Automation vs. Personalization

By Erik Linask, Group Editorial Director  |  July 01, 2010

There’s been so much talk about process automation lately, thanks, in no small part, to the integration made possible by IP-based communications. Without question, being able to automate many customer service processes can increase operational efficiency and maximize employee productivity.

Capabilities like activity and process routing, auto-generated reminders, interaction automation, and IVR, often give customers the satisfaction of having issues resolved very quickly and simply. For instance, customers often forget what day or time a service tech is scheduled to show up, or for what time their furniture delivery is scheduled. These are reasonably simple automated systems to set up, and are a very effective means of ensuring both customer satisfaction and business efficiency. In fact, entire workflows can be automated to ensure processes are followed, but that they happen in a timely manner, even to the point of accounting for staff out on holiday or otherwise unavailable to quickly address customer concerns.

Of course, many businesses find out the hard way how they could benefit from automation, such as the flooring company I recently hired to refinish my hardwood floors. Despite having made the appointment several months in advance to accommodate travel and vacation schedules, and despite having received not one, but two confirmation messages the Friday prior to my Monday appointment, the crew never showed up. Why? Because the process fell apart when the office manager, who pulls the next week’s schedules manually from a master grid and sends them to each crew, failed to recognize that a crew head who suddenly became unavailable had jobs scheduled under his name and did not pull those records.

It’s not hard to figure out how an automated internal notification process would have eliminated the mishap – and not left a permanent reminder of it in my mind, despite ultimately being very pleased with the finished product.

But, a word of caution: automation is not a substitute to personalized service.

In another case, I had to return a mattress with which I was dissatisfied, and was immediately asked when I would like to schedule an exchange. When I requested a credit in lieu of an outright exchange, that request was also quickly accommodated, though I wasn’t convinced the process would be quite that easy – it never seems to be.

Much to my surprise, I received a call later that evening from an in-store rep from the local branch letting me know he had pulled our paperwork and we could come into the store at any time to pick out a new mattress, either receiving a refund for or paying the difference, depending on our new choice.

Now, I will fully admit that the exchange process may have gone off without a hitch, even without the extra phone call, but I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that phone call significantly increased my satisfaction with the store, despite having woken up for many weeks with back pain.

The point is simple, there are many products available that enable process automation today, from companies like Interactive Intelligence, Zeacom (News - Alert), Adobe, and others, and most are highly effective in streamlining processes, ensuring customer requests do not fall through the cracks and allowing staff to focus on customer needs instead of the processes. But, the successful business will recognize how to effectively leverage automation and the added attention it allows reps to give customers, adding an increased degree of personalization that, quite simply, makes the customer feel important. In fact, this holds equally for external customer-facing representatives and for internal support groups, such as IT teams.

We all recognize the best advertising comes from existing customers – and the worst as well – a fact underscored by the growth of social media, through which your customers’ comments and opinions can reach millions of other customers (both existing and potential) in seconds. This only makes it more imperative that, as you continue to improve your business processes through automation, you don’t lose sight of the value of personalized, human interaction. You never know which interaction is going to leave the longest lasting impression on your customers, and many may well appreciate the ease of resolution automation can bring but, it’s a safe assumption that most customers won’t be upset about a little extra TLC to make sure their needs are being addressed. In fact, they may be pleasantly enough surprised to post about it to their social media accounts.

On a related note, to learn more about the impact of social media on your business, and how to effectively leverage the popularity of sites like Twitter, Facebook (News - Alert), LinkedIn, and others, register now for the Social CRM Expo, taking place in Los Angeles, California, October 4-6.

Erik Linask (News - Alert) is Group Editorial Director of TMC, which brings news and compelling feature articles, podcasts, and videos to 2,000,000 visitors each month. To see more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi