Customer service is an integral part of any online business, having a direct impact on brand reputation and revenue. Happy customers lead to higher customer retention rates, decrease in customer turnover, high Net Promoter Scores, and organic marketing and sales growth.
Seamless customer support is critical to ensuring buyer satisfaction and encourages repeat sales, which is why business longevity often relies on it so heavily. This is where automation plays an integral role - many tasks in the customer support process can nowadays be automated, ensuring fast customer service that is available 24/7 to provide seamless support.
Research done by Salesforce on the state of customer experience says that as many as 76% of consumers are increasingly willing to take their business elsewhere - the rise of online shopping has brought increased competition and elevated customer expectations.
E-commerce trade has seen explosive growth in recent years, and this shift has been accelerated even further by the Covid-19 pandemic. Online sales in June 2020 saw global growth rates of 76% Year-over-Year due to store closures and people ordering online to avoid physical contact.
And where seamless customer service is even more important than ever is online shopping. For example, let’s take e-commerce giants Aliba, Amazon, eBay - all dealing with extremely high volumes of orders and refund claims. They wouldn’t be able to provide the same level of service without automation. And of course, automation isn’t just for large companies.
Providing excellent customer care is increasingly important and essential to the success of any business. And in order to deal with the volume of orders, increased competition, and higher customer expectations - improving your customer service with automation can be a life-saver. With the widespread adoption of technology this can now be easily done.
Automated customer service is a method of support that is provided by an automated system in order to provide 24/7 service. It is in place to assist human support, reduce cost and increase delivery speed. However, it should never replace human customer support, and instead should be combined with it.
Customer service automation started in the 1960s already, when first now known as “call centres” were created. Automatic Call Distributor (ACD) technology used algorithms to redirect calls to the right person, determining which agent received which call to handle a higher number of customer contacts.
After the creation of the Internet in the 1990s, everything else started to take off - customer data tracking, emails, social networks, live chat, and FAQ pages - combined with the rapid adoption of digital trends created a highly disruptive business environment with increased competition and higher customer expectations.
One of the most used ways of customer service automation is chatbots that use either keyword search or AI and machine learning. Automated support can also include preloaded email responses and “Frequently Asked Questions” sites.
With the invention of live chat, it quickly became one of the most popular ways of communication with consumers due to the speed and ease of use.
Keyword chatbots, also known as “rule-based” chatbots, follow predefined rules and can answer frequently asked questions. Within the chat, after a customer writes their request, multiple relevant options are offered to them based on that keyword, to choose from that fits their needs.
AI and machine learning chatbots, also known as “deep-learning” chatbots. They use algorithms to follow all past human conversations and learn everything from this data to replicate human conversations. The more data and time, the more effective it will be.
For example, with N26 bank chatbot app, it is safe to say they have an excellent part automated customer help system. With a simple query, I receive multiple relevant options to choose from around the topic. In case none of these are relevant, I am automatically given an option to be redirected to a human agent, who is more than happy to help me out with whatever issue I might be dealing with.
A complete, thorough and up-to-date FAQ page is an extremely helpful tool to lower the workload for human agents and allow them to easily find answers to commonly asked questions. It is important to keep in mind, however, that these can not replace human agents, but should only be used as complementary help to agents.
Following the 80/20 Pareto rule, these statistics can also be applied to FAQs - 80% of customer questions are often related to the same 20% of the issues. Therefore, detailed FAQ pages can have a huge impact on the efficiency of customer service, as it frees up time to deal with the more complicated 20% of the issues, allowing a better service overall.
Preloaded emails in customer service use Natural Language Processing to scan the customer issue in hand, and creates a template for the email response automatically. This helps to avoid typing up the same answers and saves time. These can then be quickly edited to give it a customized touch before sending. Even though automated, they can be so efficient when done right and given a personal touch.
Customer support on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, which are also two of the most popular providers, allow businesses to answer customer queries via their chat. Similar to chatbots, this can be automated with keyword or AI and machine learning capabilities.
What is more, social media marketing automation is a useful tool to automate customer service and grow your business even further. This means using a program to automate social media posting and sharing content across several platforms, which can take up quite a lot of time for social media managers and can free up time for more creative work.
