How to Balance Personal Customer Service and Automation for Maximum Impact

May 24, 2019

Personal customer service is a crucial brand differentiator, but the growing use of automated tools poses new challenges as well as promising new benefits. Heading into the crucial holiday season, sellers should redouble their efforts to provide customer service that is seamless and authentic.

Good customer service doesn’t just benefit brand reputation; it can have a tangible effect on the bottom line. Consumers are willing to pay a premium of 16% on goods and services enhanced by great customer experiences, according to firm PwC.

As companies boost investment in personalization and artificial intelligence (AI) to deliver on these expectations, the arena of personal customer service has seen new tools proliferate. Chat bots, automated SMS messaging, robots patrolling store aisles, and more all promise to enhance live customer service.

The danger is that a patchwork of technologies can deliver an inconsistent series of interactions for shoppers, creating experiences that are memorable for the wrong reasons. And consumers still value live, in-person service; 83% of consumers said interacting with real people will only become more important as technology improves, PwC found.

This preference, combined with the push for greater data privacy and transparency, signals that merchants should roll out automation efforts carefully, and promote the personal touch widely. To do so:

1) Strictly define use cases for automation — and be transparent.

Some 80% of routine information lookups can be handled by AI. But shoppers react negatively to machines masquerading as humans; so AI-driven tools should be explicitly identified as such, which helps set expectations for purely informational interactions. Complex queries should be transferred to live human help, and the handoff should be clearly communicated.

2) Train staff to leverage digital assets.

Whether in-store or online, shoppers equate good customer service with the ability to locate items quickly, a survey from the ICSC found. Staff on the sales floor and in the call center need to be able to tap inventory across the company and access customer profiles to make the most relevant recommendations; then present the most efficient fulfillment options.

3) Offer the human touch as a loyalty perk.

Style consultations and dedicated personal customer service lines that grant easy access to one-on-one experiences are essential. They can be positioned as value-added benefits to loyalty club members and other VIPs.

How is your business combining automated and personal service to meet consumers’ expectations?