Automated customer service

Automated customer service: Support your customers more efficiently and effectively

Automated customer service isn’t a new concept. We’ve all navigated our fair share of automated phone menus or interacted with support bots to get help.

But much has changed since the early days of automated customer service, both in usability and customer perception. Voice recognition technology has improved, AI solutions can interpret customer feedback, and chatbots have started to answer the questions they receive, not just pass them off to a human. With this increase in functionality comes a change in how customers actually view automation: no longer seen as a form of deflection, automation is now a personalized, efficient option for getting help with their issues.

At Intercom, we strive to deliver automated solutions that empower customers – and that help you to win back precious time for your support team. Our goal is to personalize every experience through automation: to deliver exactly what each customer needs, when they need it, right where they are.

The result? A win-win situation:

  • Customers love automated customer service because it enables them to get the answers they need, in an instant.
  • Support teams love automated customer service because it quickly and efficiently resolves simple customer queries, freeing them up to focus on more complex issues that need a human touch – and which have a significant impact on customer satisfaction and retention.

But how can you implement personalized, automated customer service in your business? Here’s what you need to know.

What is automated customer service?

Automated customer service is a type of support provided by automated technology such as AI-powered chatbots, not humans. Automated customer service works best when customers need answers to recurring straightforward questions, status updates, or help to find a specific resource.

One of the most popular automated customer service options is chatbots. Our bots use machine learning, caring for customers by providing them with links to existing resources like knowledge base articles and FAQs. They can also route customer conversations to the team best equipped to handle their questions and can even provide answers to customer questions like, “How can I add more users?”.

Our bots are now even more powerful, with the ability to quickly and efficiently access data outside of Intercom to provide even more self-serve answers for customers.

Armed with this type of intelligent self-serve support, you can provide faster resolutions for your customers and reduce customer inquiries for your team – without sacrificing a great experience.

5 reasons to incorporate automation into your customer service offering

Over the last decade, live chat has become the standard for companies wanting to offer top-tier support. Chat is faster than email, more personal than traditional knowledge bases, and way less frustrating than shouting into an automated phone system.

For customers who don’t have time to have an in-depth conversation with a support rep, automated support options – like chatbots – mean that you can support customers in any context, whether they’re multi-tasking, in the middle of their work day, or on the go.

“When most simple queries and tasks are handled automatically, it frees up your support reps to spend their valuable time resolving complex queries that require their customer service skills and empathetic touch”

The advantages are significant for your support team too. When most simple queries and tasks are handled automatically, it frees up your support reps to spend their valuable time resolving complex queries that require their customer service skills and empathetic touch.

Here are some of the most impactful benefits of automated customer service that help your customers and your support team to save time and get more done.

1. It allows customers to multi-task

Customers can ask your chatbot a question and read the answer between meetings, or get a link to a helpful article and read it when they have time. There’s no pressure to take action immediately.

2. It empowers customers to choose the option that fits their needs

Some customers love rolling up their sleeves and digging into help center articles, while some customers aren’t interested in more than a quick scan. Serving both types is key. And if they need more help, your customers can still follow up with a support rep. With both live chat and automation in your arsenal, you can truly meet your customers anywhere and at any time they need you.

“Automated support options – like chatbots – mean that you can support customers in any context, whether they’re multi-tasking, in the middle of their work day, or on the go”

3. It helps you to reduce costs and save money

No matter what size support team you have, automation lets you scale your successes. With automated customer service, you can provide more support and resolve more customer queries without needing to increase your headcount or burn out the hardworking support team you already have. This means you can ensure an excellent customer experience and a positive employee experience, all while saving money.

4. It routes the right questions to the right people

Automation rules allow customer questions that can’t be answered by a chatbot to instantly be routed to the right person and team (such as your sales team), ensuring there’s no confusion over who handles what or which questions have already been answered.

5. It improves your support team’s efficiency

When implemented well, automated customer service allows businesses to help more customers at scale without drastically growing headcount. This, in turn, can also free your support team up to apply their customer service skills to more complex queries – like emotionally-charged complaints, VIP queries, and tricky troubleshooting issues – that require a human touch. The speed and cost and time savings can be game-changers for your business… but only if you implement those solutions thoughtfully.

