave a layer of 24/7 support in place, satisfying customers even if your human customer support team is off the clock.
For example, chatbots on your website can run at all hours, solving basic queries and redirecting customers to appropriate resources. If the customer needs more than the chatbot can provide, a support ticket can be auto-generated. It will be waiting for the right agent at the next opening of business.
If your business relies on on-call agents to solve critical disruptions, you can also configure customer service automation software to escalate them to the right on-call personnel — but only when they meet certain criteria. This is a great way to reduce false alarms and interruptions for your on-call team members.
6) Makes It Easier to Have a Consistent Brand Tone and Voice
Human customer service agents are skilled at communication, and those human interactions remain a crucial part of an omnichannel strategy. However, people have different communication styles and personalities. Even with training, some reps may sound too informal or formal while trying to keep up with responses.
Automation is an avenue for creating a consistent brand tone and voice. You can help your team members stay on brand by providing customer service scripts to build off or set up to auto-send.
This helps give customers a consistent experience and also helps prevent newer staff members from making unnecessary mistakes in communication.
7) Makes It Easier to Centralize Data via Your CS Automation Software
When used in tandem, CRM software and customer service automation tools often allow for powerful integrations and data centralization. In an ideal setup, you want existing customer data from your CRM to inform and personalize your customer service interactions, whether those interactions are run by human agents, software/chatbots/AI, or self-guided discovery.
As you look for the right customer service automation tools, prioritize those that integrate with your chosen CRM.
8) Can Be Leveraged Throughout the Entire Customer Journey
Customer support automation isn’t only for speeding up ticket resolutions. Yes, many automated interactions do cluster around customer service processes early in the customer journey, but not all of them do.
When used strategically, automation can be used for more than just problem-solving and troubleshooting. It can also assist with welcoming new customers, onboarding those customers, showcasing new or improved resources, and much more.
9) Gives Younger Buyers Customer Service Across All Your Channels
In the past 15 years, customer service has grown more complex as clients and customers have begun to expect an omnichannel approach. A single-channel call center isn’t enough for most businesses anymore.
Some of this is generational: As many as 40% of millennials and Gen Z members would prefer to interact with a chatbot than a real person “when in a hurry,” much higher than older cohorts.
Still, these younger cohorts won’t be impressed by poor automated experiences, especially if it’s clear the different channels aren’t communicating with each other. An example of this might be a user asking for help with their product on Facebook, and getting an email follow-up that asks what their problem is again.
One of the challenges of a multi- or omnichannel customer support model is tracking customer interactions across multiple channels. The social team might not know what the tech support team has done or said, and vice versa.
Today’s automation solutions offer an answer, making it possible for reps to track conversations and requests across multiple customer service channels (e.g., social media, text-based apps, the marketing website, and ecommerce stores) all in one place.
By pulling in the history from all channels, businesses can provide help without creating repetitive, frustrating experiences.
Potential Risks with Customer Service Automation
As anyone who’s ever yelled “Representative!” into an uncooperative IVR system can attest, customer service automation isn’t a perfect solution. There are risks here, especially when automation tools aren’t implemented well. Consider how to avoid or resolve these risks for your business or team.
1) Can Sound Robotic and Lack Personalization
Fully automated systems can run the risk of sounding inorganic, leading customers to feel somewhat dehumanized themselves. Even when automation is demonstrably faster and better, some users will still crave human interaction.
The warmer and more inviting your automation solutions, the better. And be sure to take whatever opportunities you can to personalize automated messaging. Have reps introduce themselves, use the customers’ names, mention their recent purchase (if relevant), and so on.
2) Requires Technology Savviness or Resources If Automation Breaks
It could be a problem if your existing team of customer service agents doesn’t have the tech-savviness to set up or troubleshoot automation. Typically, implementing automation the right way will require someone on staff or an outside team to be technically savvy enough to diagnose and solve errors. That said, many platforms come with training or a deep knowledge base.
3) Exacerbates Problems When They Arise
When an automated system encounters a problem that it can’t solve, the system must be trained on what to do next. Otherwise, you risk turning a frustrated or confused customer into an angry one.
Automated systems can exacerbate technical problems. For example, if data is being double-counted or messages are being triggered at the wrong time, those problems will continue indefinitely until a human agent notices and intervenes. They may send a cascade of emails to the wrong recipients or incorrectly tag hundreds of tickets at once.
