“Speak with a representative.”
“Speak with a representative!”
We’ve all had that customer-service moment where we’re stuck in an automated loop of chaos, and all we want is to connect with a real (and if it’s not asking too much, empathetic) human being to answer our question. The problem with engaging a digital brand or startup is that, oftentimes, customers don’t know who—or what—they are talking to.
Widespread adoption of online-centric companies, products and services has pushed a primarily automated customer-service experience to the forefront for many brands. Despite the buzz around communication channels powered by social interactions, live chat, chat bots and artificial intelligence, this doesn’t mean that your customer-service team has to be—or should be—anonymous and powered by bots.
It’s easy to see why brands are increasingly adopting a digital approach: It enables customer-service reps to handle multiple cases at once through online channels like chat or social media, instead of a single one via phone. Or, automated technology like chat bots can eliminate the need of a human altogether.
An entirely digital approach often fails to deliver the immediacy and sincerity of a real human being, which many customers still want. At Haven Life, an online platform for buying term life insurance, our phone line is the most preferred customer channel.
As any customer-service team knows, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to providing an optimal experience: Every customer is different, as is their reason for seeking assistance and their level of familiarity and preference for technology. Even the most digitally-savvy customers still want a non-automated way to speak to a representative if need be. As such, brands should continue to emphasize their customer-service resources that can understand, adapt and react appropriately: humans.
Know the situation
When deciding whether an automated approach or a human touch is needed in the customer-service experience, it’s imperative to take a look at the product you’re selling or the service you offer.
For example, brands working in industries that require intimate data points for a decision, like life insurance or home loans, have a responsibility to offer thoughtful responses as to why questions are asked or to offer reassurance when frustrations arise.
Particularly when a product or service has large financial implications (buying a home or a car) or a significant impact on loved ones (life insurance or medical treatment), conversations between customer and customer service are far from standard. The idea that a bot can fully comprehend every question correctly, and in real time, without exacerbating the situation is not realistic (at least, not yet). Automation in these touchpoints simply cannot provide the white-glove experience these types of consumers need.
Know when to automate
The initial presence of a human isn’t always necessary to provide a satisfactory customer-service experience. Consider a ride-sharing service handling refund requests using a submission form through an application: Users are able to submit a request with a couple of thumb taps, and they are alerted via email when the request has been processed—a quick and convenient method for both brand and consumer.
These types of scenarios, in which the customer-service tasks are somewhat administrative in nature, are terrific opportunities for brands to use digital and automated means to serve their customers.
Also, be sure to set up internal service-level agreements for response timeframes—at Haven Life, ours is 1.5 hours for most emails—in order to ensure that customers are getting the information they need in a quick and efficient manner.
Brands can also use automation for repetitive tasks, like reminder emails or marketing prompts, which allow your customer-service representatives to focus on more pressing issues while still keeping customers engaged. There are marketing tools available that enable brands to issue these types of communications in a way that feels personal, saving precious time while giving the customer that highly desired level of individualization. Customer.io is a tool that we use to create behavioral and transactional campaigns and send strategically timed, personalized emails to customers.
Additionally, we rely heavily on automation and our online knowledge base (frequently asked questions) in order to optimize the purchasing experience. We are there for the customer when they want or need help, but we also provide them with tools and information in case they prefer the digital method.
In fact, 70 percent of our customers don’t even speak with a CSR throughout the process. Over time, our team was able to identify and anticipate what issues and questions that may come up at different points of the customer journey, so we were able to automate certain prompts or responses—like a pop-up chat message if a customer spends a certain amount of time in one place on your website, or informational hovers on application questions—in a way that makes the customer feel as if they are being personally contacted.
Think digital human
For us at Haven Life, we’ve found that the optimal customer-service experience is a steady mix of automation, digital and human connection. No matter which digital channel a customer uses to contact us—online chat, email, website form fill or social media—we also have a phone line that connects directly to customer service for those who desire the immediacy and reassurance of a human voice on the other end.
Even simply having multiple options for customer contact—and letting them choose which they prefer—builds trust because you enable the customer to engage you in a way that is comfortable to them.
We also make every effort to provide a personalized experience through digital channels so that it does not feel robotic to the customer. Just because you can’t hear the person’s voice you’re talking to does not mean that you should feel like you’re engaging with a machine.
When our customers contact us via live chat, we are often asked, “Are you a real person?” to which they are relieved to know they are actually communicating with a human. In fact, I have also been confused for a very sophisticated and thorough bot because customers generally don’t expect a real person to be typing back from the other side of the computer screen.
While there isn’t a cookie-cutter approach to customer service, what’s clear is that as businesses become more digital and automated, human customer support and care is still a key to delighting customers.
We’re all adjusting to the on-demand economy and the need for instant gratification for our questions, problems or service expectations. Despite most daily transactions coming through digital means today—a food order on Seamless, a taxi request on Uber, or a bill paid to a credit card—there’s extra satisfaction for consumers in knowing that they can still speak to someone instantly if needed. Combining digital convenience with human confidence should provide a sense of value and show customers that they matter, while still allowing your business to capitalize on the benefits of digital enhancements to your brand.
Paya Schlass is a customer-success representative at online life insurance startup Haven Life.