We live in an age of instant gratification. Think about how many things we can access, or at least request, with the click of a button. We can stream movies and television shows instantly. We can shop for groceries and have them delivered within hours. We can download music and books and purchase clothes, household products, and almost anything else for delivery within a day or two.
Speed and convenience are luxuries we enjoy. In fact, many of us have come to expect them in most of our daily experiences.
As a business owner, part of your responsibility of fulfilling your customers’ wishes is catering to that desire for speed and convenience. Does this mean you need to make your products immediately available upon request? No, and depending on your product, that might be impossible.
What it does mean is that you need to make sure your customers can access as much information as possible, as quickly as possible. That’s where customer service automation comes in.
How (and Why) Customer Service Automation Will Help You Grow
When you have a question or a problem, you want to be able to answer or solve it as quickly as possible, right? Consider that your customers will feel the same way when deciding whether to purchase your product or service.
Automating your customer service will help current and potential customers answer their questions as quickly as possible while keeping you free to run other aspects of your business. It will help you keep moving onward and upward without having to spend too many of your precious working hours solving the same problems repeatedly.
Different types of customer service explained
There are plenty of different ways to answer your customers’ questions and help them solve their problems. A few examples:
• Phone calls
• Live chats
• Social media support
In a brick and mortar establishment you also have good, old-fashioned, face-to-face interaction, which would ultimately be your responsibility, if not the responsibility of an employee.
The problem with relying on phone calls and face-to-face interaction for every single customer service issue is this: People are likely to present the same general issues and questions. The time you would spend answering those questions is time you need to devote to developing or creating more products and building other areas of your business.
Benefits of customer service automation
One of the largest and most immediate benefits of automating your customer services is extra time.
Depending on how you do this—whether it’s through a FAQ section on your website, autoresponder software, or any other option—you will have a first line of defense for answering your customers’ most common questions.
Again, the less time you spend solving the same problems repeatedly, the more time you can spend developing other facets of your business.
When you automate your customer service, you’re most likely providing information on your website (which you’re already paying for anyway) or paying a monthly subscription for automation software. A subscription service is most likely going to cost you much less than it would to hire and pay an employee to handle all your customer service inquiries for you.
Because many automation services are on a subscription basis, you get to choose the level of service that suits your business—as well as one you can easily afford.
In addition, your business is likely to be more lucrative when you can devote more time to product creation, marketing, and other creative pursuits than dealing with customer service inquiries that could be handled automatically. This lowers your overall costs because you’re hiring fewer employees and spending more time on your biggest moneymakers.
Automated customer service can provide more speed and convenience for those snapshot moments when someone wants assistance right now. Even if it doesn’t answer all questions immediately, it can at least get the ball rolling immediately. That way your customer isn’t left hanging, and he or she can assume better, more thorough help (or maybe just more personal, direct help) is on the way.
Automated messages also reduce wait times. If you don’t have the capacity to be available 24/7 (and who does?) or to hire more agents, then this is a good way to make sure your customers can get a response without having to wait too long.
Frees you up for other tasks
In addition to saving time and money, automated customer service solutions allow for delegation. You can sort through incoming issues and determine which ones are the highest priorities so you can personally tackle those first.
This will help you streamline your process so you don’t become overwhelmed by incoming inquiries.
It’s faster than completely human response
An incredibly important key to remember is that automation isn’t meant to replace direct interaction with your customers (which we’ll address more in a moment). It just makes the process easier and quicker up front so your customers aren’t waiting longer than necessary to hear from you.
An instant acknowledgement coupled with the promise of further help should be enough to sate a confused, frustrated, or just plain curious customer.
You get instant customer feedback
Customer feedback is gold to small business owners. Without appropriate feedback, how will we tweak our products and services so they’re as valuable as they can possibly be?
Another benefit to customer service automation is that you get instant feedback from customers who are posing questions or concerns. This helps you answer their questions as effectively as possible. It also helps you learn how to improve your product or service so it’s benefiting more people—and ultimately increasing your sales.
