Written by Ian Landsman on Apr 5, 2016 in

The Search for a "Live Person" in Customer Support

Our ways of avoiding interaction with other people are increasing.

  • We can place our Happy Meal order at a kiosk, instead of in-person.
  • We can snap a photo of our check with our mobile app, and never step foot in our bank.
  • We can buy our movie tickets at the machine rather than the ticket window.
  • We can skip the lines and scan our own food at the grocery store.

These aren’t breaking news. They’ve become the norm over the past few years. They’re convenient, and in many ways, they’re more efficient for both businesses and customers.

But all of the options above are based on initial purchases, or things we know how to do. What happens when a question arises? When something doesn’t quite do what we expect? When the kiosk isn’t letting you customize the burger just to your liking?

Okay, no, we’re not totally concerned about “ketchup or no ketchup” on burgers, here.

But as customer service becomes more automated, it has become more difficult to get access to a real person. A person who can give you answers. A person who understands what you want, and why you want or need it that particular way.

Even when we automate, we still need real people.

Well, real people who are good at customer service, that is.

How do we strike a balance?

(Think you already know the answer? Spoiler alert: There’s a survey at the end of this post).

Automation for Efficiency

There are certainly perks as customer service has become more automated. Press 1. Press 2. In many cases, automated phone calls take you down the tunnel you want and get you the answers you need. What’s your bank balance? What date were you supposed to pay your utilities bill? Robot isn’t paying attention. Robot isn’t judging. Went to the grocery store simply to purchase beer, brownies and shampoo? That self-scanner isn’t questioning you.

You want ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise on that burger? Kiosk doesn’t care!

We’re certainly not against automation. Proactively providing the answers, online, over the phone or otherwise, automated or not, solves our customers’ needs and concerns. And that’s what we’re all about. Quickly getting to the answers. Proactively providing solutions.

If an automated system can do that more quickly because there are only so many humans available to have one-on-one interactions, then the case for automation strengthens. Delightful customer service means less time waiting. More time living. Enjoying what you woke up planning to do instead of being on hold.

Automated customer service has its perks.

“But I Just Want To Talk To A Person”

There’s a flip side. There’s a human element. The robots don’t have answers to all the questions (... yet). But the fact that the robot doesn’t have a pre-programmed answer to the question does not in turn invalidate the customer’s question, the customer’s concerns, or the customer’s feelings.

Robots aren’t great at answering the “Why” questions or the “How” questions.

  • Customers need (human) you when life circumstances affect their budgets and their purchasing decisions.
  • Customers need you when they don’t understand how to maximize the use of your product or service.
  • Customers need you when they’re considering cancelling their subscriptions or otherwise switching to your competitors’.
  • Customers need you when they’re excited about your product or service and want to communicate that feedback.
  • Customers need you when they have sensitive questions or information they don’t want to communicate via written word (or typed text).

And no customer wants to go four rounds of “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand the question” with the robot to get to the human.

Sigh. So, automation can’t handle every part of the customer service experience. Where do we bring the humans in?

Finding the Right Balance

Establishing proper customer support solutions and systems for your business is critical in maintaining customer appreciation and loyalty. But how we provide that support is constantly changing. A few years ago, we were talking about Twitter being the newest place for customers to air grievances. Now, as more activity occurs on smartphones, we’re seeing a shift back to mobile-originated inquiries.

Uber customer support has moved from email to app.

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines has adopted Facebook’s Businesses on Messenger for customer service.

Invoca’s report, The State of the Mobile Experience, found “65% of people had called a business within the last month, versus only 24% who had contacted a business through a web form.”

There are many tools today that allow companies to strike the right balance of human interaction and automation, even for companies that have very little manpower. Find you often need to speak directly with your customers, but can’t always answer right when they call? Companies such as Ruby Receptionists offer virtual receptionists that can answer customer service calls and direct them to the appropriate person within your company. Even if your customer has to leave a message, they’ve at least reached a human first - someone has acknowledged them, and made it clear their inquiry will be addressed in a timely manner.

Services such as this one allow us to customize customer service systems based on what our resources allow, even if we’re all striving for that same great customer service experience. Now, what’s the right balance for you, as a business?

At The Delightenment Blog, we always examine first - what’s the right balance for you, as a human? What experiences would you want if you were the customer? How can we learn from that, and improve our customer support systems?

With that in mind, we need your help. We invite you to take our informal survey. Rather talk to a human, in all cases? Tell us that. Rather not have to socialize? Tell us that, too. Have a good (or horrible) customer support story? We want to hear it!

Help us understand where you prefer the robot exit and the live person enter the process, and catch our survey results on The Delightenment Blog in two weeks.

Can’t fill out the survey below right now? Bookmark this survey link for later.

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About the author

Ian Landsman of UserScape

Ian is the founder of HelpSpot and also podcasts at Bootstrapped.fm.

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