Automation is not a new concept. While modern examples include making bread, manufacturing cars, or copying documents, some scholars say its earliest forms date as far back as two thousand years.
Despite this long history, automation continues to be mired in controversy. While some say it is taking away jobs, others believe its rise does not mean the end of work. Regardless of one’s opinion, it’s clearly disrupting industries and affecting business.
My company ServiceNow recently held its annual Knowledge 2019 user conference in Las Vegas. It’s an amazing event where over three-quarters of the sessions are presented by customers, sharing their journey using the capabilities of the Now Platform, including the Customer Service Management product. Many of their stories included the use of automation, and in surprising ways that not only simplified work for the customer service staff but also helped deliver faster solutions and relief to customers. Here are three such stories.
Virgin Trains offers long-distance passenger services on the West Coast Main Line between London, West Midlands, North West England, North Wales, and Scotland in the United Kingdom. Its service connects six of the countries largest cities: London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow, and Edinburgh.
One of the biggest challenges in the rail industry (if not travel in general) is delays. Those disruptions are frustrating to customers and employees alike: passengers miss connections or arrive at destinations late, while employees must scramble to get passengers back on track (pun intended).
When disruptions occur, the Virgin Trains’ staff now uses an app internally to orchestrate all the processes necessary. Passengers with animals, bicycles, or disabilities are calculated and the appropriate number of staff are dispatched to the train to assist with disembarking or making connections. Passengers are kept informed with more consistent information via multiple communications channels. All of this reduces the time necessary to recover the service, limits the impact on customer satisfaction, and lowers the effects on employees and partner transportation providers. In terms of value, Virgin Trains estimates it will save £400K annually and has already seen disruption resolution time reduced by twenty minutes inbound calls related to disruptions decreased by 50%.
Equinix is an internet and data center provider based in Redwood City, California. With two hundred data centers located in twenty-four countries across five continents, it is a leader in the global colocation data center market.
It’s not surprising Equinix came to be a leader. It constantly looks for ways to innovate in the customer experience. One way it has done so is to quickly onboard its customers. Previously, it relied on manual processes and paperwork to both communicate with customers and to internally setup the services customers had ordered. With automation, it now offers a shopping cart-style checkout process to not only verify services with customers, but also to offer additional services the customer might have been unaware of. Upon confirmation, workflow operates behind-the-scenes to activate the appropriate services. A process that used to take days now takes minutes and customers can begin consuming services faster.
Equinix has also brought automation into its customer satisfaction processes. Should a customer report low satisfaction during periodic CSAT surveying, automation is used to open a case and the quality team is prompted to investigate.
With a name like Blackhawk Network, one would expect this company to hold many secrets. In actuality, its business is branded prepaid cards, gift cards, and other payments (such as rebates). Its GiftCards.com subsidiary provides many of the gift cards found on Amazon.com. In its high-volume B2B and B2C businesses, Blackhawk is always looking for ways to streamline operations to save employees time and generate cost savings.
One such means was in using automation to communicate with customers and to more quickly close cases. With much of its customer contacts coming in over email, Blackhawk had discerned a pattern in these exchanges: when customers stopped responding on an issue, they had likely found a solution. Rules were set to follow-up with customers using a standard email message prompting them for additional information; if after three follow-ups over a period of ninety-six hours the customer had not responded, the case status was set to “resolved” and then closed. This automation reduced the amount of unnecessary follow-up by customer service agents as well as provided better insight into their actual open case load. Using this technique, Blackhawk estimates an annual cost savings of $60K.
The power of automation
The controversy around automation is not new. Even in its earliest forms, it was accompanied by skepticism and fear.
Today automation has already taken many industries by storm. Advances in artificial intelligence, robotics, and other technologies mean no job will avoid its impact in some form–including customer service.
However, as these real-life examples demonstrate, automation offers benefits to customers and customer service staff alike. Customers receive solutions faster. Complex, manual processes that slow service delivery are removed from staff’s everyday work. As technology continues to evolve, its clear automation will continue to change customer service in unexpected ways, offering new gains and creating new opportunities.