How to Automate Support without losing the Human Touch

The human touch is central to the idea of excellent customer service. People want to feel understood and cared about. But it’s not technology that makes humans feel valued… it’s humans. 

The interactions between customers and frontline employees such as sales reps and customer support agents set the tone for your customers’ entire experience. Being more human (ie. empathetic, approachable, and engaging) can build the foundation for a long-term relationship. It makes sense that customer-centric businesses want to maintain this connection as much as they can, and often shun automation as unfeeling. 

But ignoring the benefits of automation is irresponsible. When implemented thoughtfully, automation can make agent workloads more engaging, drive faster responses, and reduce the cost of doing business. And customers continually tell us that speed is essential to a great customer service experience. 

graph showing that customers value short response times in a good customer experience
Source: JitBit

To shun all of these benefits in the name of remaining “human” doesn’t make sense.  The questions then become: “How can we automate without losing that human touch? Can we do both?”  

Yes! It’s absolutely possible to use automation while still connecting meaningfully with your customers. Here’s how. 

Use rule-based automation

Choose an automation platform that allows you to be selective about when an automation runs. Sending every customer the same reply, or filing all emails in the same folder is either useless or very annoying. Automation is only helpful when it’s “smart”. 

Rule-based automation looks like “if/then” statements. 

  • If the customer is on a paid plan, then escalate the ticket. 
  • If the subject line contains the phrase “cancel”, then assign the ticket to the billing team. 
  • If the agent is offline, then send an out-of-office reply. 

The more granular you can be with your rules, the more helpful your automations will become. Understanding when it’s appropriate to automate something, and when it needs to be done manually requires a human touch. Blindly and heavy-handedly automating everything is how we lose the connection with the customer. 

Start small, then increase automation

Automation doesn’t need to be an all-or-nothing game. Start by automating one or two manual tasks that are easy to isolate and repeat. Most help desks include built in automations such as assigning tickets to the right team for a faster reply, or using canned responses to reduce the time spent typing. Try using one of these as your first automation. 

Incremental automation has a number of advantages. First, you’ll be able to easily measure the impact of the new automation. It’s easy to understand the impact it’s having, and adjust it if needed. Starting small can also be a great “proof-of-concept” to win over employees and stakeholders who aren’t sold on the idea of automation in customer service. Once they see the efficiency gains without a drop in customer satisfaction, they’ll be more open to implementing additional automated workflows. 

Notify, don’t take action

Many of the people concerned about automation’s impact on customers point to situations where a gentle touch is needed: an upset customer, VIP accounts, and unusual issues. In these cases, instead of automating a response or action that is customer-facing, simply automate the notification instead. 

Rather than having human eyes constantly patrolling and searching for these special conversations, use automation to alert humans to what they need to be focused on. Notifications can be as simple as bumping the conversation to the top of a priority inbox, sending an email to a team leader, or triggering a Slack message. 

Add a human check-point

Automation can do all the heavy lifting when it comes to gathering information, prioritizing conversations and filing away tickets. But if you’re worried about the automation taking over and making a mess, you can add a human check-point to your automations. 

This might look like setting up TextExpander snippets to automate your most frequent replies. A human can use the snippet, read it over to make sure it’s accurate, add any additional personalization and then send it. Let the automation do most of the work, but add in a personal touch at the end. 

You can also set up a view in your help desk to see all of the tickets that your automation has run on. Spot-checking the conversations can help you see where a human might have responded differently. Add that exception to your automation rules so future customers are connected with a human agent instead. 

Create an automation journey map

Map out all the places where customers interact with your customer support, and where they encounter automation. Similar to a customer journey map, your automation journey map should indicate common touchpoints, important goals (for both you and your customers), and the emotions or frustrations the customer might be experiencing. 

Ideally, customers should be connected with a human during high-value events such as onboarding, the weeks prior to their contract renewal, and cancellation. If there are other important milestones on your map, consider turning automation off at these times. 

Alternatively, you may find interactions that don’t require a human, but do require speediness. Automating these touchpoints might make it easier for customers to get what they need, faster. 

Track the results

As you start to implement automation into your workflows, track how customers respond to it. What does human touch look like in your metrics? For most companies, thoughtful support results in happier customers who respond positively to customer satisfaction and Net Promoter (NPS) surveys. 

For example, Bodybuilding started to use automated alerts to send customers updates about their order, including delivery timeframes and shipping issues. By doing so, they received 27% fewer tickets asking about order status. But most importantly, their NPS rose by 6.3% after implementing automation. This is a clear example of improving efficiency and the customer experience at the same time – but without measuring the results, Bodybuilding wouldn’t have known how successful their program was.  

To measure the success of your automation, choose an efficiency metric and a human touch metric. For example, you could measure: 

  • % of tickets solved by a bot and % of customers who were satisfied with the interaction. 
  • Average Response Time and Net Promoter Score.
  • First Reply Time and % of repeat customers.
  • Average Handle Time and # of new customers who come from referrals. 

Keep the human touch, but deliver it quickly. 

Customers want to speak with a human, but they also want companies to respect their time. Using automation in a well-designed way can accomplish both goals. Rather than diving into the deep end with automation, start small and stick a toe in. 

Efficiency and quality support aren’t opposite ideas. You can have both, and you should do both. For more on delivering delightful customer service while staying efficient, check out our previous blog post.

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