Why More Customer Service Automation Requires Better Training


Posted In: Workforce Insight, Workforce Research

Mar • 15 • 2017


Has the era of talking to a real human being about your customer service problems come to an end? 


Self-service options like online portals and smartphone apps allow customers to take care of many basic tasks themselves. Artificial intelligence and chatbots have become so advanced that they can assist customers with many of the simpler issues that arise during those tasks. For example, it is becoming less necessary to call a 1-800 number in order to transfer funds or change a flight, because a website’s or app’s chat window — serving up responses automatically — can take care of that for you.


In fact, these days, the only time many customers talk to a real service representative is when they have a truly complex problem.


That’s the paradox: The better the technology gets at solving basic problems, the better the humans need to be at solving complex problems in order to deliver top-notch customer service. Essentially, companies who want to succeed will need to be paying more attention to customer service training, not less.


Pete Sena, chief creative officer at the innovation design firm Digital Surgeons, believes that even as technology progresses, the human element is what will set companies apart. “The future of customer service is being able to combine people, processes, and platforms to automate things that are best done by computers and that reduce human errors,” he says. “That’s going to create more time for that human-customer experience.”


And for many companies, that will be more important than ever.


The human element of customer service


According to Parature’s 2015 Global State of Multichannel Customer Service Report, 60 percent of consumers have higher expectations of their customer service experiences than they did the year before — and a great deal of that expectation revolves around technology. 90 percent of consumers now expect a company to offer self-service customer service portals.


As technology enables customers to easily solve their own problems, the idea of spending time on hold or getting transferred from one agent to the next is more infuriating than ever before. Why talk to a human, many customers think, when a machine can do the job more quickly and less painfully?


This attitude reflects a fundamental shift in what customers want. In the early days of automated systems, says Sena, customers were normally trying to get to a human as fast as possible.


But many of today’s consumers — and most younger consumers in general — would rather not speak to a human at all. If they do need to, they certainly want the human to be more effective in solving their problems than the self service options offered.


When a human gets involved in the service call, consumers want to feel like they’re actually talking to a human who can solve their problems.


Sena, whose agency helps companies make the switch to digital and omnichannel commerce while still designing engaging customer experiences, views self-service technology as a way to spend less time dealing with simple problems so that human customer service representatives can spend more time creating powerful personal connections with customers.


“Instead of a call center of fifty people who may not be able to make a genuine connection with the customer, smart brands would rather have a small team of two or three very human-centered, empathetic customer service agents deployed at the end of the journey,” says Sena.


Companies can use technology and personalization to prioritize speed and efficiency in the first place, then use human emotion and empathy to make sure people are given the best customer service at the back end.


Training for human-centered experiences


What will this mean for the workforce? Customer service staff will remain critically important — but the skills required are already beginning to shift. Along with the basic competencies customer service representatives have always needed, they will now need advanced problem solving skills, increased self-reliance, and a strong sense of empathy.


Sena encourages companies to help their customer service representatives develop an ownership mindset toward their jobs. Businesses, for example, can offer employees ongoing training or opportunities to take courses that build foundational skills like problem solving and critical thinking. A sense of ownership can only come if a customer service representative has the ability to make decisions and the autonomy to address support issues on their own.


“When they feel valued, when they understand the company’s values, and when they understand what the company is looking to provide, they are much more effective, empowered, and intrinsically motivated to be able to deliver,” says Sena. “When companies embrace the mindset of continuous learning, the people who work for them tend to go above and beyond their traditional job functions.”


Related reading: 6 Ways Companies Can Support Degree Completion for Employees


The future of customer service


As technology and consumer expectation evolve hand-in-hand, the companies that thrive will be those that offer the most empathetic customer experiences — supported by customer service representatives who are able to do their jobs with more sophistication.


“That’s really where I think the future of customer service is going,” says Sena. “It’s going to be about personalization and making sure customers have the most bespoke experience you can possibly deliver at scale.”


The customer service jobs of tomorrow — and, realistically, today — require employees who can thoughtfully and capably respond to complex customer problems rather than just inputting transactions. Technology can help companies create these “bespoke experiences” through artificial intelligence and predictive analytics, but a key ingredient in a human-centered customer service experience will still be a company’s representatives.

Jessie Kwak is a freelance writer and novelist living in Portland, Oregon.