Many enterprise companies working to outpace the competition and enhance the overall customer experience have begun incorporating AI-driven automation technologies. While automation can offer many advantages – faster response times, trigger-based outreach and overall force multiplication for teams – to be truly successful, it must deliver business outcomes.
Because customer engagement needs vary greatly across the customer lifecycle, automation can be additive, but the value of human interaction should not be underestimated. To develop an effective customer engagement strategy, it helps to map the entire customer journey. Looking at engagement holistically, rather than simply identifying disparate interactions that can be automated, will help you define and deliver a more seamless customer experience. In contrast, addressing only a few discrete points in the lifecycle, such as top-of-the-funnel marketing or sales outreach, without considering the entire experience can lead to gaps in service and alignment, ultimately hurting overall customer satisfaction.
There are two main reasons for this, according to research from McKinsey. First, even if a customer has positive individual interactions with a company in one area like – billing, onboarding, or general customer service – they may still view their overall experience as disappointing. And secondly, customer journeys are much more strongly correlated with business outcomes than separate touchpoints are.
One survey found that customers staying in hotels were 61% more willing to recommend the brand when their journeys from start-to-finish were successful, not just a few touchpoints along the way. Identify Natural Engagement Points Throughout the customer journey, there are naturally occurring moments where customers would expect to engage with your teams. When defining your engagement strategy, it is helpful to identify what these are.
In earlier stages like presales, this might include customers researching best practices, product information, competitive comparison details or product demonstrations.
In later stages like post-sales, customers may have needs around onboarding, training, education or technical support. Once you identify them, consider which engagements could be automated while still feeling natural to the customer, without diminishing the overall quality of the experience. Be sure to also identify which elements would likely require human engagement.
Research shows that most customers still value human interaction over complete automation (only 3% of U.S. consumers want their experiences to be as automated as possible, according to a PwC report), making the distinction critically important.
We know now that the goal isn’t to automate as many tasks as possible; it is rather to automate only the activities that will enrich the overall customer experience. Of the areas you identified that can be automated, determine how incorporating automation could enhance speed, drive greater efficiencies and deliver faster results for customers. Automation that mimics human interaction currently works best in areas that are low-friction, process-oriented, and time-critical. Improving these areas can decrease response times, give your team more time for higher value interactions and help increase your team’s overall effectiveness. If, for example, a prospect indicated through your website that they were interested in scheduling a demo of your product, the utility of an automatic scheduling tool would have distinct advantages over the alternative – the customer waiting until a person responds to their request. In order to find a time that works for both parties, it is far less efficient to send emails back and forth than to allow the customer to auto-schedule an appointment immediately. This is an example of a low-friction, process-related event that saves customers time. An immediate response not only improves the customer experience, it is also a high-value activity.
After analyzing 1.25 million sales leads, a Harvard Business School study found that companies responding to potential customers within an hour were almost seven times as likely to qualify leads, and more than 60 times as likely as companies that waited 24 hours or longer. You should be aware that situations that are more emotional, like a service issue or a negative customer experience survey response, warrant a human touch. For any engagement along the journey where a customer needs to solve an immediate problem or find answers to complex questions, they will want to connect with a live person who can help them. Otherwise, you increase the risk that they become frustrated if automated tools do not adequately address their concerns.
Rather than approaching customer engagements as simply automated or not, the best answer is often a combination of automation and human touch. For instance, a classic example would be when a prospect opts to enter their email to download a free educational white paper, they should automatically receive the resource they want without having to wait for a person to approve it. And, in the future, an automated system could continue to add value for them by sending additional curated content, an invitation to a live event or a best practices workshop that caters to their interests. Adding a “please follow up with me” option for the customer to opt into a conversation with a product consultant can add a layer of value through human interaction (particularly if they have complex or scenario-based questions) and increase your chances of expanding the relationship. Combining human touch with automation can also be very helpful when solving customer needs that may be more emotional like a help ticket or product feedback issue. A common example would be when a customer enters a ticket, rather than wondering when your team will address the problem, you could configure a process to trigger an automated reply, immediately acknowledging their request, providing a case number for reference and delivering confirmation that a representative will get in touch with them within one hour. In this case, the company is using automation to ensure the customer understands that their concern has been taken seriously, the team is working on the issue and tracking the case in a short time frame.
To take this example a step further, the ideal situation would be that teams use automation to identify issues long before they are actually reported as a ticket by incorporating proactive automations that enhance the overall customer experience. If, for example, a SaaS company monitors usage of their products by customers, they could use that data to configure automations that task their teams to take action based on customer behavior. If the system identifies in real-time when a key contact with high daily usage suddenly stops using the product, this anomaly can trigger a flag for a team member to investigate the issue and reach out to the customer to address this issue before a ticket is even entered. Providing this level of customer experience can really set you apart from the competition and fuel greater brand loyalty. Once you have identified the best ways to engage with your customers, using both automation and human touch, be sure to coordinate all activities across your departments to ensure a seamless experience. With all departments aligned around your vision and working in unison to execute it, you can give your customers a truly exceptional experience.