The human touch

Can you (should you) automate customer service?

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Many B2C companies seem to be energetically automating their customer service centers. When you call, you get an automated system that leads you through a series of prompts.  For instance, you have a balance inquiry and you call your bank. First you are asked for your account number, then for a password or your social security number. Then for the purpose of your call.

Some calls will never result in interaction with a live agent. For some calls (and callers) that may work just fine. If you are paying a bill or making a balance inquiry, chances are an automated response is fine. It is when you need more that you run into a problem.  Computerized agents are only equipped to deal with basic transactions and answers. A person will much more readily understand certain problems and be able to offer answers (and solutions).

Many companies are cutting back their customer service departments (US Airways recently announced that it will be cutting 1000 positions, including customer service). This will certainly result in increased automation.

Although automation may be less costly it may impact customer satisfaction. People like speaking to people, especially when there is a problem. Companies should be aware of this.

What are your thoughts? Do you prefer automation or speaking to a human being?

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