Caring for customers with automation that feels personal

A 2020 study by Smart Insights stated that 63% of customers will stop buying from brands who offer poor personalization tactics, so it’s essential to make sure your automation still feels personal.

That takes time and thoughtfulness. You have to make sure to strike the right balance to avoid having your personalization come across as creepy. It’s great when websites suggest support articles before you reach out to support and chatbots offer resources based on the page you’re viewing. But a chatbot using data enrichment tools to address a customer by name is probably not a good idea if this is their first visit to your site.

At Intercom, we work hard to balance automation and personalization in two critical areas of customer service: issue resolution and customer routing.

Solve customer issues quickly (sometimes instantly)

When a customer writes in, the most personal thing we can do is respect their time and get them an answer as quickly as possible. Automation helps us do that in the following ways:

  • Our customer service chatbot Resolution Bot can answer their question immediately – and in some cases, before they even finish typing. This allows the customer to resolve their own issues by selecting the suggestion that addresses their concern. Or if customers can’t find the answer they need, they can choose to get routed to a support specialist.
  • We also use a Task Bot that can look at keywords in the customer’s message and suggest matching articles – but only if it detects that the user hasn’t visited the Help Center in the previous 15 minutes. If they have, the articles likely didn’t address the person’s question. In that case, redirecting them back to a resource they’ve already seen is probably more frustrating than helpful.
  • Offer customers even more ways to self-serve using custom actions and custom objects. Custom Actions allow you to build no-code integrations to get live data and take actions in your external systems, while custom objects provide more flexibility to model your customer data in a way that makes sense for your business. 

“When customers write in, the most personal thing we can do is respect their time and get them to an answer as quickly as possible”

Of course, there will be questions that our chatbots won’t be able to, or shouldn’t, address due to their nature, and we direct those conversations to our support reps. Designing bots to always direct users to the Help Center, a forum, or some other form of self-service, would be the most efficient workflow for our support team, but is a prime example of impersonal automation that doesn’t respect the customers’ time.

Even when Resolution Bot can answer a customer’s question, it’ll always check if they got what they needed. If not, the customer can talk to a human.

Offering access to a human is how we stay personalized while avoiding the dreaded “I can’t answer that” chatbot loop, where a customer gets stuck asking questions to an unhelpful chatbot and can’t find an “escape hatch” to duck through to talk to a real person.

Pro tip: Can you imagine having to translate advice from a customer support team on top of dealing with an already frustrating situation? If your product is available in multiple languages, you should consider adding multilingual support to keep the entire experience personal. We know that 70% of customers are more loyal to companies that support them in their native language, so this functionality will go a long way with your customers. Our Resolution Bot can offer solutions in 38 different languages to provide an experience that’s truly tailored to them.

Contextual customer routing

The other area where we heavily apply automation is customer routing. For conversations not addressed by a chatbot, our assignment rules take care of routing nearly half of conversations to the right place, with the rest routed to an escalation inbox monitored by our team.

Automated customer service customer routing

What this “right place” looks like varies, so our assignment rules consider the customer’s history with us (if there is one) and decide where they should go to get the help they need. This is how we keep routing personal: we take into account multiple factors – not just account spend – to determine where our customer should go. These factors include:

  • Message keywords
  • Products in use
  • Company type
  • Page URL
  • Customer tenure

For instance, if someone starts a conversation from our Developer Hub or their message contains technical words like “python” that clearly indicate a technical topic, we know they will likely benefit most from talking to our Customer Support Engineers (CSEs). Not only does this save our team time by automating the number of manual escalations up to technical CSEs, but it inherently respects the customer’s time, removing an unnecessary touch from a non-technical resource and getting the customer in front of the person that is best equipped to handle their question, shortening resolution time.

