Humanizing the Automated Customer Experience

The customer service landscape is changing quickly as machine learning starts to replace human interactions online. There is a growing trend toward customer service automation as virtual assistants and chatbots integrate more conversational, human-like capabilities through language processing engines and machine learning.

But when a virtual agent tool exhausts its automated capabilities and doesn't know the answer to a customer question, that customer can feel misguided and become frustrated and confused. What's the science behind human connection and the emotional aspects of customer interaction? What types of customer engagement are most appropriate for humans versus machines?

The human connection

Regardless of how or why a customer chooses to interact with your company, the only thing that stands between a positive or negative experience is human connection. But creating a unique and memorable customer experience isn't rocket science. It's much more difficult than that, especially in today's increasingly digital world.

Human communication is incredibly complex, especially when it comes to providing excellent customer service. Consider the sheer number of situational possibilities that occur before a customer service interaction. The customer could be seeking assistance for a number of different reasons. Maybe he has a billing question. Maybe she wants to return a product. Or maybe he just wants to learn more about the company to make an informed purchase decision. No matter the issue, it's up to the company to create an easy, effortless experience for the customer, because that's exactly what she wants.

Human connections happening through customer interactions also take place across a variety of communication channels, including phone, email, chat, and social media. Not to mention there are many different personality types of both customers and live agents that can include combinations of neuroticism, extroversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness, to name a few. It's also important to consider the unique emotional states we experience as humans, like whether the customer is happy, sad, disgusted, angry, surprised, or fearful at the time of interaction.

Designing the ideal customer service strategy in a world where mobile accessibility, social media sharing, and machine-driven automation are overtaking traditional live interactions is extremely difficult. Leaders in the customer experience industry are acknowledging this incredible complexity as they face the pivotal question: How do I balance automated technology solutions with authentic human communication to create a unique and positive experience that improves customer satisfaction, boosts retention, drives loyalty, and increases sales?

Marketers need to better understand customer behavior and their evolving expectations for interacting with companies digitally. This integrated knowledge helps drive the best customer engagement strategy and create positive interactions with both the technology and the humans behind the company.

Harnessing the social conversation

It's imperative to know which communication platforms your customers prefer for interacting with companies(and for what reason). Consumers need to be reassured that they are still being heard by companies online, especially as virtual assistants become integrated with the market.

Social networks offer a unique opportunity to authentically engage with customers across different channels to foster meaningful interactions and create positive brand experiences.

Here's what we know based on a survey of 1,000 consumers: Facebook provides the best social media customer service. More than half of baby boomers use social media to make a purchase. And retailers are considered the best industry for connecting customers with companies on social. What do customers want on these channels? Half want to learn about a company or product, one-third ask for help, and one in four just want to complain.

There is a huge opportunity for companies to migrate those interactions to one-to-one human communication, providing a better, more efficient, easy experience for the customer. Marketers need to take note of the popular social channels, learn what their consumers want on each channel, whether they're looking for a deal or want to making a purchase, build a brand presence, and engage with their audiences beyond simply posting content.

Humanizing through messaging apps

Major social messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger and Slack are fueling the chatbot revolution. This is because people already like using social media to interact with companies. Eighty percent of consumers in a recent survey said they receive good customer service using social media.

Customers have gotten used to interacting with companies in their social news feeds, making it an easy transition to messaging apps for additional support. Companies have an opportunity to create one-to-one interactions in a more private social media space to deliver better customer experiences.

Human communication is an astonishingly complex process, requiring leaders in the customer service industry to make pivotal choices about how to orchestrate the ideal customer engagement strategy. Understanding where, why, and how customers want to engage with companies helps them adapt to changing expectations and create value for both customers and companies through quality human connections.

Courtney Simpson is director of marketing at STARTEK, a global customer engagement business process outsourcer. She brings 10 years of experience as a marketing and customer engagement expert.