Happy customers = increased retention and repeat sales
Speaking of increasing your sales, customer service has a huge impact on your company’s reputation.
Ever read a bad review or several? People are quick to pounce on businesses or products that let them down. One of your best lines of defense in keeping customers happy is making sure their interactions with you are helpful and pleasant—that you answer their questions, solve their problems, and perhaps most importantly, treat them with respect.
Admittedly, this can be difficult, but customer service automation helps. If a customer has one bad interaction, they’re not likely to give you a good review, and they’re even less likely to come back. But if you can help them as quickly and kindly as possible, you’re much more likely to wind up with happy customers and repeat sales.
Examples of automation in customer service
The following are a few of the most common examples of customer service automation:
Artificial Intelligence (AI) in customer service such as chatbots
One popular form of automated customer service is Artificial Intelligence (AI) such as chatbots. While this may not be quite as thorough as direct human interaction, it is an excellent place to start.
For one, it reduces long wait times. Your customer gets immediate interaction, which appeals to his or her sense of urgency. Even if the issue can’t be solved without further help, it will help hold the customer over until you or an employee can address any lingering concerns.
Also, even if you do employ customer service specialists, this frees them up to tackle more pressing issues that can’t be easily answered by chatbots.
By providing a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section on your website you ensure your customers can find the information they need to answer common questions regarding your product or service.
This will reduce the need for you to interact with them directly. Of course, direct interaction is a good thing, but if it’s a simple fix that can be answered automatically or through simple customer research, it will ultimately save both of you time. This will leave you and/or your live customer service agents with more time to address problems that may be more difficult to solve.
Plus, customers can easily find the information they’re looking for, they’ll come away from your website feeling more satisfied with the overall experience.
Email autoresponders are excellent tools for small business owners who can’t afford to live in their inboxes 24/7. For example, when a customer signs up for a freebie (such as a helpful marketing checklist or recipe e-book), an email auto response will instantly deliver that freebie with little to no effort on your part.
Or if a customer poses a question about a product he just purchased, an automated email will provide immediate feedback with the promise of further help, if necessary.
Most (if not all) email marketing companies offer various levels of automation, including messages you can customize to suit your needs. This is invaluable when it comes to keeping customers satisfied and assuring them that their concerns are important to you.
Elements of customer service that shouldn’t be automated
As valuable as instant customer service solutions can be, not every element of customer service should be automated.
Example: Have you ever called a company when you needed to pay a bill or solve an issue and found it was nearly impossible to get a real person on the line? When you’re already worked up about a problem, being repeatedly rerouted by machines only makes it worse. By the time you do get a real person—if you do—you’re ready to spit fire.
For one thing, technology can, and often does, fail. If every aspect of your customer service software isn’t implemented correctly, problems can go unsolved and questions can fall through the cracks, leaving customers dissatisfied. Is the technology you’re using enhancing the human element of your business or hindering it? Striking the right balance is key.
Depending on the product or service you offer, customers might require that human element to be fully satisfied. If your specialty is creating funeral programs, for instance, a potential customer will most likely want to speak directly with someone, especially during a time of grief.
A customer’s attraction to your business—as well as the decision to purchase—starts with emotion. As business owners, we must ask ourselves, “How is this automation going to make the customer feel?” We want them to feel great about what we offer so they come back for years to come.
Like it or not, the desire for instant gratification is part of the game now. We can spend time bemoaning “the good old days,” or we can harness those expectations and use them to cater to our potential customers and grow our businesses.
That’s why it’s important to know your customer and to pick your battles, to decide what can be solved directly versus indirectly. You can’t make everyone happy, no matter how hard you try. So figure out what will suit your business best and keep as many of your solid customers as happy as possible.
Don’t wear yourself thin trying to please everyone. Figure out your precise audience, your ideal customer, and cater to that person.
And when things go awry, learn from them, fix them, and move on to a better experience next time.
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Written by small business owners, for owners.