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Astute's SVP of Marketing Shellie Vornhagen discusses how automation is helping deliver unforgettable customer experiences and improve businesses' bottom line.

One hundred years ago, it was the lightbulb. Fifty years ago, it was the fax machine. Ten years ago, it was mobile, and just five years ago, it was social media.

There have always been new technologies on the horizon that impact how we do business, requiring us to reconsider and often completely rethink our approach to delivering unforgettable customer experiences. Today, it’s automation, and it’s no longer just on the horizon—automation has arrived as part of the digital transformation affecting industries and organizations across the globe, of every size and scope.

The growth of automation in some sectors raised concerns about whether this technology will help or hinder the human worker, so much so that they might be out of a job. But the demise of the human employee has been exaggerated, especially within customer service. Even though consumers often prefer to search for information on their own, many still want to engage directly with a human support agent when their issue is complex or frustrating. And even though that might sound like a challenge to agents, automation and artificial intelligence (AI) can help enhance their skills and improve their overall efficiency in the call center.

By automating self-service across consumers’ chosen channels, empowering agents with interaction details and insights, and analyzing collected customer data to make insight-driven strategic business decisions, these formerly far-fetched solutions will be critical to the evolution of customer service towards more personalized experiences on any channel, at every level.

Support Anytime, Anywhere

Self-service is one of the largest growing sectors of customer engagement and a major focus area for businesses. Across every channel, demand is increasing for fully engaged, fast and accurate support from skilled professionals. However, it can be nearly impossible to staff a call center to meet this growing demand while maintaining quality of care. And in some cases, a good or bad experience can be the only discernible differentiator between brands in heavily saturated markets. This is where AI and automation can support your live agents with faster initial responses to quick, easy questions—on any channel, at any time.

In terms of cost, AI support makes the most sense for companies and industries experiencing rapid growth. It can help reduce overall cost-percontact at your support center by performing triage on customer queries and automatically escalating the most sensitive and complex issues directly to a live agent. As the basic and repetitive queries are routed through the virtual agent, live agents can hone their skills and do what they do best: provide in-depth support and problem solving for customers in need.

Self-service is one of the largest growing sectors of customer engagement, and a major focus area for businesses.

Initially it may be difficult to determine the ideal balance between self-service and live agents, so it’s critical that the automated systems engage new and returning customers with nuance. Engaging existing high-value customers with exclusive promotions and relevant information as they shop automatically improves their experience with unique two-way dialogue. Once the customer’s interest is piqued, they can look at recommendations from the bot or, if they have an issue, opt to speak to a live agent for more detailed information or offers.

Once you understand which automated conversations drive engagement and when your customers tend to escalate, you can fine-tune the bot to ensure it continually delivers the most accurate, helpful information. A frictionless handoff from chatbot to live agent reassures customers that their issues are handled by experts who care about their experiences, no matter the channel. The best balance between self-service and live agent support is one where the customer is able to choose and receives the right amount of care based on context.

Empower Agents to Engage Customers

Constantly dealing with redundant responses across disparate systems can wear agents down over time. This could result in shifting focus away from great customer care to dealing with frustrating technology, potentially leading to employee burnout and even high turnover rates. Empower your live agents instead: a centralized, automated CRM—connected across channels and combined into a single interface—can solve many of these problems for busy support agents.

Ideally this program should pre-populate case records for each call or chat and automatically provide individual customer information, recommendations and responses with no extra legwork from the live agent— keeping the focus on the customer and their needs. A centralized system also gathers customer data from other relevant channels and delivers it directly to the agent to further customize the engagement.

For example, a customer with a known product issue could be automatically escalated from a virtual agent to a live agent who has been briefed on the subject. Once the customer is transferred, the live agent already has all of their background information on hand, including the product information and the current issue, as well as any previous support engagements and customer history. Armed with this in-depth detail, the live agent can provide more personalized customer support and prevent any further frustration. The customer can rest assured that your team knows their history with your brand and is dedicated to keeping their business.

The right automated customer engagement system can reduce costs due to time savings, improve customer satisfaction and brand loyalty from better experiences, and improve agent job satisfaction as they continue to deliver support that sets your brand apart. When agents feel empowered and engaged by the technology that supports them, they can address the more sensitive and decidedly more human elements needed for great customer care.

Using Customer Data

Every business collects data from customers with every interaction, but it’s what you actually do with that data that makes a difference in creating more relevant, personalized customer experiences. And if you’re not effectively analyzing the information you get from your customers, you won’t be able to respond to their changing wants and needs.

Looking at the data strategically will help you and your organization better understand customer needs, motivations, trends and even potential gaps in service or support. Depending on the type of customer data available, your customer service team could influence core business goals around product development, marketing and even annual budgets, providing strong rationale for cross-departmental collaboration.

In terms of cost, AI support makes the most sense for companies and industries experiencing rapid growth.

Social-media listening is one key area where automation could play a role in diverting potential viral disasters for your brand. If you have a new product or campaign, tracking mentions and sentiment on social media can help you gauge how current and potential customers feel. If the system finds a potentially negative post, it can alert a support team member to engage directly with that user and help de-escalate the situation. If the user is also a customer, the social post interaction can also be saved to the customer’s profile and used as context for any future messaging or engagement. Beyond connecting with individual users, social data can help your team determine upcoming trends that could impact future campaigns or inform new product development.

By automating customer data collection and analysis in your engagement platform, you could also reduce costs related to the time and money previously spent on cleaning up unstructured data to uncover relevant insights immediately. Keeping a close eye on data trends is also helpful in tracking trends and mitigating risk— all while you continue to provide truly personalized experiences and support for each customer, when and where they need it most.

Reimagine AI and Automation—Right Here, Right Now

It might have been difficult before to imagine a world where chatbots and AI work together seamlessly with live agents for customer support, but we don’t have to imagine at all anymore. Automation and AI-powered customer experience solutions are here, and they’re critical in attracting new customers, driving loyalty and growing your overall support offering to meet the needs of the on-demand consumer.

Across organizations and industries, audiences and market sectors, this kind of smart technology can help you and your team provide a more personalized, more engaging experience for each customer interaction. As demand continues to grow and interactions become more complex, this intuitive, user-friendly support for your human agents will help improve their quality of service and deliver high-impact customer care.

No matter what other advances might be on the horizon, Automation and AI are here to stay as key customer experience components—embrace them and engage them with your team to fully realize the business benefits and improvements for your customer experience.

 

Shellie Vornhagen is the senior vice president of marketing for Astute, a leading provider of smart consumer engagement solutions. A veteran in the software industry, she is passionate about using technology to improve people’s day-to-day lives.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2018 issue of CRM Magazine.