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If you call customer support with a question or problem these days, chances are you won’t be speaking with a human.

In fact, by 2025 artificial intelligence (AI) will drive 95 percent of all customer interactions, predicts the customer experience company Servion. That means a machine—not a person—controls interactions. 

Increasingly, customers seem to prefer it that way. More than 60 percent prefer automated self-service to get their questions answered, according to a survey by American Express.

Paradoxically, however, there are some occasions when your customers do want human interaction.

Regardless, the days of the frenetic contact center focused on multiple consecutive telephone interactions appear to be dwindling. In its place: new, automated technologies that help save companies time and money while simultaneously increasing customer engagement.

So what exactly is customer support automation? Why do so many brand utilize it? And how do you know when customers prefer to speak to a human? 

What is customer support automation?

When customer support is automated, a machine, not a person, is the initial point of contact in technical support and answering questions.

Types of customer support automation

Automation refers to technology that operates without being directly controlled by a human, such as:

  • Interactive voice response (IVR): an automated phone system that interacts with callers. IVR gathers information about customers and directs them appropriately based on the answers they provide.
  • Chatbot: a computer program that conducts an online chat with a customer via texting or text-to-speech software. 
  • Email automation: a tool that sends personalized messages automatically at certain times to targeted customers.
  • FAQs and help centers: databases of frequently asked questions that provide automatic answers to customer questions as well as a knowledge base for customers.

Often, customer support automation involves a combination of strategies. For example, your company’s chatbot could direct customers to a list of FAQs. Or your business could build a chatbot into your social media platforms or website. 

Key areas for customer support automation

The areas of customer service that work best with automation are simple and straightforward ones, such as password resets. Up to 50 percent of all information technology help desk support tickets are for password resets, according to the cybersecurity company ID Agent.

High-volume, low-effort requests are also ideal for customer service automation. These include checks on the status of an order or clarification of the return policy.

Automation can also be very effective in routing requests to the appropriate agent or sales rep. An automated system can connect customers with the correct department for complex issues that automation can’t handle. 

Moreover, automation can support your customer service representatives. Shortcuts that help your agents be more efficient will improve both their working experience and customer satisfaction. For example, pre-planned responses are an easy and highly effective way to help your customer service agents with repetitive requests.

How does customer support automation work?

By 2030 the majority of companies will be using a full range of AI technology, according to McKinsey. In this section, we’ll look at examples of how customer support automation can work for various tasks.

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Using artificial intelligence in customer service software

How does AI work in customer support? An AI chatbot uses AI to mimic human behavior. For example, AI-powered chatbots can simulate human conversation by using a technology called natural language processing (NLP). NLP absorbs text or spoken words, processes them, and then responds as a human would.

Furthermore, machine learning, a subset of AI, allows your chatbot to learn from its conversations and automatically adjust to future interactions with customers. This is especially useful with return customers, who don’t have to repeat information that they have already given to the AI solution.

Automating support tickets

Do your agents spend a disproportionate amount of time on repetitive support tickets? If your customer has a problem in the middle of the night, how does the problem get solved? Automation can address these and other challenges.

Your company can use AI to learn where to direct a problem by analyzing the terminology a customer uses. For instance, if a customer has a question about a product, automated support can send the customer to an online product page. Or if there’s a problem, AI can direct a customer automatically to a help page. Moreover, if the customer’s problem occurs after hours, AI-powered chatbots can engage the customer and send a support ticket to the service agents. Then a customer service representative can address the issue during working hours.

What are the benefits of customer support automation?

Organizations that use technology in customer support show a 15–20 percent increase in customer satisfaction, according to McKinsey. Automation is increasingly vital in terms of customer experience importance. Customers are not only more open to interacting with technology, they are increasingly coming to expect it.

Improve your company’s customer service

Forbes Magazine lists several benefits for companies who use customer service automation:

  • Convenient management: You save your representatives time with intelligent automation that can handle routine questions. Human agents can then spend their time on more complicated problems. This balance is key to implementing best practices in automation.
  • Workforce support: Your customer service agents may appreciate not having to answer the same questions repeatedly. 
  • Real-time analytics: When your customers navigate through an automated customer service system, they leave an online trail of information that you can use to target your marketing. 
  • Cost management: Automation of customer engagement costs much less than interactions with live representatives. In fact, a chatbot can save your businesses up to 30 percent in customer service costs, according to customer support company

Help customers access support

Plus, service automation improves customer satisfaction. One best practice in automation is providing your customers with 24-7 service. Your company’s knowledge base is there for customers with uninterrupted availability. 

Unify your company’s voice

Automation ensures that your interactions with customers stay on brand, an often-overlooked best practice in customer support automation. You can program your automated solutions to use certain phrases, tones, or messages that you wish to reinforce with your customer base.

