Back in the days of pay phones and beepers, no one talked about the customer experience — just customer service. Companies were reactive, not proactive. To provide adequate experiences, they staffed call centers and hoped to put out enough fires to keep people happy.

Things have changed, and adequate isn’t enough. Customer experience has become more important than price or product as a competitive differentiator. Businesses live and die based on their ability to anticipate audiences’ needs, and technology holds the key to the highest levels of service.

Automation holds a special place in the technological hierarchy of experience. As customers demand more personalized experiences and 24/7 support, automation allows businesses to act on all the data they collect. By keeping the focus on customer experience and using automation as the tool, not the feature, companies can meet higher expectations and boost their stature in consumers’ eyes.

Secrets to Effective Customer Experience Automation

Not all automation tools serve the same purpose. Research from Salesforce shows that 69 percent of people like using chatbots to get fast answers, but only 15 percent enjoy using chatbots to resolve complaints quickly.

Firing customer service agents and replacing them with robots isn’t the answer. Informed implementation of automation, on the other hand, leads to substantial, sustainable improvements in the customer experience.

Use the following tips to automate better experiences:

1. Remember that end users are people.

With so many promises of improved sales metrics, many businesses forget the simple truth: Automation tools don’t exist to improve numbers. Instead, they exist to benefit real human users by making processes simpler and more accessible.

Reservations.com, for example, distinguishes itself in the crowded travel booking space through context-based smart interaction tools. The brand tracks customer preferences to provide tailored recommendations and then streamlines the purchase journey with a tech-enabled live agent platform. Customers don’t want to work hard — they just want services to work.

Before investing in automated tools that promise to bolster the bottom line, think about the role those tools will play in customers’ lives. Most tools provide short-term gains in efficiency, but if they harm the experience, customer attrition will quickly wipe out those easy wins.

2. Find harmonies with human workers.

While automated tools can handle plenty on their own, human-level AI thinkers remain a sci-fi dream. Because robots won’t replace humans, brands should think carefully about how they integrate human workforces with inhuman helpers.

Kickoff Labs, a viral marketing company, recommends that businesses use automated tools to create an online knowledge base. This knowledge base should include everything from FAQs to how-tos and helpful guidelines. Smarter tools can analyze customer service trends to suggest which topics deserve coverage, freeing up customer service agents to spend their time on more delicate tasks.

3. Prioritize personalization above all.

Humans know what other humans sound like, even through text. Don’t try to trick people into thinking a robot is a person. In the best-case scenario, the audience will ignore the message. In the worst-case scenario, the audience will feel insulted or misled and direct those feelings toward the brand.

When using automation to personalize communications, keep the message simple and useful. Companies that spam automated marketing emails rarely see returns.

When people communicate with automated tools, they want to get information and complete tasks without delay. Rather than lean on automation to provide a human touch, let smart tools plug the gaps between human conversations. Collect data through chatbots, and send that data to customer representatives for more informed conversations. Let algorithms suggest products, then invite prospects to speak to human salespeople.

4. Give the power to the people.

Digital adoption and automation company WalkMe suggests brands give consumers a little more credit: “Your customers don’t want too many responsibilities when it comes to doing business with you. At the same time, self-service is often the most efficient way to solve a problem.”

When simple problems need simple solutions, empower customers to fix things themselves through automated tools. Billing services, for example, could allow customers to handle common issues and log complaints through a client portal. For more complex issues, users could request a call from a customer service team member, who could respond much more quickly thanks to the automated assistance.

Automation exists to enhance the human experience. Think of it like a bicycle — humans may be able to run on their own, but bicycles make the process less strenuous and more effective. That said, the bicycle can’t go anywhere without someone pushing the pedals. Tools need human operators to make the most of their capabilities.

Before investing in an automation platform that can do it all, think about whether an automated platform should do it all. People still prefer to talk to other people. Humans remain the most effective problem solvers, especially when things get complicated. Automate aspects of the experience — not the whole experience — to give customers the high-quality interactions they deserve.

Does your brand come off human — or robotic?
Humans still want a human touch — no matter how much you automate the customer experience.
Brad Anderson

Brad Anderson

Editor In Chief at ReadWrite

Brad is the editor overseeing contributed content at ReadWrite.com. He previously worked as an editor at PayPal and Crunchbase. You can reach him at brad at readwrite.com.