In the eyes of many, technology has become the beacon of future success. Companies across industries are grasping at new solutions to enhance operations and streamline service. Yet, with numerous automated options to satisfy those who seek self-service, today's consumer also expects companies to offer seamless cross-channel support when their personal search for answers goes awry.

"Evolving technology has impacted the customer service space in a drastic way," says Gah Bird, vice president, customer experience innovation at TELUS International. "Consumers are turning to the Internet for everything from online shopping to customer service. Today's consumers have many channels to choose from and they expect companies to offer their preferred communication channels at whatever time they feel is most convenient."


However, with technology constantly encroaching upon the service and support space, fear looms as many consumers worry that their favorite brands might lose sight of the individual customer. But, while many may believe self-service lacks the human element once present across all brand interactions, those companies that have the right tools in place have already begun to integrate the level of personalization and intelligence customers have come to expect from live-person interactions.

Though these options exist online, companies with successful support offerings have built their foundation upon an understanding of their customer base. They are attuned to what customers may be searching for, providing the necessary answers up front, while agents continue to monitor new concerns so they may tailor their automated offerings to address new issues, as well. When it comes to preserving the human element of customer service in today's ever-changing landscape, the focus lies with the sentiment and strategy driving service forward.

Be There or Beware

No matter the nature of the inquiry, consumers desire quick customer support that gets to the root of the problem with the least amount of effort and inconvenience. Whether through self-service or live agent interaction, customers expect the given company to understand their needs and be there for them when the occasion arises. With many online tools at their fingertips, consumers often take to the Internet to find their own solutions before contacting customer support. But, if they cannot resolve the issue via self-service, customers find comfort in knowing that they will be able to reach out to an agent who can guide them through the process, for all customers are asking for are representatives that know who they are and where they can get their questions answered quickly and correctly.

"Today's customers will often try to seek out their own answers first," Bird notes. "When they need to speak to someone directly, customer service agents must be ready to provide the tailored service they are seeking in whichever channel they choose. The technology—be it chat, social, or even voice—does not matter to the customer. Regardless of channel or technology, companies should have customer context which follows the customer as they are transferred from one agent to the next."

Dev Chanchani, president and CEO of INetU, emphasizes that, just as gas stations offer both full-serve and self-serve options at the pump, companies must make both self-service and live agent interactions easily accessible and efficient. However, these solutions must not interfere with building the brand's positive customer service culture, for it's not the tools themselves that endanger user experience, but what the company does with them that determines the situation. Instead, companies must work to empower their customer base to do what they want to when and how they want to with the knowledge that the right agent will be there to help if they fail to solve their own issues or answer their own questions. 

"Customers want to consume relevant information," says Ed Shepherdson, senior vice president, enterprise solutions at Coveo. "They don't need to or necessarily want to talk to a live person. But they really want to know that there is a human behind the content that they are being served. Companies also need to ensure that the relevant person is handling a customer request. How many times have we heard, 'Sorry, I am going to have to transfer you to another department because we can't handle that here'? Customers will not tolerate that kind of service any longer, so it's critical that companies make sure people are relevant to the conversation."

Live agents must also be careful when it comes to canned or scripted responses, for customers can recognize when the representative isn't being genuine. As Jennifer Waite, product marketing manager for Personal Connection at inContact, notes, customers don't want to feel as if they're being fed snippets of a conversation, as such communications typically feel forced and rarely rectify the issue quickly and easily. Such interactions blatantly make it seem as if the live agent isn't listening to their concerns, which can often lead the individual to seek out products and services elsewhere.

Tech It Out

Though some see technology as a potential impediment to the personalized customer experience, Joe Stanhope, chief strategy officer for campaign management and analytics at SDL, emphasizes that this increasingly automated landscape is what makes personalization truly viable, enabling stronger customer loyalty and satisfaction. Because there are a multitude of interactions taking place across too many channels at any given moment, manual processes simply cannot keep up and deliver adequate personalization. Therefore, adopting automation techniques affords companies the scalability to understand trends and distribute intelligence as needed. However, companies must be sure that the tools used are the right solutions for the job.

"Just as evolving technology and consumer expectations create opportunities, they also create risk," adds Stanhope. "Customer service is still a people-driven capability—there is no black box approach today that fully replaces the judgment of humans. The inappropriate use of technology can be embarrassing at best, and damaging at worst. When evolving the technology and sophistication of customer relationships, firms must carefully test new capabilities before a full launch, and always monitor customer interactions for efficacy and unintended consequences."

Yet, while technological advancements have become essential for companies looking to juggle the sheer volume of inquiries, integration must also offer balance. Tom Caporaso, CEO of Clarus Marketing Group, highlights that, in many instances, companies look to the contact center as the cost center of the organization. In response, many implement automated technologies to reduce spend, even if it means cutting the human element in the process. But, as most will agree, the personalized, humanistic approach also happens to be the primary driver of customer loyalty. By allowing easy access to live-person service, companies may incur higher costs, but at the end of the day, having a happy, loyal brand advocate will be worth much more than any line item on the budget.