For the e-commerce world, Q1 is a time when a lot of things bought as new go back on the shelves. Just as the last half of every year is full of frenzied retailers preparing for and navigating the holiday shopping season, the beginning of a new year almost always marks a decrease in sales with an increase in customer service inquiries. In 2021 alone, 1.75 million packages were returned on National Returns Day, the annual day just after the holidays where Americans return the most packages to retailers.
But National Returns Day only looks at the number of packages actually returned; it doesn’t account for the high volume of customer service inquiries full of common, simple questions that don’t necessarily require time from a service agent. Many of these can be quickly resolved, but checking the resolved box can actually be limiting your opportunity for customer connection and increased satisfaction. These inquiries act as a great way for brands to provide a personalized service that can turn first-time gifters into loyal customers.
Research shows 76 percent of customers prefer to help themselves, especially when inquiries are simple questions that help them become more familiar with the brand and its services. Automated self-service threads are a great way for brands to help customers help themselves, but brands and retailers need to make sure their self-service capabilities continue to provide the personalization needed to create customer loyalty.
The Opportunity With Automated Self-Service
Utilizing automation for simple inquiries is one of the most cost-effective ways to handle high volumes more efficiently and offload routine inquiries from customer service agents so they can focus on more complex issues. In fact, as technology providers and brands get more comfortable with generative artificial intelligence like ChatGPT, it will almost certainly expand the use cases where customers can help themselves. Yet the reality of automated self-service, even as sexy as ChatGPT, is that it’s simply not a catch-all. It may feel impersonal or simply misunderstand, leaving customers feeling frustrated. Sometimes you just want to talk to a human.
There has been talk in the industry for years about different ways to utilize AI to improve customer service. The introduction of ChatGPT emphasized the need for AI solutions to provide human-like interactions, but AI alone shouldn’t be seen as a catch-all or replacement for service agents. Instead, retailers need to provide AI-assisted interactions that can help customers answer simple questions or get them to the point where AI can no longer provide value, and then connect them to a customer service agent to finish the job. The key to a blended approach is for the AI solution to provide the agent with the context of the interaction up until they were passed along, providing an easier experience for the agent on the backend and a seamless experience for the customer at home.
The challenge with automated self-service is finding a cost-effective platform that won’t sacrifice customer personalization and efficiency, and won’t require too much time or so many resources that it diminishes return on investment.
Bringing Together Personalization and Automation
Channel-independent customer service platforms are one of the most effective ways to combat these challenges by eliminating the use of tickets and instead leaning into the customer journey to provide personalized solutions.
With channel independence, it doesn’t matter if a customer calls, emails or chats; all of the information is fed into a singular feed so service agents can see beyond the issue and into the entire customer journey. Integrating self-service onto this type of platform makes it easy to keep that level of personalization, even though the communication is automated, while avoiding the complex integrations and technical maintenance that creates an elusive ROI.
Self-service threads on channel-independent platforms are designed to first authenticate the customer, unlocking its ability to pull up the correct customer information on the backend and start asking the right questions. From there, customers are able to review their order details and select the automated option that best fits their needs.
If customers are able to get their questions answered with the automated chat, they can end the experience on their own. However, should an issue escalate to a live agent, the agent is then brought into the chat seamlessly and has the entire conversation history to know which questions the customer has already asked. This keeps customers from having to repeat themselves and allows agents to step in without missing a beat.
The Future of Automation
Automation certainly has its time and place in customer service, and there’s no doubt that more and more brands will provide automated services in the future. As retailers look for ways to integrate automation and create a blended approach to customer service, personalization cannot be put on the back burner.
Automation should be used to provide quick and accurate answers to frequently asked questions, updates on order status and tracking, and other simple inquiries that customers can ask and answer on their own. There are still many aspects of customer service that require the empathy and interpersonal skills that only a human can provide, and by utilizing channel-independent platforms that eliminate ticket numbers and lean into the customer journey, service agents have everything they need to provide that level of personalization. The intersection of personalized and automated service is a delicate balance that, when done right, can drive customer loyalty.
Jason Finkelstein is chief marketing officer at Gladly, a customer service platform helping the world’s most loved brands deliver loyalty through radically personal customer service.