Can exceptional customer service be automated?


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This is the fourth post in a series that will explore a set of questions I received from participants during a recent webinar on the topic of customer service.

Question: What is your opinion on automating responses to email inquiries based on content included in the inquiry to improve response times? Is it actually helpful or does it cause more trouble than benefit?

I have a bias against automation because it’s often impersonal, and exceptional customer service cannot be impersonal. That being said, I recognize that there’s a tradeoff between personalization and response time. Each company has to decide for itself its own performance standards. Many companies opt for the efficiency that comes with automated responses. Other companies may choose to sacrifice response time for a more personalized response. I’m not here to judge. Each company must simply honor its own service standards.

And it’s possible to do both: incorporate personality into automated responses. A great way to do this is by infusing appropriate humor into “standardized” responses. I recall a bank’s voicemail system that concludes a long menu of options by saying, “If you’d like to hear a duck quack, press 7.” The auto attendant is predictable, but the “duck quack” option is unexpected and refreshing.

Hilton’s theWit Hotel Chicago bucks convention by offering guests a wake-up call featuring the voice of the city’s most notorious mobster: “Hey you dirty rat. This is Al Capone reminding you to get your rotten bones outta that sack. Now get it moving. I’ve got an overdue Valentine’s Day gift for Elliot Ness I gotta deliver. Heheheheh!” The call is automated, but the message leaves a lasting positive impression.

In the same way, automated email responses (especially when tailored to content included in the original query) can share unique knowledge (troubleshooting resources), use appropriate humor (“It’s Valentine’s Day. I’ll follow up with you more completely after I dislodge Cupid’s arrow from my keyboard!”), provide a pleasant surprise (promo code), or in some other way mitigate the impersonal effect of an automated response.

Automation is often necessary to service the volume that results from consumer demand. Most reasonable customers understand this and make allowances accordingly. The key for customer experience professionals is to be intentional about designing automated communications that will meet customers’ needs and leave lasting positive impressions.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Steve Curtin
Steve Curtin is the author of Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary. He wrote the book to address the following observation: While employees consistently execute mandatory job functions for which they are paid, they inconsistently demonstrate voluntary customer service behaviors for which there is little or no additional cost to their employers. After a 20-year career with Marriott International, Steve now devotes his time to speaking, consulting, and writing on the topic of extraordinary customer service.


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