As companies continue to move to automation (hello, ChatGPT) to save money, one thing is getting lost: the kind of customer service that only a human can give. I realize that companies that process thousands or millions of inquiries daily need a way to manage inquiries efficiently.
Some automated responses (e.g., “track my order”) do a pretty good job for now. There is a cost to having humans deal with each of these inquiries. But there also is a cost to not having humans respond. When you need a real person to handle a more complex issue, being stuck in the chatbot loop of doom is incredibly frustrating — and expensive for your business in the long run.
One of my team members recounted the following story about her experience with automatic customer service, and it captures the feeling that many of us are having as we grieve the loss of the human touch while we increasingly depend on the convenience of online shopping.
She started handmaking cards a few years ago. It gave her a creative outlet in which she could easily lose herself for hours. She found that her favorite tools were a combination of die cuts, stamps and inks, and there was one company in particular whose products she purchased from repeatedly and loved so much that she decided to join their pricey monthly subscription program.
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She logged on to the familiar website, clicked on the monthly subscription button, and quickly pressed all the buttons through the check-out process. Immediately upon completing the order, she noticed that she had the wrong ship-to address. There was no obvious way to edit the order, but there was that ubiquitous chatbot. She clicked on the chat, hoping to correct the order error.
After twenty-five frustrating minutes of back and forth with the automated bot, with the bot asking after each exchange if they have been helpful and solved her problem, never offering an option to escalate or speak to a customer service representative, she received a link to store policies stating that orders could not be edited. She was frustrated and realized that the bot could never really understand the problem and certainly couldn’t solve it. The whole experience left a bad taste in her mouth and clearly reflected the brand. A loyal, valuable customer was left disappointed, frustrated and with less trust in the company.
As an entrepreneur, one of the things that keep me up at night is how to make a good impression on my customers or potential customers and how do I become a loved and trusted brand. The story above clearly illustrates why customer service by bot may be cost-effective but also may be what tanks your business.
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Customers want fast service and low cost, but it is increasingly clear to me that efficiency can’t come at the cost of customer service and human engagement. My business offers personal, human customer service. When you start a conversation in the chat window on our website, a real person answers you. When we launched the company, this type of personalized customer service was not a priority and not something we saw as a differentiating factor in our business.
When we received delighted customer feedback, we never thought about it. We did this out of necessity; the volumes on our chat and in our customer care email were not heavy enough to justify investing in an outside service. Talking with customers was a way to learn more about what they were looking for in a shopping site and where we needed to clarify our processes.
We have a person, Carmen, who has primary responsibility for monitoring and answering the chat. When Carmen isn’t available or needs backup for holidays or weekends, each team member takes a time slot to answer the chat. Everyone is committed to this key brand promise of personalized customer service.
The insight we have gained through this commitment is priceless. And the most important piece of information is that our customers are hungry to talk to and interact with a real person. My company is a three-year-old online shopping site. We don’t have the reach, brand awareness or following that the large retail sites have. But it is clear from each feedback we receive that our superpower is that we are real people willing to engage with customers in real time.
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In the age of automation and the increasing adoption of AI to streamline business processes, there is still room and desire to work with people. There is a skill involved in addressing and managing customer feedback. The art of customer service, people to people, is a fading skill as we all become comfortable with AI’s growing presence in our everyday lives. My customers are surprised and delighted when they realize that on the other end of their inquiry is a real person. For now, I calculate that the cost of not having real humans on the other end of the inquiry is too high for my commitment to becoming a trusted and loved brand.
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