This is especially important in terms of customer perception. Your users and customers tend to be less forgiving to these kinds of visible tech blunders than the sorts of human errors your agents make.
Check out our post dedicated to the pros and cons of automated customer service for a more in-depth breakdown.
Best Practices When Using Customer Support Automation Software
Given both the clear advantages and the risks of customer support automation software, one thing is clear: Businesses have quite a lot riding on the successful setup of these automated systems.
As you consider adding an automated customer support platform to your ecommerce tech stack (or refine the one that’s already in place) consider these best practices for using customer support automation software.
1) Look for Automation Software Designed for Your Business Type
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 are going to happen at a B2B service company.
Different business types require different focuses and software accommodations, so look for an automation software that fits the needs of your business — not someone else’s. For example, at Gorgias, we focus on one business type exclusively: ecommerce. This focus allows us to serve our customers with great precision
2) Implement Live Chat Software Across All Your Support Channels
Live chat produces immense value at relatively low levels of investment. It greatly speeds up a customer’s response time and can seamlessly combine chatbots, automated scripts, and actual live rep interaction, depending on the complexity of the query.
Live chat software can resolve simple queries without human intervention and can kick more complex questions over to a human chat support agent. In some cases, the customer doesn’t even have to know about the handoff.
3) Create Automations That Are Both Proactive and Reactive
Not only should businesses have automations designed to react to customers’ questions, but they should also automate their proactive customer service.
Use email automation to proactively send out materials that customers will enjoy, resources to help them, or incentives to keep them satisfied and coming back. These will require setup from your marketing team, but these sorts of automated email sequences can achieve significant gains with minimal investment.
4) Utilize Automation Only When It Truly Serves Your Customer
Automation isn’t only a cost-cutting measure. Thinking of it this way may lead to customer-unfriendly automations that can quickly damage your company’s reputation. A better approach is to think of it as a customer service enhancement — something to implement in situations where it truly brings value to your customer.
Setting up an automated chat pop-up is a positive example. On a retail website, it can be a great point of first contact. Customers can ask about shipping costs, speed, order status, and perhaps even sale information. These are all queries that a script or bot can be set up to answer, while more complex queries can be sent to a human chat agent. Either way, the customer gets the right answer within seconds or minutes.
On the negative side, IVR systems get a lot of negative feedback, sometimes for good reason. Who hasn’t had a bad experience with a “State your problem or question” voice prompt? If your business gets a wide variety of phone-based support calls, IVR may create more frustration than efficiency. Users may become angrier trying to find the perfect way to speak to the bot and get the system to cooperate.
5) Create Macros, Scripts, and Templates to Scale Your Automation Efforts
Some automation is completely hands-off, relying on a combination of well-written scripts and machine learning to respond to customers. But automation can also help your human agents do more, faster.
Macros, scripts, and templates take upfront planning, but when they’re executed well, they make it easier for your customer service team to scale their efforts. Your team members will be able to respond to common questions and issues at a far greater speed by relying on messages that are mostly prewritten.
Be sure to train your customers to properly understand a customer’s problem before they reach for a script. Otherwise, customers may perceive communication to be canned and unhelpful.
Recommended reading: Customer Service Scripts for Ecommerce Companies
6) Ensure Your Automation Can Direct Customers to a Representative When Needed
There’s nothing more frustrating for a customer than to feel stuck in an automation loop with no way out. It’s crucial to build your automations so that they can connect customers to a human representative when needed.
If your automation can’t solve an issue, ensure that it’s able to send the customer’s message to an actual representative or that it can prompt a rep to respond, such as in a live chat workflow.
7) Choose CS Automation Software Companies That Offer Tech Support and No-Code/Low-Code Options
Implementing customer service automations that require high levels of technical knowledge and attention can be difficult. As a result, more and more customer service software companies are designing their products with non-technical users in mind.
It’s easier now than ever before to find no-code or low-code products that are easy to integrate with existing systems. Gorgias is one tool that takes this approach: It’s easy to implement; integrates with Shopify, Magento, and BigCommerce; and has minimal code requirements.
Need Customer Service Software for Your Ecommerce Store?
Gorgias is a customer service software suite that’s focused on the needs of ecommerce companies. If you’re selling products in an ecommerce store, Gorgias can transform your operations with intelligent helpdesk services, including live chat.