Which Parts of Customer Support Should you Automate?

Illustrator: Adan Augusto
customer support automation

Decades ago, customer support wasn’t too complex to set up.

When a company needed to offer support to its customers, it would just hire customer support agents, open up a call center, and then keep making other minor tweaks along the way. Oh, and send a product manual with all shipments.

The internet changed all of that.

Product manuals turned into exhaustive FAQs and knowledge bases.

And customer support agents started getting a lot of help from technology. Chatbots, IVRs, automated responses, and many other technologies revolutionized the way we do customer support.

But there are pitfalls. Let’s see why.

The Right Framework To Automate Customer Support

In customer support, more automation doesn’t necessarily mean a better experience. 

We don’t know how far technology will get in the future. But as it stands now, an AI chatbot or an automated email response can’t solve all customers’ problems.

So, think about your customers for a second.

They have an issue, and they are trying to get in touch with your company.

If they have to:

  • Browse aimlessly through support articles without finding an answer to their problem;
  • Struggle to find a way to contact your support agents;
  • Get automated responses for their queries that don’t address the issue at hand;
  • Wait around for hours or even days for a response;

You’re either automating ineffectively, or you just need better support.

Either way, something’s very clear — automation for the sake of automation can actually diminish the customer experience. Just because a chatbot MAY send the right response, three messages in a row doesn’t mean you can rely on the bot for all queries.

Luckily, there’s a workaround.

Using both human and machine resources side by side is the way to go. This way, you’re making the most out of automation while still maintaining a human touch for complex or niched queries.

And to understand how to pull that off, it’s important to understand what automation CAN’T do.

The Limitations Of Automation

The most obvious thing automation can’t do is offer customers a human touch during the support process.

I know that sounds vague, so let me explain.

When customers need support, they don’t want to experiment with a new automation tool or fill in a few questionnaires for a machine to figure out what they need. That might be more effective for you, the business owner. But it’s not the most convenient for them.

What customers do usually want is to get in touch with a human being that can understand their complex issues and fix them.

That’s what the human touch is about.

Sometimes, that an unfair expectation of your support agents. Customer support lines are often bombarded with menial questions and issues that can be solved easily with a read-through of one very clear support article. In other words, problems that a computer could solve pretty easily.

But not always. A lot of time, the need for the human touch in support is very justified, which leads me to the second point I want to make — automation as we know it today is limited. Chatbots, IVRs, and automated responses cannot solve complex issues or niched technical problems.

Sure, a chatbot can crawl your knowledge base to find the keywords a customer used, but that doesn’t guarantee a right answer. For all you know, the customer might have a problem you’ve never seen before.

These are the main limitations of automation in support. With these in mind, let’s see how automation can work in tandem with a good human support team.

The Best Ways To Automate Customer Support

Before you read our tips, keep in mind that this is just what works for us. What we’ll outline here is generally good, but that doesn’t mean all of our tips will positively affect your business, at least not to the same extent.

Some of these may not even be applicable to all businesses.

But most of you will offer better, faster support if you:

1. Integrate Chatbots the Smart Way

The most common pitfall of chatbots is spamming site visitors or using chatbots when they’re not needed. 

Here’s the thing — chatbots should make the user experience as frictionless as possible, and that is one of the benefits of using chatbots. If they make visitors fill in too much information, or if they’re taking over the conversation more than they should, your users won’t be happy.

For us, we’ve seen the best results by using chatbots to gather crucial information about what users need and then deliver that information to customer support agents when they enter the conversation.

2. Retain and Use Information About Your Customers

When we onboard new customers on our platform, we have them fill in a short survey about their experience. This is helpful for onboarding, as we can send them the right information to get started successfully. But this information is also stored and used to deliver support more effectively to everyone. For example, we send different starting resources to customers based on their survey answers.

You can extrapolate and use this practice to help your support processes, even if an onboarding survey isn’t ideal for your business. Storing and delivering information to support agents is extremely helpful — and it’s something you should automate.

3. Qualifying Support Queries

Your customers probably don’t know how your support resources are structured. They won’t know where to find support articles, and they have no way of contacting a specific department in your company.

That’s where automation — either via chatbots, surveys, or IVRs — can come in handy.

You can use these systems to gain basic information about your customers, like the nature of their issue, the product type they’re using, and other similar data. Then you can connect them with the right department and offer support agents the information they need to solve the problem effectively.

Plus, if you use a chatbot, you can also suggest the most relevant articles beforehand and maybe even solve the issue that way. 

Parts Of Customer Support You Shouldn’t (Totally) Automate

A good rule of thumb for what not to automate is this:

Don’t touch any parts of customer support where customers expect human interaction. Any technical issue, for example, should immediately be flagged by your system, and support from a human should be delivered as soon as possible. By contrast, customers inquiring about “refunds” would probably appreciate a support article detailing the process.

The same principles apply to long phone trees. Don’t rely on IVRs for everything. Similarly, you shouldn’t try to automate long and complex processes.

It’s always advisable to start with the biggest time sinkers, like repetitive requests and common questions, and then adapt from there.

How To Automate Customer Support Effectively

If you weren’t sure which parts of customer support you should automate, hopefully now have a good starting point. Chatbots and IVRs are great, but they should be used smartly. Not to mention, they’re just the flashy, customer-facing parts of automation.

Creating systems that deliver information to your agents can be ten times more impactful. Just don’t overdo it by automating tasks meant for humans.

Oh, and make sure you use the right tools for the job. Besides chatbots, you can also consider apps like Zapier to automate your processes. And if you want to take it a step further, don’t forget to also update your marketing toolset with the best online marketing tools. If you’re on WordPress, start with performance optimization, and look into WP Rocket.