confused sad robot
Automation can support and enhance customer service but it's not substitute for the human touch PHOTO: trauma_j

Chat bots aren’t bad news for customer service, but if you leave important human touch points entirely in the hands of AI and machine learning, problems will arise. 

The biggest drop in the American Customer Satisfaction Index since the mid-90s happened between 2013 and 2015, suggesting that businesses need more empathetic and knowledgeable customer service agents. 

Despite that sobering statistic, 32 percent of organizations plan to shift customer service from live assistance to automated service, denying customers the chance to more effective conversations and interactions with brands.

As you consider implementing AI and machine learning in your contact center, remember that technology shouldn’t replace humans. 

Instead, it should enhance their productivity and allow humans to engage and foster relationships with customers that differentiate your brand.

To ensure that your organization isn’t just another faceless company, keep in mind these four tips for humanizing customer service.  

1. Provide the Option to Speak With a Human

Interacting with a chat bot is likely satisfactory when checking an account balance. However, when facing a complex problem, your customer will want to hear an assuring human voice on the other line.

For example, if someone orders an anniversary gift from your company and the package goes missing, they will not want to interact with a chat bot. Rather, your customer will likely want to speak with a human who understands how inconvenient the situation is and can pepper their interactions with “ “I understand” to show they’re listening.

2. Acknowledge Customers’ Increased Knowledge

In a 2015 study, 73 percent of decision makers in call-centric environments noted an increase in the complexity of customer interactions. With more customers turning to FAQs and user forums first, agents who can empathize and think critically are crucial to resolving the thorny problems that customer still call about, such as late payments and missing packages.

To meet the needs of these highly informed customers, fill your customer service department with knowledge workers instead of robots. Invite experts in your organization, such as developers and marketers, to talk with agents. Their deep knowledge of products and services will better equip those on the front lines to answer difficult questions. Also, arm agents with the latest news about competitors so they’re ready to respond to even the most challenging customer concerns while positively positioning your brand.

3. Consider Calls a Brand Differentiator

Hiring human agents may cost more in the long run, but you should view this as an investment in a customer-centric, brand-differentiating culture. As other companies abandon quality customer service by cutting corners with AI, yours can excel by building sincere customer relationships.

Start by ensuring agents use gestures such as thoughts, perspectives and personality to create the meaningful and memorable brand interactions robots can’t provide. As your agents become comfortable with forming these relationships, create standards for solidifying relationships, such as following up with a phone call after a few days. While small, these actions foster loyalty and prevent customers from seeing your company as interchangeable with the competition.

4. Invest in Enabling Technology

Equip agents with technology that helps them rather than replaces them. For example, a 360-CRM platform provides agents with an understanding of a customer’s history, cutting down on time spent asking them questions previously answered. Busy lights can help boost productivity by reducing distractions while agents are in the middle of a conversation or completing an important task.

Even something as simple as wireless headsets can empower agents. Fifty-six percent of corded headset users report that their productivity is negatively affected by being restricted to their desk. Given that the typical worker spends 32 percent of his or her time working in a radius of up to 12 meters from their desk, going cordless allows agents to work more efficiently. They can walk across the office to get approval from a supervisor or request additional information — all without interrupting or putting the caller on hold. This ultimately leads to faster issue resolution and, as a result, happier customers.

As you consider incorporating AI and machine learning into your contact center, don’t forget one of the most important elements of customer service — humans. Our empathy and critical-thinking skills can’t be replaced by robots. While they may expedite and simplify some customer requests, refrain from fixating on the hype. Instead, invest in agents who build relationships with hyper-informed customers and you’ll see your contact center — and your ROI — thrive.