What’s the overlooked secret to support automation success? The employee experience

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Automation is not just a way for businesses to save money and reduce their headcount. Here’s how it helped me turn my work in customer support from job to career, and why it should be at the center of any successful CX strategy.

The CS trenches: The place any successful CX strategy must start

Increasing operational efficiency is on many a CS leader’s mind right now. And that makes sense: these days, it’s an essential part of any successful CX strategy, and one of the main reasons support teams decide to automate in the first place. But for businesses to thrive in the long run, they have to dedicate time and efforts to a place that’s frequently underestimated in its strategic importance and revenue-generating potential: the CS trenches. 

This is where support agents, team leads, and managers are working incredibly hard to create the best customer experiences every single day – and a place I spent over two decades working in. If you look at the typical agent experience today, there’s one clear trend: they’re burning out fast. According to a report by Gartner, only one in three agents is engaged, and non-engaged agents are 84% more likely to quit – with the average cost of turning over a single rep costing businesses around $14,113. Which is exactly why the CS trenches are the place any future-proof CX strategy needs to start.

How inefficiency became a problem for everyone involved

I worked in customer service for over two decades. From serving ice cream cones at Dairy Queen to managing a technical support team at an internet provider in Manhattan, I loved the gratification of making a customer’s day. But regardless of the role I held or company I worked for, there was no escaping the dissatisfaction of repeat, tedious tasks. The most irritating and time-consuming ones included:


1. Manual ticket triage: this included opening incoming messages, reading them, making a decision on how to prioritize, tag, categorize and assign them, then forwarding them to the right person or department. 
2. Back and forth with customers that ended up frustrating everyone involved: Manually verifying customers takes multiple touches, and tickets that come in outside of business hours can sit for hours or even days before a first touch. Not only did  my response and resolution times suffer, customers were left dissatisfied, too.
3. A lack of career prospects: churn rates in customer support are high (around 40%) for a reason. Agents burn out quickly because they’re working on mundane and repetitive tasks: Imagine responding to “Why won’t my payment go through?” 500 times in one day due to a third-party payment provider problem. Now imagine doing it with no aspirations to advance in this line of work.”

How my employee experience improved with automation

When I first became a Support Operations Manager and explored automation, I quickly realized that our entire support team was doing work they didn’t need to be doing.

Take ticket automation, which is a way of automating email and messaging management:

1. The virtual agent I was working with immediately automated the entire process of ticket triaging – which had a huge impact on average handle times (AHT). Not only that, our bot automatically sent a first reply to customer tickets, extracted rich data from them, and plugged that data into fields – think order or account numbers or dates, all taken care of in an instant instead of me rummaging through old messages to retrieve the information.
2. There was a huge reduction in back and forth communication, which helped us improve first contact resolution, reduce first response times to zero, and stay sane.
3. My time was freed up for more meaningful and strategic CX work: Not only could I focus on more complex customer interactions, I also discovered that the newly emerging fields around bot building and automation management opened up a whole new world of professional opportunities. This was around the time I stopped seeing customer support as a job and began to see it as a career.

The knock-on effects of happier agents

And I noticed that automation was producing knock-on effects for the businesses I worked at that radiated well beyond the trenches.

1. Being able to move from a reactive to a proactive mindset made me feel in control. With automation, we stopped constantly playing catch-up or waiting for problems to occur – instead, we were pre-empting them, feeling prepared for anything that would come at us, from peak season to an outage prompting sudden volume surges. And that shift from reactive to proactive created a huge shift in the team’s morale. It also led us to do our best work: We were more productive, motivated, and creative.  When you’re actually given the opportunity to use your brain to shape your working environment, 10 out of 10 people will take that opportunity. 
2. Customers were leaving our conversations happier than ever for one simple reason: they were getting their problems solved faster. As reply and resolution times dropped, we saw customer satisfaction metrics rise.
3. Our customers were also increasingly using our self-serve channels for issues like password resets, bug workarounds, and self-service billing, which deflected even more repetitive and simple questions from the support team, lightening our mood and improving business efficiency metrics. 

My experience is backed up by hard data: a recent report by Forbes and Salesforce proves there’s a link between employee experience, customer experience, and revenue growth. Additional research confirms that engaged agents produce higher first contact resolution rates, reduce the steps customers must take to get their issues solved, and reduce the amount of times customers need to repeat themselves.

Most people talk about the more obvious benefits of automation: Businesses save money and customers get what they need, fast. But the most successful CX strategies hinge on one, hugely underrated aspect: the employee experience. From the time saved on tedious tasks to a wealth of automation-related roles, automation led me to do my best work as an agent, and eventually embark on a career in support automation. And that radiated outwards, improving my customers’ experiences and generating lasting value for the brands I’ve been lucky to work with on my journey. 

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