Automated customer service drives results

Using instant resolution and contextual routing has led to some pretty big wins for our support team. Here are some specifics:

  • Our rate of automated resolution (ROAR) is about 4.5%. This means 4.5% of all customer issues are resolved without a human being involved.
  • 75% of our automated resolutions come from Resolution Bot, while the remaining 25% come from suggested articles.
  • 60% of our routed conversations land in the right inbox on the first try. This is something we’re constantly working to improve, both for our support team and our customers.

While a 4.5% ROAR might sound low, it’s actually a pretty huge number for us that equates to significant annual cost savings. 4.5% is also on par with B2B companies like ours that tend to see more complex questions from customers.

B2C companies can get their ROAR up to 10-20%, since many of their questions are far more transactional in nature and thus are more easily resolved by automation. We’ve seen customers for whom Resolution Bot resolves 33% of the queries it gets involved in and improves customer response time by 44%.

When automated customer service isn’t the right solution

Ultimately, there are some situations where automation isn’t useful. This is usually when you’re in a situation where you can’t personalize the kind of customer service you’re offering. This might be because you don’t have the necessary context on your customer to treat them individually.

Or it could be because your current chatbot can’t interpret that information to make the appropriate routing decisions, like sending customers knowledge base links or automatically routing them to a member of your support team. In these situations – when it’s not personalized – automation becomes a blocker instead of a valid support method.

Here’s what we mean by a blocker: think back to the hours-long phone calls with your cable provider or bank. Have you ever yelled “customer service” into a phone five times, trying to get to a human being? By the time the phone menu gives up on trying to resolve your issue, you were probably too frustrated to properly articulate what your problem was.

“When it’s not personalized – automation becomes a blocker instead of a valid support method. What you needed in that situation was an ‘escape hatch’”

What you needed in that situation was an “escape hatch.” Therein lies the danger of poorly implemented automation. If your customers get blocked by a chatbot or get routed to the wrong team, they’ll be just as frustrated as they were when you yelled at that phone menu. But this time, the risk is even greater, since it’s so much easier to cancel, tell friends about your unhelpful support, or both.

Poor personalization can turn satisfied customers sour, to the point that they cancel their account and take their business to your competitors. Or they may instead lose faith in your automation and turn to your human support options, increasing the need for staff and raising your associated costs. It’s a lose-lose situation.

3 times you shouldn’t use automation

1. Customers with sensitive issues

Requests for upgrades or cancellations should be answered by a human. When a customer is trying to give you money, you can’t allow a chatbot to jeopardize the relationship before it even begins. If they’re thinking about canceling, poor automation might make any negative feelings even worse, or ruin any chance at saving the relationship.

2. High-touch customers

Customers with lots of questions, and those who need hand-holding through difficult processes or explanations, would benefit from working with a human. Most of the time, these folks are more than willing to wait for a person to talk to if they know they’ll get the help they need.

3. New customers or trials

Your newest converts might end your relationship early if they find themselves continually blocked by chatbots, no matter how “helpful.” Make sure you also provide opportunities to talk to a human during the onboarding process.

To prevent issues with these three types of customers, consider maintaining a list of questions that you don’t allow to be answered by automation. Customers who ask about pricing, who are identified as at-risk or “high-touch,” or trial users can be automatically routed to a team member for assistance. Though AI is learning to handle complex problems, for the time being, these customers will get the best service possible if you send them to a human, not a bot.

Automated customer service is a crucial part of your support strategy

Automation empowers you to scale your customer service and provide customers with the answers they need, when they need them. But it’s only one piece of the puzzle for delivering fast, personal support to your customers at the scale your business needs.

“On its own, automation won’t solve all of your customers’ problems – it needs to be supported by a strong knowledge base and answers from your support team”

On its own, automation won’t solve all of your customers’ problems – it needs to be supported by a strong knowledge base and answers from your support team. But with the right tools and resources, you can see major wins – and a significant return on investment.

Without those resources backing it up, your bots will do little more than annoy customers who are desperately trying to seek solutions to their problems.

To ensure your automated customer service is efficient and effective, you need a thoughtful, cohesive strategy that provides customers with the right kind of help they need, exactly when they need it. Happier, more loyal customers – and a more productive team – await.

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