How can automation create a better customer experience?

by | June 6, 2024

Automation isn’t one size fits all.

Companies are jumping on automation like never before. McKinsey’s bold claim that 50% of modern work can be automated, and sentiments like it, have struck both a chord and a nerve– it depends on who you ask. While companies relish the reduction in labor costs, the upgraded efficiency and productivity, and the expanded capabilities that automation offers, customers have yet to be swayed.

While a large number of companies have at least dipped a toe into automation and many believe in its power to improve how they work, one may call it a case of quantity vs. quality.

“Front end automation is key, and that’s the number one thing that has to be solved for if a company is going to leverage automation to drive down labor costs and solve their labor problem. They have to be able to automate, but they have to be able to do it in a really good way,” Andrew Pryfogle, founder and CEO of CX effect, shared with us on The UPSTACK Podcast.

So, how does one do automation in the best way possible?

Let’s discuss the clashing sides of automation, and how you can help even out your risk versus reward ratio when diving in.

Agility vs. annoyance: CX

Have you ever found yourself talking to a robot? If you’ve made a phone call to any customer service line lately, chances are, you have. And we’d be willing to bet that most of those calls weren’t an incredible service experience. What about your own customer service? Are your customers experiencing this feeling?

Many companies are seeking innovative ways to add efficiency and reduce labor associated with customer-facing processes, which Pryfogle says, in theory, is a great idea. However, in practice, it often falls flat without persistent maintenance and testing.

“I think what’s really important is for companies that are thinking about [how to] automate more and more of my customer experience is [to think] about what I call delightful automation: what are the solutions in place that you’ve really designed right and tested, and continue to test and validate that it’s actually improving the experience and not complicating the experience?” he shares.

The fact is that many automated technologies can and do improve efficiency, productivity, and experience when applied correctly. If anything, humans complicate CX interactions more than machines. As we previously mentioned in another article, a customer or service rep having a bad day can be a catalyst that escalates situations into the type of interaction that damages your reputation for service, whether or not it’s well-deserved. Automation can help eliminate that variable from a percentage of interactions, helping to reduce the number of CX failures from your record.

But to reap those rewards, you have to understand exactly what you’re working with, and how to implement it in a way that helps your customers instead of hurting their loyalty.

One NIH-featured study highlights the ways in which humans come to learn about and understand automation– and that this process has a critical effect on the technology’s performance due to its application. “Decisions about whether, or to what extent, to rely on automated advice depend on knowledge of the automation’s reliability,” the study states. “Misjudging the reliability of automated advice can have serious consequences, including automation misuse errors, automation disuse errors, and increased workload.”

How to strike a balance

Before you implement the newest and shiniest CX solution, dig deeply into how and why it works. Try to understand the place this technology will occupy in your larger ecosystem, and the impact it may have on your customers.

When in doubt (or even if you’re pretty sure!), testing goes quite a long way in ensuring that yours and your customers’ pain points are solved, not worsened, by automation.

Optics vs. application: Trust in automation

Back in February, a California court received a CIPA complaint from a resident who alleged that “Home Depot used Google’s Cloud Contact Center AI (CCAI),” reports Skadden, which he felt ultimately meant that “Home Depot allowed Google ‘to access, record, read and learn the contents of [customers’] calls’ without their prior consent.”

This could be just one of many complaints to come in an increasingly skeptical consumer environment. It can be difficult to know precisely how much trust customers place in nascent technologies, especially those driven by AI, to safeguard and properly disseminate our data. And with a litany of outsourcing, customers are becoming increasingly concerned about which additional companies have access to sensitive information– not just the ones that use the technology, but those that own it, too.

IAPP says that “63% of consumers were concerned about the potential for generative AI to compromise an individual’s privacy by exposing personal data to breaches or through other forms of unauthorized access or misuse.” Additionally, Christopher Holland, Experimental Psychology and Neuroscience PhD at Dalhousie University, found that in a study of 300 people, trust in automation continued to decrease with repeated use by subjects, even as the automated technology increased in reliability.

Interestingly, employees don’t seem to share these sentiments. According to Harvard Business Review, almost 90% of survey respondents “said they trusted automation solutions to get more done without errors and help them make decisions faster.” Additionally, they share, over “90% of workers recently surveyed said automation solutions increased their productivity, and 85% said these tools boosted collaboration across their teams.”

