Everything is automated these days from your social life to making dinner reservations, so why should customer service be any different? Automated customer service is any way of getting customer service by automated means. This can be information garnered from a website (like a company’s FAQ page) to those 800 numbers that have you pressing zero to talk to an operator. Basically, if you’re not communicating with a person, it’s automated.

Automated customer service can get a bad reputation, but it’s just a few bad apples marring up what’s actually a very efficient system. There’s one major challenge for automated CS: putting the personal back into personal service. Going automated can save your company a lot of employee time and money, but only if it’s done right. Here are the five best ways to automate customer service and keep your customers happy.


1. Automate to your audience

If your company targets young adults who are tech savvy (such as selling the latest mobile phones), you can bet that they’re going to be comfortable with an online approach. However, if your business is selling life insurance to seniors, they probably want to be able to talk with a “real person” right away. Choose your customer service approach wisely, and consider:

  • Offering live chat options on your website if you target a younger audience
  • Offering very simple touch-tone phone options for senior markets and make it easy to reach a live person
  • Develop an app that includes easy text or email messages


2. Practice the golden rule

Sometimes touch-tone phone systems are great. If they’re easy to use, there’s an option to speak with a person, and you don’t have to listen to a robotic voice for over 60 seconds, this can help speed things up. However, if it’s really a messy web of a puzzle, you can bet your customers will get frustrated. For touch-tone phones, remember:

  • Don’t have any more options than necessary (five is usually enough)
  • Skip the directory
  • Always include an option to speak with a live person
  • Carefully consider the “speak” function since it can be notoriously frustrating


3. Use it as a tool, not a substitute

It’s simple to emotionally shortchange your customers when you rarely have to talk to them. The purpose of automated customer service is to enhance the experience for everyone, not replace employees with technology. Don’t rely too heavily on automation, but instead utilize it as an accoutrement for genuine service. Strike a balance by:

  • Offering equal parts live and automated support
  • Keep your audience in mind at all times (remember younger audiences are more likely to utilize automation)
  • Keep up with training your representatives


4. Test, test, test

When’s the last time a manager tested out the automated system to see if it still works, if it needs update or if there are kinks? It’s probably been awhile—and maybe since it was first installed. Testing the systems should be done on a regular basis, ideally once per week, because otherwise you may not even realize there’s a huge obstacle that might be easy to fix. Some rules for testing include:

  • Have a team of people in charge of managing testing (not just one)
  • Test at least once per week and ideally once per business day
  • Keep up with tech maintenance requirements


5. Ask for feedback

There will be some growing pains no matter how great your system is, but be open to feedback from both employees and customers. You can’t please everyone, but if you notice some trends in complaints or concerns, it’s time to look close. Turning a blind eye is the worst thing you can do, and will likely lead to lost revenue and customers soon enough. To receive good feedback:

  • Offer an anonymous approach
  • Don’t take things personally, and assign an unbiased person to handle feedback if necessary
  • Make sure that whoever provides feedback feels their voice is heard (which means actually following through and responding publicly, even if it was originally an anonymous source)

There’s going to be a learning curve with automated customer service, and everyone will get on the bandwagon in their own good time. Don’t force it, and introduce any big changes slowly. Your customers will thank you for the “toe dip” approach rather than being pushed into the deep end.