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It’s a tough time to be reading news headlines if you happen to be a human working in customer service:
85% of Customer Service Interactions to be Handled Without Humans By 2020
But once you dig a little deeper and start asking questions, you start to see that this bleak forecast isn’t necessarily settled science.
Won’t automating menial tasks actually give humans more time for meaningful work?
Who will be designing and building those self-service systems if not humans?
What about the entirely new categories of jobs that tech disruption can create?
All we can say for sure is that it would be wise for anyone working in customer service to learn more about the potential futures of their profession.
And at Dreamforce 2018, we brought together three in-the-field experts to focus on one big question: Where do humans fit in the future of customer service?
On Wednesday, September 26th, Aircall VP of Marketing Jeff Reekers moderated a panel discussion with:
Kenji Hayward | Head of Customer Support @ Front
Nykki Yeager | Head of Customer Success @ Figma
Franklin Shen | Director, Support & Training Operations @ Flatiron Health
Although our San Francisco event space only seated 100 people, we wanted to make sure the insights traveled far and wide. These were the main talking points and takeaways:
What Kind of Service Today’s Customers Seek
Before we make a ruling on whether computers will render human-centered customer service obsolete, we need to consider exactly what services customers expect. This, after all, is what drives technological innovation.
For one, all panelists agreed that customers are looking for timely responses and swift resolutions. When self-help isn’t sufficient, the last thing you want to do is to waste 15, 20, or 30 minutes navigating a company’s service structure.
A second — but equally important — demand is accuracy. Nothing upsets customers more than ending a service interaction only to discover their initial problem was never resolved. Faulty advice and incorrect data will cost your brand legitimacy, and eventually, loyalty.
But fast and accurate interactions have been industry staples for decades. Today’s customers have experienced a shift in overall mindset. The brand-consumer relationship is no longer merely transactional. It’s a give-and-take conversation where customers have a voice in deciding how a product is developed and delivered.
Also, customers don’t see brands as larger-than-life entities anymore. They want to interact with businesses as if they’re people, who not only respect individuals but have opinions and feelings themselves.
This is why smart service pros need to display empathy, even in strictly transactional scenarios. With the social media era turning private interactions into public conversations, one thoughtless response could cast a very long shadow.
Overall, customers today expect more, in terms of responsiveness, emotional understanding, knowledge, and availability.
Finding the Balance Between Humans and Tech
We’ve danced this dance before, and it doesn’t seem robots will replace humans anytime soon.
For one, the most innovative service tools in recent memory have so far only served to augment human performance. Ticketing tools allow agents to respond to more inquiries in a concise manner and chatbots are fueled by human logic.
If anything, tech-enabled efficiency opens doors to new areas of professional growth. Preventative support, UI design, technical writing, and systems management are all viable specializations for customer service pros.
Our Dreamforce speakers also agreed that technology can dramatically improve agent availability.
For example, automated rules are great for triaging service — separating the quick fixes and common issues from the ones that will require extra time or effort. This kind of traffic control frees up time for agents to focus primarily on complex cases while creating self-service resources to resolve the rest.
How Automation Affects Customer Service Hiring
While automation won’t replace customer service professionals, it will influence their exact roles. So we asked our panel to share what qualities they look for in the customer service hires they will be welcoming into technically progressive environments.
All panelists agreed that curiosity and initiative are top hiring criteria. They want teammates who take the initiative to learn about new technologies. Ones who test themselves until they know new systems front-to-back and wrestle with problems on their own before turning to outside help.
A good question to ask when interviewing might be, “What’s something you’ve recently learned? Explain it to me.” This gives interviewers a good idea of a candidate’s ability to logically structure and verbally communicate detailed info.
And continuing the theme of clear communication, multiple panelists said they’re very interested in candidates’ technical writing skills. As knowledge bases and chatbots become more popular service channels, we’ll see a rise in the need for large quantities of clear and concise content. Customer service pros — as product experts — must possess these skills to achieve longevity in the field.
Furthermore, great hires are natural-born listeners who instinctively try to figure out the “5-Ws” of any inquiry. This inclination is closely tied to a desire to see results from one’s work. If a representative understands a customer’s complete story, they may be able to address the cause of an issue, rather than just treating the symptoms.
The Challenges of Automation and Modern CX
But as with any industry shift, new technology doesn’t come without its own set of hiccups. Here’s what our panelists said gave them trouble when exploring automation.
Kenji: Behind every good robot, there’s needs to be a better human.
In order to make a chatbot really functional, you need to have an extremely robust knowledge base. That means a ton of on-site content that anticipates and addresses common issues. At the moment, chatbot technology is still highly dependent on this foundational work.
Nykki: Keep exit signs clearly visible.
Even if trends show that consumers are more likely to seek automated or self-help support, people still need to have the option of transferring to a live agent. This is something teams must be wary of before embracing entirely autonomous bots. Customers need to know there’s an escape hatch in case they become frustrated by the process.
Franklin: Customers need teaching to help themselves.
The transition to automated and self-help resources is much slower for the average customer than market trends might suggest. For example, if your FAQ and self-service knowledge base is thin, customers will learn to not use it. And even when resources do become more robust, you need to help customers find what they’re looking for.
To ease a lot of worries, it doesn’t seem like humans need to fear the machines.
Customer service automation requires a lot of human input to work properly
Plus, technology creates more creative and diverse career paths
And without humans, customers won’t get the intimate experience they expect
The best thing any customer service professional can do is stay on top of technologies that may actually clear more space to let them do what humans do best.