When you should (and should not) use automation
In today’s world of customer expectations, when a question needs to be answered or, when something goes wrong, consumers want access to helpful and accurate information immediately. This can lead to the customer making contact directly with a brand through phone, chat, email or even social media. In some cases, however, automation can be utilized to provide your customer with an accurate answer in a faster and more efficient manner. The question is, when is it appropriate to use automation, and when is it not?
At Haven Life, we offer term life insurance online. Our customers answer personal and health related questions through a digital application to consider a life insurance policy that usually lasts anywhere from 10 to 30 years. This is an important purchase that sticks with you for a long time, so, understandably, customers want to make sure they are informed with the process and answer each question accurately.
I’m proud to say that most of our customers are able to purchase a policy without ever contacting us. In fact, only 30 percent of our customers actually reach out during their application process, which is due to the ease of the digital experience and automations we have put in place. We are anticipating questions before they are asked and are providing effective automated tools. In my four-plus years leading our customer service operations, I’ve learned there are times when automation is necessary and others when it doesn’t make sense or can even hurt. Here are the questions to ask when considering automation.
Are you providing the best customer experience?
If you’re truly customer-centric, this question is the most important, and the answer should always be a resounding “yes.” Being laser focused on providing the best customer experience doesn’t mean a company can’t employ automation. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Customers appreciate the ability to get something done quickly and without interruption. More often than not, an automated email or an online prompt keeps the customer informed and satisfied, whereas a phone call could be an unwanted disruption.
As you’re considering new automation tools, keep in mind that the process is usually iterative. Doing so allows operations teams to test and learn to ensure you’re truly providing the best experience. If you see drop offs in the data or an increase in customer contacts, it’s a sign the automation isn’t providing the best experience, and you can easily reverse course.
As an example, there are cases at Haven Life when a human underwriter from our parent company, MassMutual, needs to follow up with a customer about their application. We started off sending these follow-up questions through a third-party online signature service. As volumes grew, we learned this process wasn’t user friendly or efficient. Our first thought was: how can we make this process better for the customer? We built our own automated way for these emails to be sent and received. This was a win-win situation because automating these questions improved the customer experience by speeding up the decision while removing the need for human intervention.
Are you creating more efficiencies?
If you believe an automated tool can enhance the customer experience, the next question is whether or not it will improve internal efficiencies. As you scale, it’s always important to do more with less. The right automation can solve for this.
I’ve found there are few no-brainers when it comes to scaling inquiry volume, without straining our customer service team:
Automated email responses: Customers like having a “paper trail” in their inboxes and an automated email provides reassurance to a customer about their status, whether it be about where they are in their path to purchase or the estimated timing of a shipment.
FAQ / knowledge-base: For online only brands, a customer can easily turn to an accessible FAQ to gut-check their question and keep progressing along, often with just a couple of clicks or a hover-over an entry field. At Haven Life, we use a chat widget that allows customers to search their question and see articles from our knowledge-base – if they can’t find their response, they can always choose to connect to a representative. FAQs and knowledge bases provide clarity while mitigating the need for the customer to speak with a rep directly.
Internal triggers: There are also plenty of internal automated tools that our reps use to keep themselves on track and provide a strong experience, such as reminder tools attached to customer tickets that easily pair with our calendars. For example, when helping our customers schedule medical exams, if a customer is going on vacation and can’t schedule an exam for three weeks, we can create an auto-reminder for ourselves to contact the customer on a specific date. These “remind us later” triggers can also be applied to numerous other customer actions.These automated tools may seem overly simplistic, but they are essential to reducing human error. They also provide a stronger customer experience.
Can a customer still easily reach a human?
There are times when automation will not be a fit. Customers may have complicated or very specific questions depending on their situation. In these instances, they appreciate being able to speak to a human being to offer the right context. In addition, certain situations require the personal connection and empathy that only humans can provide. For example, when filing a claim for life insurance, the beneficiary is calling to report a death of a loved one so we want to truly be there for them and ensure they are getting the support they need.
It’s important to remember that automation, no matter how sophisticated it may be, can never replace human empathy.
How do you identify if a process can be automated?
Lastly, a big part of considering automation is being able to identify when something could be automated. A customer service team should be tracking all customer in-bounds to evaluate trends. I often convey to my team that if they find themselves doing the same things over and over, there’s usually an opportunity for optimization and improvement. Operations teams must also review a customer’s online journey to see if they’re able to spot relevant data. There should be a constant feedback loop between customer service teams and other departments to ensure that you’re anticipating customer needs and delivering the best all-around experience.