Improve return on investment

Businesses can save up to 40 percent on customer service costs by using technology, McKinsey reports. Furthermore, intelligent self-service automation has already yielded a positive return on investment for 68 percent of respondents to an Opinion Matters survey commissioned by Inference.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies have come to value customer support automation even more because it makes working remotely easier. Most companies in the Inference survey said that automation will play the most significant role in their organizations’ resilience over the next two years. 

Integrate automation into customer experience

Surprisingly, most customers prefer to learn about a company’s services on their own instead of dealing with a person. For example, in a Wyzowl survey on marketing strategies, 69 percent of customers said they would prefer to learn about a product or service by watching a short video. Only 2 percent indicated they would like a phone call or personal demonstration.

The important thing is learning how to blend automation with personal service to improve the overall customer journey. The McKinsey report indicates that organizations that personalize customer support automation get a 20 percent boost in converting a potential customer. Furthermore, the report found that customer recommendations correlate positively with a company’s number of digital offerings.

Related Read: What Is Customer Experience Management Software?

Use customer service automation to help marketing 

In addition, a customer support chatbot can give your company insight into the behavior of a potential customer. You can collect helpful information, such as by programming your chatbot to request a customer’s email address before directing the customer to an answer. Also, you can gain information about customers’ frequently asked questions to address them proactively.

Similarly, using AI to gather details about a customer’s automated interaction helps you analyze customer needs. You can see what types of services interest people who are interacting with your automated solutions.

Examples of customer support automation

The ride-delivery company Uber is a great example of how automated customer support works. The Uber app not only fulfills requests for rides from end-users but also uses artificial intelligence to address customer concerns by automating its customer ticket workflow.

On a simple level, Uber’s app provides button taps for user feedback. However, the company also uses AI and machine learning to anticipate issues. It can aggregate GPS locations, initial and final fare, and a total time of the ride to address potential problems with a user’s experience.

Furthermore, Uber recognizes when not to use customer support automation. The company never automates issues related to security, for example. They recognize that security issues require a personal response.

What are the challenges of automating customer support?

Customer support automation takes time to implement. Make sure your company is not trying to integrate AI or replace your current system during a busy or critical time for your business.

Accepting situations that require alternatives to automation 

Despite the advantages of customer support automation, it isn’t always the best choice. Ask yourself:

  • Does your industry use specific terminology or jargon? An automated solution does not understand nuance.
  • Is your customer’s issue too complex to answer with an automated solution?
  • Does your customer have a sensitive issue? 

In all of these situations, a human response will allow for empathy, tone, and other personal touches a machine cannot provide.

Balancing automation and human support

As AI solutions become more advanced, sometimes customers may not realize they are interacting with a chatbot. This lack of transparency is a disadvantage of automation. 

Another disadvantage is potential customer frustration with automated support. Often, customers wish to speak to a human immediately.

Many customer surveys on privacy and customer support automation send mixed messages. For example, 79 percent of customers surveyed by SmarterHQ believe companies know too much about them. However, the same survey revealed that 90 percent of customers are willing to share behavioral data in exchange for an easier, cheaper brand experience.

Appeasing uncertain customer service representatives

Furthermore, your own employees may feel uncomfortable with the introduction of customer support automation. Successful integration depends upon customer service management presenting intelligent automation as a complement to human customer support, not a replacement. Otherwise, your representatives may believe you think that a machine can replace them. Thus, they may feel that automation threatens their job security.

Understanding the pitfalls of automation

The goal, of course, is to personalize service without leaving your customers frustrated. That’s why customer support automation works best to address straightforward questions or help with specific issues. Problems that require a delicate touch probably should go directly to a human agent.

In fact, a customer’s desire to speak to a person increases with the complexity of the service issue, according to a survey by American Express. For example, the survey indicates that fewer than 20 percent of customers want to speak to a person about a simple issue, such as finding a product. Yet that percentage nearly doubles if the customer has a more complicated problem, such as a dispute.

Despite increasing emphasis on online customer support automation, McKinsey indicates that 79 percent of customers still use the telephone, although the survey indicates that percentage is decreasing. By contrast, automated services such as chat and self-service websites are on the rise.

Staying informed about the customer experience 

In this article, we’ve covered the uses, benefits, and challenges of customer service automation. 

Automation isn’t the best solution for every customer service interaction, but when it’s used well, it can save money, make your business more efficient, and even reduce human error. 

You’ll know your customer service automation solution is working when your customers are happier and your team has more time to focus on sensitive and complex tasks.

If you think that this technology might be for you, check out our pick of the best customer service automation software on the market today.

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Hannah Clark
By Hannah Clark

Hannah Clark is the Editor of The CX Lead. After serving over 12 years working in front-line customer experience for major brands, Hannah pivoted to a career in digital publishing and media production. Having gained a holistic view of the challenges and intricacies of delivering exceptional experiences, Hannah aims to help CX practitioners 'level up' their skills by amplifying the voices of today's thought leaders in the space.