How to Automate Support Without Losing the Human Touch

One of the most important debates in contemporary customer service centres is how to automate support without losing that all-important human touch. While it’s not an easy question to answer, we believe there are a number of things you can do to ensure you strike the right balance.

  1. Recognise that different tasks require different skills

Humans are very good at simplifying complex problems into binary either/or choices. It’s either good or bad. Black or white. Automation or human agents. In reality, solutions to complex problems are not one or the other but a carefully considered combination of the two. This is particularly true when it comes to the AI/human agent debate.

In most organisations, there are tasks that require speed, efficiency and accuracy and there are tasks that require nuance and empathy. AI is better suited to the former and human agents to the latter.

To ensure that you’re automating tasks without losing the human touch, it’s necessary to establish what qualities customers prioritise when performing certain tasks. Trying to find out the opening hours for your local store? The speed and efficiency of automating technology is ideal. Making complex enquiries about the care provided to an elderly relative? The empathy and understanding offered by a human agent is the best option.

How to Automate Support Without Losing the Human Touch

Of course, many tasks will benefit from some automation and some human agency. To help you establish how much of each element is required, it may be handy to draw up a sliding scale with ‘Automation’ at one end and ‘Human Agent’ at the other. You can then place various tasks on this scale depending on the division of labour they require.

Though relatively simple, this type of scale is a useful reminder that different tasks require a different balance between automation and human agents. It’s also a good reference when planning automation projects.

  1. Greater automation, greater personalisation

Recent studies show that 75% of online customers feel frustrated when a website does not personalise ads, emails and offers. Customers want services to be more personalised and to reflect their unique human needs and desires and automation technologies have a vital role to play in giving the people what they want.

As they’re able to gather, process and analyse data on a scale and at a speed that’s impossible for human agents to match, automation technologies can be used to ensure that customers benefit from this personalised, human touch.

  1. Don’t replace human agents, empower them

Rather than thinking of automation technologies as being better than human agents (or vice versa), organisations should be looking at ways these two tools can complement, enrich and empower each other. Rather than perceiving the AI revolution as an antagonistic automation vs agents scenario, we should be looking at ways we can collaborate to improve both resources.

How to Automate Support Without Losing the Human Touch

With human agents, this means putting AI and automation technologies to use to increase the amount of information and data available to individual employees, as well as making us more efficient by relieving us of simpler, repetitive tasks that don’t make use of our full capabilities. Technology like IVR and chatbots should be used to free up agents to focus on those nuanced tasks that require a complex, nuanced and human approach.

By allowing human agents to focus their time, attention and abilities on those tasks that truly require them, automation technologies can actually make certain aspects of customer service provision even more human.

  1. Ensure your machines are learning, too

On the flip side, humans have a great deal to teach machines and will also play a key role in unlocking their full potential. This relationship is most clearly expressed in machine learning, Natural Language Processing (NLP) and sentiment analysis technologies. Over the next few years, these technologies will play an increasingly important role in bringing a human touch to AI applications – chatbot services, in particular.

These developments in AI allow machines to develop increasingly subtle and complex understandings of human speech and written text. While their application depends on a great deal of expertise and experience, they will be key to ensuring key automation technologies are able to replicate some key human qualities.

  1. Invest in people

Chatbots, IVR and self-serve technologies are all cost-effective means of improving first contact resolution rates and providing excellent customer services. By cutting costs, they’re able to free up capital that can then be invested in developing the skills and talents of your human resources. This means investing in your staff so that they’re better equipped to fulfil those roles that require human intelligence, understanding and nuance.

Hiring the right people and upskilling your existing workforce is key to retaining that human touch. After all, just because you’re able to put a human agent on the end of the phone doesn’t mean that they can provide a satisfactory response to complex enquiries. Anyone that’s had a bad experience with a call centre knows that human agents don’t always provide the best customer service. If your organisation can leverage AI and automation technologies to make savings that allow for greater investment in employee personal development, you’ll go a long way to ensuring you retain the human touch.

How to Automate Support Without Losing the Human Touch

  1. Automation must benefit the customer

Finally, it’s always a good idea to approach automation from the customer’s perspective. While it’s easy to implement this type of technology in a way that benefits your organisation (by cutting costs, helping to hit targets and reducing the strain on human agents), it’s of no use if it doesn’t improve the customer experience.

In this respect, it’s important to remember that automation technology that does not improve the customer experience will always leave customers bemoaning the lack of human interaction. On the other hand, customers whose lives are made easier by self-serve tools will rarely complain about the absence of human agents.

What Next?

If organisations are to continue automating their customer service support without losing their human touch, we believe it’s necessary to move away from a perspective that positions self-serve technologies and human agents as in opposition to one another. Instead, we need to begin looking at automation technologies as a means of augmenting and enhancing human capabilities to create a system that’s quicker, more accurate and more efficient but also better able to deliver when it comes to tasks that require emotional intelligence and nuance.

If you’d like to find out more about what this looks like for your organisation, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our expert advisors.

Have a question or want further information on improving customer service using automation? Our expert team have been providing customer contact solutions for over 25 years. Call us on 01344 595800 or drop us a line.