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The Pros and Cons of Customer Service Automation

Everything is going digital, including customer service. Experts predict this year, 70% of customer interactions will use machine learning technology and virtual agents, up from 15% in 2018.

In this blog, we explore the pros and cons of customer service automation, and how human-in-the-loop automation delivers unbeatable customer experiences.

What is customer service automation?

Customer service automation refers to a variety of tools and systems that leverage automated technology to provide customer support, reducing the need for direct human intervention. The technology is so ubiquitous, you likely interact with it multiple times a month as organizations employ the tech to augment a human labor force. Some types of customer service automation include:

  • Interactive Voice Response (IVR): You dial your credit card company to dispute a charge, but are first greeted with automated messages intended to either answer your query or route you to a customer service representative – that’s IVR. Typically found in call centers, IVR tries to resolve your issue on its own or connect you with a human who can. 

  • Automated chatbots: Many company websites now have chatbots that allow you to send a direct message to a brand representative. Sometimes, the person on the other end of the chat isn’t a person at all, but a fully automated AI program that can interpret your message and respond accordingly. Automated chatbots recognize and attempt to simulate human conversation through text chats or voice commands, with the purpose of providing customer support. 

  • Self-service help centers: Whether you’re checking into a hotel or ordering a Happy Meal from McDonalds, you may not need to interact with a human anymore now that many organizations have rolled out self-service help centers. Commonly found in kiosk form, this technology puts customers at the helm of their experience. 

  • Email automation: Usually working behind the scenes, email automation reads incoming emails from customers and auto-generates replies. This process can be completely automated, or integrate an editing function from a human.

The pros of customer service automation

There are advantages to both organizations and customers in positioning automated solutions as the first touchpoint. 

  • Frees up humans: This is one of the biggest selling points when it comes to automation in general. Whether it's the robot waiter fulfilling dinner orders or the automated lawn mower freeing landscaping crews to tend to hedges, leveraging automation enables humans to devote their time to higher level responsibilities. Since a chatbot can handle 80% of routine customer support questions, human agents are free to field more complex queries or tasks. 

  • Increase human productivity: A human customer rep might be able to answer one email a minute, but email automation that populates the most probable reply allows the same human to answer five emails a minute. Automation also allows teams to scale to handle surges during a rush (think retail companies during the holiday season). Simply put, automated technology allows people to get more done. 

  • Reduces labor costs: Human labor can be expensive. Automated customer service can help with that. For instance, for every second shaved off average handle times, chatbots can save call centers up to $1 million in annual costs.

  • Increased accuracy: By definition, automated programs are free of human error. The technology delivers the fast, accurate, and highly-repeatable results to the satisfaction of both company and customer alike. 

  • Round-the-clock availability: Unlike humans, automated technology doesn’t need to sleep and is available to field customer queries at all hours of the day, seven days a week. Customers no longer need to wait for answers (or wait as long), enabling them to have an improved experience.

The cons of customer service automation

Automated customer support does have its downsides, as anyone caught in a dreadful chatbot or automated voice message loop can attest. 

  • Inability to handle complex queries: Automated customer service tech like chatbots are programmed with replies. And even though some of the more advanced bots can learn in order to expand their knowledge, customers sometimes have queries that are too complex for them to handle, requiring a human to step in and fill the gaps. 

  • Increased customer frustration: Frustrated customers looking for answers and encountering only unhelpful, automated replies might find themselves boiling in anger by the time they reach a human agent. This is bad for the agent who has to deal with the surly customer and the organization that might be on the receiving end of negative feedback. 

  • Downtime: Although automated tech doesn’t need to sleep, it will experience some downtime for scheduled maintenance, system updates, and upgrades. In the worst case scenarios, it might get hacked by nefarious actors or crash due to some technical issue or power failure, leaving customers (and workers!) adrift. 

  • Lack of empathy: There is something to be said for the “human touch.” Imagine customers on vacation dealing with an airline that has lost their luggage. Customer service automation might be able to take care of their concerns, but it can’t express contrition for the unfortunate turn of events in a way that makes it seem like the airline actually cares. Empathy could help explain why 75% of consumers will still choose to interact with a real person even as the technology for automated solutions improves.

All of the disadvantages listed above make the case for human-in-the-loop customer service automation. 

Human-in-the-loop automation

Elon Musk admittedly over-automated his first Tesla factory to the point where it disrupted workflows and decreased productivity. His response was to reduce reliance on automation and hire more workers saying that, “Humans are underrated.” 

The same can be said when it comes to customer service. Automation can help organizations reach their KPIs and company goals, but is it improving the customer experience? Fast food customers who get their food just a little faster by ordering at a self-service kiosk would likely say yes. But a caller stuck in an automated voice messaging loop would say no. 

The solution is to not go all in on automation, but to use automation to augment the work of humans who can provide the knowledge or empathy a customer might require. At Unbabel, we’ve seen the benefit of this relationship first-hand.  

Unbabel has developed an AI-powered, human-in-the-loop language translation service. Our native-speaking human editors analyze and revise automated translations so that they are more authentic, accounting for things like cultural nuance. The human editors then teach and improve our AI while satisfying the person on the receiving end of the translation.  

Schedule a demo of Unbabel today and start delivering customer service automation that communicates in most spoken languages.

About the Author

Diana Afonso is Head of Customer Happiness at Unbabel. With over eight years of experience in the customer support field, she has a strong history of success in empowering and engaging customer support teams, driving quality, and acting as the voice of the customer to deliver a rewarding customer experience.

Profile Photo of Diana Afonso