Omnichannel “commerce everywhere” retail strategy has been gaining popularity over recent years. Consumers now expect to be able to shop at every possible outlet. The same applies to customer service - they expect omnichannel customer support as well.
Consumers want support to be provided on every possible channel: via call center, website, SMS, social media, email, live-chat and knowledge bases. A study conducted by the Aberdeen Group found that companies with good omnichannel support had an average customer retention rate of 89%, vs. astonishingly low 33% for those without.
What is more, the Northridge Group’s State of Customer Service Report 2020 reveals that customers also expect a reply between only 15 min or at least under 60 min, before trying to connect via a different channel. Therefore, focus on customer retention is more important than ever. Here you can find out more about how to optimize customer value and keep your customers coming back.
Small and medium-sized businesses may struggle to have enough workforce to keep up with this expectation, and larger companies in contrast with extremely high requests may struggle to provide a personal response for each request. Therefore, automating parts of the customer service processes is essential in order to meet the ever-increasing demands and expectations of today’s consumers.
That said, let's have a look below at how to improve your customer service with automation and crucial mistakes to avoid.
Seamless customer service leads to high customer satisfaction rates, strong consumer trust, low return rates, higher sales and organic growth. However, as with everything, there are upsides and downsides. So, let's do a little deep-dive where automation is useful, whether the positives outweigh the negatives and best use-cases.
As with everything new, areas of improvement exist. The same applies for automation - I’m sure that each one of you has been already frustrated (I know I have) with a chatbot that isn’t functioning properly, telling you the wrong thing over and over, and over again, without giving you the option to speak to a real person. This can leave customers frustrated and can result in losing a high share of customers and sales.
On the contrary, poor customer service and badly implemented automation can lead to low customer satisfaction, lost consumer trust, higher returns and slow delivery times, and all of this can lead to lost sales and lost market share.
A little tip: stock delivery times can also be improved with automation, to provide a holistic customer experience: e-commerce shipping automation is another great example of how automation is used in e-commerce to speed up repetitive tasks and make processes more efficient.
Below we deep-dive into areas where automation isn’t fully supported and some tips to avoid these situations. It is important to keep these things in mind and only use automation where it makes most sense.
For some cases, human interactions are always the best and only choice. For example, more difficult and frustrated customers should always be handled by a human agent, as bots aren’t developed enough to deal with this level of interaction or have empathy towards customers.
It is still best suited for operational and repetitive tasks, e.g. searching for an answer from large amounts of data to provide the most suitable answer, automatically rerouting a customer request to an agent, or guiding them to the FAQ page if applicable.
With all the expectations that small and medium sized businesses have to compete against, smaller companies can “win” in front of their competitors with excellent levels of customer service and transparency - 7 out of 10 US customers say they are willing to spend more if excellent care is provided. On top of this, processes and operational costs are different depending on the size of the business.
Smaller companies have to make the right choices regarding which parts of the support process to automate. For example, a large e-com company such as Amazon may afford to provide an automated instant refund process, but due to smaller scale operations, it may not work the same way for SMEs. For example, responding immediately to a query with an automated and customized email is already a good start in providing speed efficiency.
Customer support is actually one of the main use cases for AI across industries. Therefore, online trade is also one of the main sectors that automation could be put to use: refund processing, product queries, parcel shipping and payments.
It’s extremely important to keep the human support. For example, for cases where an insurance claim is made and needs to be solved with the judgement of a human agent, or a serious complaint that could result in a lawsuit, that needs human judgement. There are always going to be situations where customers need face-to-face support and with all the automation, customers still crave in-person communication.
We all know how frustrating it can be not to get through to a human agent, if you have a specific problem. Going overboard and automating each step of the customer service process is a bad idea, as it can leave them frustrated when the answer isn’t found through auto-responses.
All in all, businesses should consider all the above in order to make the right decision for them. At the end of the day, automation only makes sense if it helps to improve the KPIs and most crucial and important metrics, whether it is operational costs or faster response times.
Kadi is a senior consultant advising clients in the Retail & Consumer Goods industry regarding e-commerce and online operations. She has got several years of experience in working at large Fashion & Retail companies across the UK and Germany. She loves finding ways to help customers grow and enjoys contributing with helpful content and thought leadership articles around e-commerce.