Wise Insights

Augmentation vs. Automation - The Best Combination for Customer Service Success

One of the fundamental problems customer service organizations face is maxing out the capacity of agents as an organization grows. This is the primary motivator for using automation to augment a variety of agents’ service tasks, such as data entry and transfers. This approach allows agents to focus on what what they do best, such as working high-complexity, high value tickets and delivering a superior, personalized customer experience.

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review poses the important question --

“What if we were to reframe the situation? What if, rather than asking the traditional question—What tasks currently performed by humans will soon be done more cheaply and rapidly by machines?—we ask a new one: What new feats might people achieve if they had better thinking machines to assist them? Instead of seeing work as a zero-sum game with machines taking an ever greater share, we might see growing possibilities for employment. We could reframe the threat of automation as an opportunity for augmentation.”

While the economic value of customer service automation is clear, some companies still hesitate to explore augmenting their customer service processes out of fear that their processes will become impersonal and negatively affect satisfaction. In other cases, customer service representatives push back against automation feeling it will eventually threaten their jobs or make them obsolete.

An article from Salesforce reminds us that automated customer service can get a bad reputation, but that it’s just a few bad apples marring up what’s actually a very efficient system. The key: putting personal back into customer service with intelligent augmentation.

Done properly, augmentation and automation of the customer service process can be a very pleasant and personalized experience. Machine learning, voice recognition technology, response templates, and a number of other pieces of the puzzle combine to create a synergistic automated system that can enhance the productivity of human customer service agents and allow them to deliver better support to more customers.

What is true Automation and Augmentation?

Customer service is a spectrum from fully manual processes, which are devoid of assistive tools, to pure automation, which allows a computer and algorithm to provide your customers all the help they need. What bridges the opposite ends of this spectrum is augmentation, or using intelligent tools to assist in the execution of manual tasks.

Automation, the process of getting answers to customer issues without human touch, has a bad reputation in the customer service world because, in a complex world, it’s hard to create an automation rule that gives a good answer. Too often, organizations trade customer satisfaction for automation.

Augmentation is a more novel concept. It’s a human-assisted process that supports the decision-making of your agents and helps guide them to a better answer, faster. The fundamental benefit of augmentation is to free up your customer service representatives to focus their time on high complexity, high-value customer interactions.

The Google Analogy

Google search provides a familiar example of automation vs. augmentation. When you type in a search term, Google uses augmentation to provide an array of answers for your inquiry. If Google were fully automated, it would return only a single result for a given search. Instead, Google assists your search, returning a list of results in rank order of priority, but allowing you to make the ultimate decision of which link (or links) best provide the information you are looking for. This is the process of augmentation.

The Organizational Impact

Along the spectrum of all customer interactions and the associated processes, how do you identify and prioritize which opportunities to automate or augment? Delivering highly efficient top tier customer support is a direct result of making the correct automation decisions. When it comes to choosing a combination of automation and augmentation, a candid evaluation of  organizational and implementational risk is key to determining the correct balance between augmentation and automation.

Since customer service automation and augmentation can so easily and effectively eliminate much of the repetitive labor and wait time involved in the old manual process, more and more companies are incorporating augmentation and automation tools into their customer service technology stack.

This isn’t just a matter of convenience for the customer or the company either. Studies show that as many as 32% of customers have actually stopped doing business with a company as a direct result of frustration with being passed around to various customer service representatives trying to get help.

Achieving a balance of human and automated customer service augmentation is key

Ideal automation, within the constructs of augmentation, can be illustrated in the matrix below. The optimal level of augmentation included in your company’s customer service process will depend largely on the risk and/or cost analysis of giving customers a wrong answer. Other factors include the complexity of the interaction and the pain associated with making a wrong decision.

Augmentation vs. Automation - The Best Combination for Customer Service Success

If a request is simple and the consequences of responding incorrectly are minimal, a higher level of automation will save the company time and money, generate faster response times and improve customer satisfaction. On the other hand, if a request is complex and/or the consequences of a wrong action are severe, it makes sense to maintain a more hands-on, human augmented approach.

The added value of machine learning in customer service augmentation

Unlike static automation options, augmented customer service tools that utilize machine learning become more accurate over time. As a result, organizations begin by automating select pieces of the customer service process, and then expand into other areas over time in order to better scale and improve service.

The benefit of this type of technology is that - even in circumstances where customer service requests are complex - a growing history of accurate decisions will allow companies to put more confidence in the automated system it provides for customers, saving time and money in the long run.

Adaptation of Processes

There is a natural tension in the adaptation of automation and its effect on customer satisfaction. Historically, automation didn’t work in a complex world. However, the key to successful adaptation is implementing thoughtful, intelligent, sophisticated automation, rather than blindly applying solutions. Successful automation is actively applying the appropriate level of automation vs. augmentation, relative to risk. Thoughtful organizations aren’t using automation to eliminate staff, rather, they are using a spectrum of intelligent automation to make people more effective.

If handled correctly and with the right expectations, automation of certain customer service processes will enhance the experience for customers and the representatives alike. Rather than threatening representatives’ jobs, automation can make their jobs easier and even more fulfilling by eliminating tedious and repetitive work and allowing reps to focus on the problem-solving efforts they’ve actually been hired for.

For more information about how customer service automation and augmentation can help your company succeed, and impact the bottom line, download our ThredUP Case Study.

Thredup Case Study

Topics: Machine Learning, Customer Success, Customer Support