The automation of simple services offers broad advantages for customers as well as businesses. For example: the processing of service processes remains scalable, is immediately available around the clock and the processing results can be evaluated according to the specifications in consistent quality and processes. The first time resolution of simple customer contacts with service automation allows valuable employees to concentrate on more complex and diagnosis-intensive customer contacts.
Despite the advantages of service automation, it is often percieved in a negative way. From the perspective of Dr.Fried & Partner his is mainly due to over-ambitious projects that aim at a high increase in efficiency in the company while offering very little or no benefit to the customer. For a service to be successful, three virtues are required:
Customers only use automated services if they can clearly see the benefit for themselves. While “punishments“ (e.g. extra costs for person-operated services) can also lead to increased use of automated services, we recommend increasing this by continuously communicating the benefits to the customer and perhaps offering time-limited rewards for trying out the new features in order to maintain a relationship “at eye level” with the customer.
A cardinal mistake in unsuccessful service automation projects is the one-to-one digitisation of analogue processes. A typical example is unchanged paper forms that are displayed on the website or in the app to be filled out by the customer. While the completness of the entered data and the ease of further processing are an advantage to the business, the one-to-one digitalisation of the form offers no immediate added value for the customer Only when the process of “filling out the form” is automated and rethought from the customer’s perspective does the chance of continuous use increase. This would be the case, for example, if the data already known to the customer on the website or in the app is automatically filled in, if the customer only has to see or fill in the fields of the form that are relevant to him or her, if he or she is offered interactive assistance in filling in the form, if the subsequent processing of the digital form is faster (than with the paper form) and if he or she can see the processing status in real time.
In addition, companies tend to digitise only those processes that can be easily digitised. Instead, we recommend an evaluation of which contact reasons occur most frequently and are particularly time-critical for the customer. This evaluation should then be used to determine how automation should be prioritised. It is not expedient to automate too many processes at once. A step-by-step approach is the best option here.
As far as possible, an automated process should always go through a pilot phase with a small group of customers. The feedback is a valuable driver for making the process as customer-oriented as possible. An agile approach, especially when analysing user behaviour, is also recommended: “What do customers do in the new process? Are the added values clearly communicated?”
Only after successful piloting should the automated process be offered to all customers. An analog alternative to the automated process is advisable during a transition phase. Even after the pilot phase, it is advisable to continuously monitor user behaviour and to continuously develop or adapt the process based on the findings.
Above all, service automation requires a lot of patience. It is a learning process on both the company and the customer side. The key element is communicating the added value. Punishing non-users should only be the last resort. The analysis of which customer group does not use service automation and why should be done in advance.
The following are practical approaches for setting up initial service automations:
Autoresponders or autoreplies are highly useful for customers if they contain relevant information. Examples include expected waiting times for a response, contact details for the correct contact person, or even the internal case number to refer to the inquiry.
2. Tracking & tracing option
Digitally tracking the status of a customer inquiry demonstrates a high level of transparency to customers/ business partners. This is useful if a mail/ info is also sent to the customer in case of status changes. For example, the status of a refund process can be made transparent in this way.
3. Online contact form
Online contact forms on the website are nothing new at first. They become particularly interesting, but also convenient for your company, when intelligent FAQs are integrated into the filling out of the fields. Here, solutions can be suggested to the customers in advance and, if necessary, a share of the inquiries can be avoided. In addition, this contact channel can be used to communicate added value to the customer, such as faster processing times.
Chatbots – text-based dialogue systems – are currently on everyone’s mind, as they function independently of time of day and location. In the meantime, many product types have developed, whether purely technical, with the help of employees or also supported by artificial intelligence. The important thing here is that this should not be the tool that is used first.
The goal should always be to provide customers/ business partners with fast and competent support for their concerns. It is important to maintain a healthy balance between service automation and the service experience. Be prepared for the fact that ideas for service automation will not be viewed positively by all customers/ business partners and employees. Especially in the initial phase, automation goals should not be set too high. First failures should not discourage, but encourage continuous optimisation. In all process optimisations, the ability to accept criticism and the dynamic changeability of concepts are important. Achievements in successful service automation processes should always be celebrated and encourage the implementation of new ideas.