In fact, many companies developing and selling AI and automated products are seeing staggering investments, including German AI translation startup DeepL, who recently announced $300 million in investments and a $2 billion valuation by European VC firm Index Ventures. Investors find value in the increasing adoption of automation by companies, signaling that the market may be in for exponential growth.

The disconnect is striking: business owners and employees seem to love automation, as do their investors, yet customers seem to feel quite the opposite. It’s worth asking: how do you bridge the gap so that everybody’s happy?

Prioritizing trust and integrity in CX automation

Trust doesn’t come from promises made, it comes from promises kept. You’ll need to show your customers an experience that’s consistently trustworthy and positive.

People aren’t quick to forget truly poor experiences with automation– in the worst case, they can be immortalized in reviews, tweets, and consumer complaints. It’s crucial for companies to nail their automation from the get-go, ensuring that customers have an experience that sets the foundation for trust.

Again, continual testing and improvements to these technologies can help build upon that foundation, whereas a “set it and forget it” mindset can erode it instead. Make sure to properly prepare for and maintain automated solutions to keep their reputation (and yours) squeaky clean.

Human error vs. human knowledge: Ethics and security

Perhaps the greatest issue in today’s hostile cybersecurity climate is automation’s ability to protect our data. Along with the discussion of privacy and security comes a conversation about ethics and consumer rights.

Thomson Reuters found themselves on the receiving end of an FTC complaint against their public-benefit fraud detection software, an automated tool, filed by non-profit Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). StateScoop, in their coverage of the complaint, reports the following:

“[Thomson Reuters’s Fraud Detect product is an] AI-powered software that draws on personal data — like social media information, credit reports and housing records — to predict if public benefits applications are fraudulent. EPIC’s complaint claims the tool uses this personal data to make predictions in violation of several federal AI rules and that it frequently points to fraud where none exists.”

“When you input a lot of this data into an AI system, without understanding what that data means, without understanding how accurate it is, without doing any sort of testing or monitoring around what that data quality looks like — a lot of the issues we see in that data, errors and biases become the outputs of the AI system,” says EPIC representative Grant Fergusson.

Other legal issues have plagued companies regarding the ethics and security of automated technologies and AI, and will likely continue to do so as use becomes more widespread. As automated technology evolves, we can count on bad actors to evolve right along with it, even utilizing it to launch increasingly sophisticated attacks.

In The UPSTACK Podcast, Pryfogle says that risks are especially high for companies regularly dealing with sensitive information.

“In a highly regulatory environment with healthcare and finance in particular, the adoption of automation is more complicated. I need to have humans in the loop to validate that I’m [talking to the right person], that a bot’s not just willy-nilly sending PII to anybody out there. You have to put in the protections around that,” Pryfogle told The UPSTACK Podcast hosts Greg Moss and Alex Cole, joined by Ed Degenhart, our Managing Director. But, Pryfogle adds, there’s an upside to automation in sensitive environments, too.

“The good news is, the solutions we’re seeing get adopted in that space have really thought that through. In fact, I would argue that many of the more innovative solutions out there on the front end automation side of the house are doing a better job of protecting customer data and customer automation better than a team of humans, certainly.”  

It’s consistently cited that most cybersecurity attacks are caused or enabled by human error– causing 55% of 2023 cloud data breaches, Thales reports. In a proper use case, automation can actually strengthen your security posture, especially when you couple the powerful capabilities of automated threat detection and other key features with crucial oversight by an experienced human being.

Recommendations for IT protection

Don’t just invest in automated systems for customer service, data entry, and other typical use cases. Double down with trustworthy automated cybersecurity solutions that can help detect and eliminate threats with cutting-edge efficiency. And wherever automation fits into your technology infrastructure, be sure that the humans in charge of it are highly trained, careful, and diligent in deploying and monitoring these solutions.

Find your best fit with UPSTACK

UPSTACK helps companies like yours find automated technologies that align with your goals, all without introducing unnecessary risks to your reputation, data security, and compliance. Together, we can meet your challenges with solutions that drive success for your business and create consistently positive experiences for customers and employees alike.

Get in touch today– we promise you can talk to a person.