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How to preserve the human touch in customer service

Pooja Salunke

September 28, 202210 min read

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The pandemic has changed the way people shop. Customers’ expectations from brands have also changed as they now want to shop and search from the comfort of their homes, but still want brands to be present 24*7. With consumers demanding always-on customer support, businesses have had to pivot and embrace digital-first solutions to meet their customers where they already are. 

AI and automation have helped brands cope with the surge of customer requests. Intuitive bots and virtual agents have started sharing the workload with live agents and for good reason. 

These “human-like” assistants are adept at juggling multiple customers and offering quick resolutions, but they can be too impersonal and robotic for some.

AI and “human” support need to coexist to drive customer delight at scale

Taking customer preferences about automation seriously, brands have taken up the challenging task of providing quick, agile support to customers while keeping the human touch alive. Creating this balance of technology and human touch in customer service will be decisive in gaining the trust of customers. 

How to humanize your customer service with AI and automation

As counter-intuitive as it may sound, artificial intelligence helps sustain the human element of your customer service. Human beings are emotional creatures, and going through repetitive questions or concerns every day can make them feel frustrated and understimulated. On the other hand,  Consumers feel that customer service should be more responsive and empathetic due to the pandemic. This makes the live contact center customer service model inefficient.

Automated tools like chatbots or virtual customer assistants (VCAs) provide human-like assistance that offers benefits like faster response times, 24*7 customer service availability, no human errors or misinformation, and zero possibility of impulsive reactions like anger or frustration.

Your customers want efficient service but still crave the human touch

Even with artificial intelligence imbibed into everyday customer interactions, the need to talk to a person remains evident while making complex purchase decisions. Google found that 61% of mobile phone users call a business when they’re in the purchase stage of the buying cycle. This is especially true in the case of high-value purchases like finance, healthcare, real estate etc., where consumers carry out initial research online and prefer talking to a human for further assistance.

In response to this, savvy brands are elevating their voice channel with digital assistance. AI acts as an enabler that picks up insights from voice and digital communication that further helps in improving CX.

Additional reading: How to build a customer service strategy for today’s customers 

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How brands can bridge digital and human customer service

Research shows that 73% of consumers consider support experience as an important factor in their purchasing decisions. Owing to this, companies have started thinking of ways to humanize their customer support while keeping it fast and efficient.

Here are some ways they have aligned tools, people, and technology to get the best of man and machine in customer service: 

1. Go employee-first – and hence customer-first    

Most of us have felt the absence of human interaction during the lockdowns. That need for human touch has extended to our expectations from customer support in some ways. Brands should respond to this by automating basic and simple tasks and train customer service teams to imbibe empathy in their conversations. Here are a few ways brands can ensure to make customer satisfaction their top priority:

1.1 Invest in agent coaching

Starbucks suspended its services in 7000+ stores in North America for half a day because CEO Howard Schultz wanted to train his employees on handling unconscious bias. The suspension certainly cost Starbucks a lot of money but they saved on future losses that would have occurred due to unhappy customers. No doubt, Starbucks is known for not just its coffee but outstanding customer experience.

A sign alerts customers of stores closing early.

Source: A sign alerts customers of stores closing early.

1.2 Optimize hiring and focus on soft skills 

Hiring the right people for customer-facing roles is important because they are your brand representatives for the customers. While technical and product knowledge remains essential, soft skills like listening, good written and verbal communication, emotional intelligence, and empathy should not take a backseat.  

Brands are ensuring soft skills in their CX teams by investing in e-learning where employees can watch videos and tutorials on identifying empathetic and non-empathetic behavior, in-person activities to act out possible situations, and listening to customer-employee interactions to discern positive and negative customer experiences. 

1.3 Empower CX personnel with decision-making

Give your CX personnel the authority to take extra steps to ensure customer satisfaction so that they don’t have to lean on their managers for big or small decisions. This reduces friction and paves way for friendly conversations where customers feel valued. It helps foster longer relationships and Zappos, an online shoe and clothing retailer, nails this one. Zappos authorized its customer loyalty team (CLT) to wow its customers in ways they deem fit. 

A Zappos customer whose mother’s foot was numb and sensitive to pressure due to a recent medical treatment bought six pairs of shoes hoping that one of them would work for her. But unfortunately, none of them worked, and the mother called Zappos to ask how to return the shoes. Two days later, a large bouquet was delivered to her doorstep from Zappos, with a sweet get-well-soon message. 

Personalized gestures like these go a long way in ensuring customer satisfaction and retention.

