Social Customer-Service Automation: Too Good, or Too Good to Be True?

Now that we are faced with walking the fine line between human interaction and the promise of automation, what’s a brand to do? Here are a couple things to think about:

Staying ahead of the curve of ever-evolving technologies can feel like a feat. What may be a game-changer at one moment can quickly turn into old news in the matter of months, weeks or even days. We live in an era when the next best technology is literally around the corner.

It’s exhausting just trying to keep up. However, I feel some trends are here to stay–at least, for a little while. One such trend is the role social media plays in the realm of customer service.

I believe social media can be a brand’s best ally when it’s specifically used to address customer wants, needs, questions, concerns and expectations–all in real-time.

Social media is where the vast majority of consumers now spend a good chunk of their day. So it only makes sense that many brands have followed suit, shifting the bulk of their customer-service efforts toward social media by leveraging new technologies that allow them to simplify, streamline and automate customer interactions.

Consider that Facebook Messenger had zero chat bots in February 2016, and it now has more than 34,000.

That all sounds great, right? For me, not entirely. The idea of fully automating customer interactions raises a bit of a red flag. Here’s why: I’ve talked a lot in the past about technology only being as good as the humans behind it. I firmly believe this still holds true, even though social media is quickly becoming the go-to platform for next-generation customer-service efforts.

Sure, the automation of certain simple tasks–like providing flight status, compiling customer information and sending out product order updates–is incredibly helpful. Not only does this sort of automation allow brands to better scale their customer-service efforts, but it also reduces the amount of time that an actual human has to waste on doing things that machines are more than capable of handling on their own.

But there are times when chat bots (and their other automated counterparts) can’t get to the heart of what a customer really needs. In fact, these tools can often make a customer interaction feel a bit impersonal or cold.

This is the very reason why that irreplaceable human touch still must play an important role in customer service today. It’s human nature for us–especially when we have a need that’s not being met–to want to know that there’s someone on the other end who hears what we’re saying, can empathize with us and will work hard to find a solution for whatever we need. In all honesty, that’s the true definition of customer service.

However, let’s keep this in mind: Research we conducted showed that 63 percent of consumers will reach out to a call center as a very last resort. This number increases even more for millennial consumers.

Generally speaking, people no longer have the patience to endure long wait times, get transferred from one service representative to another or end up talking to someone who’s obviously reading from a script–and still, after all of this, not get their issue resolved.

Although we may look to social media and all of the new technologies surrounding it as the answer for overcoming some of these more analog customer-service obstacles, it’s important to keep in mind that relying purely on automation technologies could easily put customer-service teams back into the same “scripted-response” trap. Why? Because technology alone can and should never be a full-stop replacement for real human interaction in customer service.

So, now that we are faced with walking the fine line between human interaction and the promise of automation, what’s a brand to do? Here are a couple things to think about:

  • Define parameters: Essentially, you need to ask yourself: “What warrants a human vs. tech interaction?” Once you’ve identified what queries fall into each camp, it’ll be a lot easier for you to make technology (and social media) work harder for your customer-service efforts. It may take a few tries before you find that sweet spot, so be sure to build in a feedback loop and refine as you go. Remember, what may work for one brand or product may be a complete miss for another. Taking a templatized approach just won’t work. Instead, focus on what your customers need from you, as well as how you can best use technology or your customer-service teams to address those specific needs.
  • Embrace an “air-traffic control” mentality: The beauty of all of this new technology is that it can intelligently route queries based on the parameters you’ve specified above, or even automate certain parts of the interaction before being routed to a living, breathing human being. The right tools can save your customer service teams a lot of time and energy by helping to gather essential information about a given query before passing the customer along to an actual person. Even better, it can all feel seamless.

Identifying when to deploy human interaction vs. an automated response may feel like a bit of a balancing act at first. The brands that eventually find that sweet spot will be best-positioned to increase agent efficiency, reduce response times and improve overall customer satisfaction. It really all comes down to keeping your customers’ best interests at heart. When you make this a priority, everything else will fall into place.

Katy Keim is chief marketing officer of social customer-service management provider Lithium Technologies.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.