We’ve spoken before about how artificial intelligence and automation are tools that internal teams can use to make their workflows more efficient. We’ve also noted that it’s important to recognize them for the tools that they are - their purpose is to augment the teams using them, not obviate them. The simple fact of the matter is, customers would rather deal with people than with machines. So while it’s useful to get low level questions out of the way early on through automation and decision-trees, it’s more important to have a well-trained team that is capable of leveraging these technologies to deliver better customer experiences.
A phrase no customer wants to hear, but inevitably will, depending on an organization’s call volume and headcount. The hold is often anything but brief. Putting customers on hold is also, unfortunately, a great way to frustrate them and hang up. This usually happens after they’ve been bounced around by several automated prompts that are supposed to “understand” what they’re saying but don’t (think of your grandmother shouting the word, “REPRESENTATIVE!” into the phone). In these instances, automation has been deployed almost as a gatekeeping tactic, so that the customers never really get through to a team member. Their will worn down, they don’t stay on the line to hold. They start googling other options for services to use that aren’t yours - and they’re specifically looking for reviews of customer service.
Organizations need to have the right mindset when it comes to the implementation of AI and automation tools. That mindset should be one in which the customer experience is always placed as the highest level priority. This means not approaching your customers in a cynical way wherein they’re placed on massive holds or turned away by machines. Chatbots can be powerful tools in automating low level tasks and ensuring that team members are able to work on more complicated issues efficiently. Making sure that those same chatbots feed relevant information to team members, as in the case of escalations, is also essential.
Approaching AI with intentionality means thinking of how team members can use the technology to best get their jobs done. It means making sure that tools are powerful and robust, feeding context and information directly to them about a customer. The onus shouldn’t solely be on the customer to provide that information (more often than not, customers won’t know much about the products they are using - most customers aren’t product experts). When AI is able to account for everything that is going on in a customer’s ecosystem, all of the products that they use and interface with, and all of the third parties they interact with, the better. It’s in these moments that AI tools provide the most value to the team members using them. This is when those team members are able to deliver excellent customer experiences.
A common theme from customer experience horror stories is that the team members, or colleagues, helping those customers are likewise having terrible experiences. It is a colleague’s job and mission to provide help and assistance to customers, no matter what. But how can they do that with tools that don’t serve them well? They might become frustrated themselves, and fraught with anxiety, which is a recipe for disaster. Is there a customer alive that is going to have a positive customer experience with a team member who is overwhelmed and underprepared? What if that customer has only just gotten through to the team member after being bounced around automated prompts like a ping pong ball?
Positive customer experiences depend on positive colleague experiences. The best way to lay a stable foundation for providing both is to approach AI tools with intentionality. Organizations must intend for their tools to augment their colleagues’ ability to work well. They can never replace the colleagues themselves.