Customer Experience News & Trends

Will automation replace the customer service rep?

A growing number of companies will try to replace front-line service professionals with automation. Will they destroy the customer experience in doing so?

It’s very likely, found new research.

More than a third of companies plan to replace customer service positions with technology in the next decade, a recent CareerBuilder and Economic Modeling Specialist International survey found.

If history repeats itself, it’s not likely a great idea. As many as 35% of firms that eliminated jobs for technology-based service hired people back because the technology didn’t work out, the same survey found.

On the bright side, most firms that replaced workers with automation added new positions.

New jobs could be coming

Many of those newly created jobs are better, according to author of The Talent Equation, Matt Ferguson.

“While automation may eliminate some jobs,” Ferguson said, “it also creates other jobs that are higher paying and lifts the standard of living for the economy as a whole.”

Still, there’s one thing automation can’t replace — the personal touch reps give and assurance they extend when customers are upset, confused or angry.

Soft skills needed more than ever

So as you expand automation, you might want to increase soft skill training for customer service reps because they will likely handle more complex and emotional issues. To help customer service reps improve soft skills:

  • Include many examples. Many leaders find it harder to train for soft skills than technical skills because they can’t rely on facts and step-by-step methods. In soft-skill training, create character profiles or frame content in a true story, using an example of how a rep handled a situation.
  • Guide with words. Soft skills such as empathy and courtesy are difficult to script. Every situation calls for different approaches. But you can share ideas on how to express certain emotions. For instance, to express empathy, start sentences with “I understand that …” or “I can hear from that you feel …” Courtesy is shown through natural use of the words your mother told you to use often — “please,” “thank you,” “my pleasure” and “excuse me.”
  • Emphasize listening. One of the most powerful soft skills is the ability to listen to understand. It’s far more useful than listening to respond. Encourage service pros to take notes on emotions they sense, in addition to the facts, and then respond to those emotions before the issues.

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