Automating Customer Service Processes

As companies strive to improve efficiency, reduce costs, and enhance the customer experience, the prevalence of process automation in customer care teams continues to grow in today’s business environment. One of the key opportunities automation has is that it can assist customer care teams to focus on more high-level and high-value tasks, such as resolving complex issues or providing personalized support. Companies must combine automation with human expertise and empathy to provide a superior customer experience that meets the needs and expectations of all their customers.

Our Customer Service Peer Group meeting on May 18th discussed this topic in-depth, where participants heard field experts share their thoughts on priorities and approaches to this upcoming necessity. Participants learned how to set up their teams to deliver their most valuable talents by automating tasks that keep them from the customers needing them.

The meeting was led by UWEBC’s Customer Service Practice Director Matthew Cone, with featured presentations from Brian Hagel of Kohl’s about Contact Center Automation and Nick Carpenter of Esker about Order Management examples and more. Brian Hagel started our group meeting with a thought-provoking idea. He said, “If you don’t think tasks can be automated, think again!” When thinking about how to start implementing automation in a business, he suggested that companies consider three crucial questions that will sound familiar: What should we stop doing? What should we start doing? What should we continue doing? and a fourth consideration: What should we automate?

Brian shared some of the different automation platforms they use at Kohl’s to help with everyday tasks. For example, he explained the process behind the FAQ chatbot on the Kohl’s website. Brian said that they have a team of people, in addition to their day job, who run the chatbot feature where they go in and create answers to frequently asked questions. These teams monitor the questions in the chatbot, and if the bot doesn’t know how to answer, the team then tells the bot how it should have responded to the question for future reference. Brian also went in depth about one of their first bots at Kohl’s, “Larry, the late fee bot.” This bot goes into data points when consumers ask and determines if they can reverse a fee. An opportunity Kohl’s is currently pursuing is automating the lost/missing item section on their website. A customer would go into the chatbot and say that they are missing an item, and the bot would take them through and find out if they can issue a refund on said item. If they can get a refund, the bot would issue the refund then and there instead of having an agent go through this process with a consumer. Brian ended his presentation by discussing the many benefits of AI, including how it can be very cost-effective. There is a big worry among employees that automation will take over and terminate jobs. However, Kohl’s is shifting job responsibilities instead of laying people off as they start to automate some of the more straightforward tasks. AI can also improve job satisfaction, where employees can focus on the jobs they want to do; it increases productivity and, most importantly, creates new jobs, promotion opportunities, and higher wages.

Following Brian’s presentation, participants heard from Nick Carpenter from Esker. Esker is a company focused on B2B organizations to help them optimize the customer’s journey, from ordering all the way through collecting the cash and applying that into the Enterprise Resource Planning system to fuel further innovation. Nick discussed our business environment’s current quest for frictionless transactions. He defines frictionless transactions as the idea that it’s “easy doing business (with an organization); every single touchpoint they have with their customers along their journey.” Nick expressed that it is essential when there is a customer experience initiative in place to define the customer’s life cycle for your company and to walk with the customer post-implementation. He then discussed that when it comes to a company’s digital transformation journey, it is vital to remember that it may differ for some companies. It does matter what state your business is currently in.

Nick discussed factors to consider when segmenting your customer base. He shared the importance of improved human interactions, digitally enabled services, and fully digital, automated self-service across the entire customer journey lifecycle. Nick found that many of the companies he is working with have found this to be successful. He is frequently asked how to know if automation is successful for a business. He shared that one of the helpful things that Esker sees companies do is identify automation for three different buckets of business and leverage the corresponding success criteria already established to measure your success. These are: How are the customers going to benefit from this? How will the bottom line/ finance be excited about this initiative? How is it going to improve the lives of the employees? Nick finished his presentation with an insightful idea on determining what to automate within a company. He suggests that before a company implements automation, it must define its vision and the problem, then create a well-thought-out plan.

Finally, meeting participants split into small groups to discuss ideas they had just heard about and incorporate them into their organizations. They shared their key takeaways with the broader audience so everyone could benefit from these peer learning sessions. This discussion shed light on how automation can improve efficiency and productivity and lead to cost savings, particularly as companies can reduce the time customer care agents need to handle routine tasks, allowing them to focus more on personalizing the experience for their customers. Ultimately, it is important to stay on top of current technology, and by blending automation alongside human expertise and compassion, businesses can deliver an exceptional customer experience that fulfills their customers’ requirements and anticipations.

Published June 7, 2023
Dylan Kopf and Jenny Zhang, Marketing Student Assistants