2. Simplify every process that comes in the way of customer delight

Organized processes are critical to achieving efficient customer service. The challenge is to have processes that do more than simply offer a solution or fix a complaint. People no longer want to feel like ticket numbers, and you can achieve this by coupling well-structured service level agreements (SLAs) with CSAT scores.

American Express (AMEX), a financial services corporation makes connecting to its customer service agents easy and empowers them to make decisions and solve problems without a call time restriction. AMEX offers quick resolution, and in case of inability to solve problems, they offer a callback or mail back in stipulated time. AMEX’s 400% increase in customer retention is proof of its great customer service.

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3. Choose the right tools and technology to manage your customer experience

Customers need instant responses to their queries. Provide easy access to your customer support number and let AI or automated tools solve quick questions. Use technology that frees up time for agents to focus on conversations with customers. When agents don't need to spend time looking for tickets, finding past information, and solving repetitive queries, they can focus on giving personal attention to customer issues that need them.

91% of consumers are more likely to come back to brands that recognize, remember, and provide them with relevant support, offers, and recommendations. In short, customers want to be recognized as a human with their preferences prioritized at every turn. But for companies to enhance their abilities to offer human customer support, they need the aid of AI-powered customer experience management solutions.

The speed of AI combined with the emotional intelligence of human customer service is decisive in making customers happy. It gives the customers the flexibility to choose to have short and direct transactions using live chat or have elaborate conversations with a human. 

Sephora, a retailer of personal care and beauty products, was one of the first adopters of chatbots. Sephora's assistant aids customers in booking make-up consultations, trying makeup, or giving feedback using Facebook messenger. 

Its highly interactive chatbot uses augmented reality to superimpose makeup using the camera, making the customer experience fun and engaging. As you can imagine, such an elevated and personalized experience makes customers feel more connected to the brand.

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Pro tip:

  • Use automation to improve customer response times and free agents to attend to more important tasks like resolving customer issues. 

  • Have a comprehensive view of messages, cases, and other details in a single view. Allow teams to streamline message processing workflows.

  • Couple SLAs with CSAT scores to ensure high customer satisfaction.

  • Empower agents with the authority to go the extra mile to ensure customer happiness and turn them into your brand advocates.

Use real customer conversations and data to train bots with NLP and ML to understand customers better and offer the right solutions.

Why preserving the human touch in customer service is great for brands

Technology is a part and not the entire solution to customer service problems. Without human interactions, customer service is incomplete. When customer service executives drive the customer experience with technology as an enabler, your business benefits in many ways like:

1. Responding to customer emotions with empathy

Chatbots that understand a customer’s intent and can handle multiple threads of conversations at the same time are more adept at meeting customer expectations of speedy and effective resolutions. However, some situations require your most empathetic support agent, like calming the nerves of a customer worried about missing a flight. Solving customer problems with patient listening and creative problem-solving are unique to human customer service personnel.

2. Establishing deeper customer connections

Even as technology and innovation scale, humans still prefer talking to humans to solve problems that are complex or high-stakes. Providing a human touch in customer service paves the way for deeper customer connections. 

Tesla addressed the issue of long waiting periods for servicing and repairs by launching its in-house service centers in addition to its existing network of third-party service centers.

A happy customer, U/Ekobres had to say this about Tesla’s customer service on Reddit.

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This gesture is an excellent example of using the human touch in customer service to delight customers. 

3. Ensuring more customer loyalty

When customers feel heard and see their problems solved without hassle, they recommend you to their friends and family. They are more likely to stick around. 

Jetblue airlines delivered coffee to a frequent passenger who casually tweeted that he could not grab his favorite coffee before boarding the plane. Small gestures like these make the customers feel appreciated and stick to the brand.

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4. Reducing customer churn

Churn is the percentage of people who end a relationship with your brand after a certain period of being a customer. Leverage automation to focus on creating better onboarding experiences, provide personalized attention and detect loopholes that cause churn. 

5. Improving return on investment (ROI) in CX

This one is a no-brainer. Positive customer experiences drive customer loyalty. Research shows that acquiring a new customer costs 5X more than retaining one. Investing in the right mix of automation tools and human customer service teams will boost customer retention and, thereby, ROI.

The pandemic has taught us to appreciate human interactions, trust, empathy, and care. Even though digital tools are taking the foreground, they can never fully replace the human touch in customer service. A symbiosis between AI and human customer service is the way forward that only technically advanced platforms like Sprinklr Modern Care can provide.

AI helps brands provide a synchronized customer service experience while taking the load off Customer Service agents. The power of AI is not only in gathering data but also in deriving high-quality insights that brands can use to scale their businesses, instead of only focusing on eliminating manual tasks. A well-coordinated AI and agent system result in a 24*7 optimal customer experience resulting in a good brand reputation. 

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