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Is Automation Hurting Your Relationship with Your Customers?

Automation is great, there’s no denying that. Using a dishwasher instead of cleaning plates down by the river? Awesome. Having bots on your website that can automatically respond to customers after hours for basic info they need? Really cool. Automating the customer care process such that a customer can’t speak to a real person… wait a minute.

It’s an interesting truth of our society today that a lot of major corporations, that interact with hundreds of thousands or even millions of customers, don’t have a phone number to call. Or chat capability. The only way you can communicate is through their automated trouble shooting system. Or via email. Care to guess how happy customers are to not be able to talk to someone?

How about auto attendants? When was the last time you called a larger business and a real, live person answered the phone? It happens occasionally and usually customers are so surprised they stammer through their question for a second or two. But then they’re thrilled, because they have a real, live person who can help them solve their problem, or get them to the department that can.

So lets look at the purpose of automation. Auto attendants are designed to either replace the traditional receptionist or they are designed to get customers basic information without having to talk to someone. Things like hours or directions get fairly tedious for the receptionist to repeat over and over, so having a computer give that information is a good thing, right? Well, maybe. If an auto attendant can quickly provide options, such as “Press one for hours, press two for directions or press three to talk to a representative,” then that’s awesome. It’s fast, it’s useful and it doesn’t irritate the customer. But what about when you get something like what we experienced the other day? This is verbatim what the auto attendant said:

“Thank you for calling. Much of the information that you can obtain by talking to our representatives can be more easily obtained on our website. You can view your bill, make changes to your account, or submit a trouble ticket. You can reach our website at ach tea tea pea ess, colon, forward slash, forward slash double you double you double you dot” and that’s when we hung up. We knew from previous experience that after spelling out a ridiculously long website address, with a subdomain no less, the auto attendant would go on to list four or five other contact options, all equally tedious and unhelpful, before finally putting us into a hold queue where we waited for thirty-two minutes and then, instead of being transferred, got hung up on.

And here’s the thing, we had already tried all those other options. We knew they wouldn’t solve our problem and we needed to talk to an actual representative. But by the time we finally got to one, we’d wasted over an hour of our time, we were frustrated and we had nothing but hostile feelings towards the company we were doing business with. And it was all frustration that their automated processes had caused.

The above automated process was no doubt initially setup to save time. Not enough reps to answer phones so the system will answer, try to provide some basic help to get the customers issue resolved, and then kick the customer over to a rep as soon as one becomes available. But it’s morphed to be so far away from its original intention of saving time and money and keeping customers happy that its actually causing frustration and anger towards the company.

There are dozens, hundreds of examples of automated systems making life more difficult instead of easier, besides the above. Ever walk into the garage through an auto locking door from the house and lock yourself out because you forgot it was autolocking? Or auto locked your keys in your car? Or had your email system automatically send an email to people you didn’t mean for it to send? Or forget to turn off your wake up alarm on a holiday?

Automation is awesome, as we said at the very beginning. And it can save time and simplify things immensely. But if you’re using automation to make your company tasks easier at the expense of your customers, then all you’re doing is alienating your customers. Take the example we gave earlier of the auto attendant that only irritated customers. A simple way to fix that would be to offer to call customers back and assure them they won’t lose their place in line. If giving them the website information was necessary, set it up in a series of prompts such as “Press one to hear other, possibly easier, options for connecting with us, press two to have us call you back without losing your place in line.”

And before you refuse to supply a phone number for customers to contact you, think about what that says about your company. Your customers are your reason for being in business, and without them, you wouldn’t have your company in the first place. Customers are never a hassle; they are always our reason for doing what we do. If your business model truly works better for your customers without a phone, that’s fine, but make sure your alternative systems provide great communication. Most customers won’t mind communicating by email if they get a prompt reply and can dialog with the same person to solve their problem. Again, its all about meeting the customer’s needs.

If your business model does work best by having customers communicate with a real live person, either via phone, chat or direct message, but you don’t have the capacity to handle the inbound calls, consider outsourcing your customer service before automating your customers into irritation. Companies like ours specialize in providing dedicated, top-notch customer care folks. For example, all of our customer care staff are US-based and work out of our call center in beautiful downtown Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. We’re setup such that we can train our staff on your company, your priorities with your customers and your preferred responses and resolutions, and then we can take care of everything. Because of the good automation of quality call centers, your customers won’t even know they aren’t talking directly to your staff, and good customer care reps are trained to make sure your customers have the best possible experience and leave the interaction knowing that you care about them, that you’re thankful for their business and that you want them to be lifelong customers. Significant issues, as determined by you, can be transferred seamlessly to your staff for resolution. And a good call center will ensure all calls are recorded and transcribed so you know exactly how your customers are being taken care of.

So at the end of the day, is automation still a good thing? Absolutely. But it has to stop being applied without consideration for what’s best for your customers. The very best system is one that combines the very best automated systems with old fashioned, high-quality customer service delivered by real, live, in-country representatives who actually care about taking care of customers. So take a moment to review the automated, customer-facing systems your company employs. Or better yet, try calling your company with a problem and see how its handled for yourself. You may be surprised at what you learn.

If you need customer care, customer experience or customer outreach services or just a consultation on what’s possible, please feel free to reach out to us here at Aptly Able.


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