Customers not only expect outstanding support, they deserve it. In this digital age, client inquiries should receive a response within 24 hours. If you fail to do so, chances are your customer is moving onto another company that can.

To provide the quickest, most efficient and most helpful support, a combination of personalized and automated messages promises the best results. The challenge lies in deciding when to take the time, energy and effort to customize a personal response and when to provide a quicker, more efficient automated response.

There are times when an automated response can escalate a sensitive situation from bad to worse. Being able to interact with a real person goes far to assure customers that their needs are important, and can offer them solutions or responses that speak directly to their queries. 

Messages to Personalize

1. Live chat and phone calls

Part of choosing whether to personalize or automate lies in customers’ expected response time for that medium. When a customer makes a phone call, for example, the customer expects the call to be answered with an immediate response and immediate results. An automated phone system may qualify as an immediate response, but it certainly does not deliver immediate gratification. Customers want to speak with a human being, and when customers select one of these forms of communication, they usually want an urgent response. Only through personal contact can you deliver a quick and quality answer.

2. Forum responses

When posting a question on a forum, customers tend to have lower response time expectations and usually will be satisfied if an answer is received within 24 hours. Further, customers generally presume a response may come from a fellow customer and not even a company representative at all. But by participating in your company’s forum, you show interest in your customers’ success and dedication to resolving their issues, as well as the many other customers who may share the same problem being discussed.

Plus, customers tend to trust the advice of a company representative more than a fellow customer whose level of expertise they don’t know. With each forum question being unique, it would be extremely difficult to automate appropriate responses.

3. Customer support replies

Sending an email confirmation of the receipt of an inquiry is entirely appropriate to automate, but in most cases, the actual response requires a personalized reply. For the most common questions, consider building a FAQ page to cut down on emails sent to customer support, and if customers still email those questions, customer support can respond quicker by simply pointing customers to the relevant Web page.

Sometimes the personal touch isn't needed, or can come in at a later point. For those times when speed or large scale notifications are required, automation fits the bill. 

Messages to Automate

1. Welcome email

After a new customer becomes a member or joins your mailing list, the customer expects and wants immediate confirmation that the registration process was successful. Send an automated message welcoming them, confirming their registration and explaining any next steps that the customer may need to take.

If you’re selling multiple products and want the welcome email catered specifically to the product purchased, create different welcome emails for each product and arrange for your system to send an email based on what was purchased. Don’t forget that the customer’s name can automatically be inserted into the message and that you can add a personal touch by making the letter from an actual individual rather than a generic “From the XYZ Corporation Team.” Further personalization at this stage would be overkill and inefficient.

2. Customer support follow-up email

After sending personalized replies to inquiries sent to customer support, follow up with an automated email informing the customer that if the issue wasn’t resolved, the customer should simply respond to the email, or if the customer doesn’t reply in 24 hours, explain in the email that the support ticket will be closed and the issue will be considered resolved. As an automated message, this step requires almost no effort, but it demonstrates to your customers that support is available and that you really do care about their success and satisfaction.

3. Marketing efforts

Marketing efforts, such as product promotions, webinar invitations and electronic newsletters, should be automated. If the marketing item doesn’t apply to a large portion of your customers/subscribers, then you should reconsider why you’re sending it.

To optimize your marketing efforts for success while minimizing unsubscribes, make every effort to tailor your list of recipients. For example, if you sell software X and Y, and you’re offering a sale on software X, it’s probably not in your best interest, or your customers’, to send the promotion to those who have already purchased it. Instead, target your promotion to subscribers who have yet to make a purchase and customers who have only bought software Y so far.

Customer communication is not about personal attention or immediacy. It’s about combining the two in such a way that is most efficient and helpful to your customers, thereby winning their confidence, their business and their loyalty.

Title image by Susanne Nilsson (Flickr) via a CC BY-SA 2.0 license