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Evolution of Customer Support Automation And The Move To Remote First Service

  • April 6, 2021
  • Help Lightning

Remote first service is here: companies are now using augmented reality (AR) enabled, cloud-based software to facilitate communication between remote experts and boots on the ground. To the average person 20 years ago, this may have seemed futuristic and lofty; 50 years ago, it would have seemed almost inconceivable.

So how did we get here, exactly?

After all, automated customer service – otherwise known as customer support automation – is a relatively new phenomenon, with its first iterations rooted in the 1950s (and even then, this technology was a far cry from what we would consider functional and helpful automated customer support today).

So that being said – let’s rewind the clock for a second and go over:

  • The Evolution of Customer Support Automation
  • Drivers of Its Expansion
  • Research and Data On The Benefits and Drawbacks of Support Automation
  • The Move to Remote First Service

Let’s dive in!

The Evolution Of Customer Support Automation

Before we talk about the history and development of automated customer support, let’s define what it is, exactly.

Automated customer support is a “purpose-built process that aims to reduce or eliminate the need for human involvement when providing advice or assistance to customer requests.” In a nutshell, then, it encompasses hearing, understanding, and responding to customers’ needs in such a way that is helpful to them. Popular examples of customer support automation might include, “bots,” chatbots, intelligent virtual assistants (IVAs). These include examples such as Alexa, Siri, and Google Now – self-service portals, and remote first service.

But it’s important to note that all the above items are extremely sophisticated versions of the first “primitive” iterations of automated customer support. Siri might not be able to answer all our complicated questions (it’s best to keep inquiries short and sweet). But she is still lightyears ahead of the technology we were looking at during the 1970s, for instance.

Let’s dive into the evolution of customer support from the 1940s, all the way to present day.

  • 1940s: Alan Turing (well-known for cracking the Enigma code during World War II) is credited as having created the idea of the digital computer as we know it today.
  • 1966: MIT’s AI lab created Eliza, the first bot created with a human name and personality. She was powered by a room-sized computer and was intended to simulate conversations with a therapist; however, she was extremely unsophisticated and struggled with context.
  • 1960s: As telephones became a household item, companies began using Private Automated Business Exchanges to handle larger numbers of calls. This was the first iteration of call centers that we know today.
  • 1970s: Interactive Voice Response technology (IVR) meant customers could listen to pre-recorded messages and potentially have their questions answered without ever meaning to talk to an agent. The first version of this was glitchy but functional.
  • 1972: Ray Tomlinson was credited with creating email. Though the internet hadn’t come to fruition yet, email didn’t need it to work. Tomlinson’s file-transfer program allowed ARPANET users to send messages within the network.
  • 1980s: computer sales skyrocketed and so did database software (which would eventually evolve into the CRM software we see today).
  • 1990s: Enter the internet. Customers no longer needed to rely on in-person interactions or telephone to get their answers; they could get information from the comfort of their own home.
  • 1998: Here we have the first version of live chat software; Jeremie Miller invented an open source technology that eventually allowed companies and consumers to communicate via instant messaging.

A New Century

  • 2000s: The internet was booming, and companies recognized online help desks would be essential in keeping them competitive. This only fed investments into customer support software.
  • 2010: With the rise of Facebook came the rise of online complaints via social media. Companies then felt pressure to respond to issues on their Facebook page and other social platforms. At this time Apple also graced our phones with Siri, a general intelligent virtual assistant.
  • 2013: Self-check out meant consumers didn’t have to interact with checkout clerks anymore; the transition to self-service was in full motion.
  • 2015: Facebook releases it’s Messenger For Business service; this enables businesses to communicate with customers via mobile.
  • 2020: The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the rise of e-commerce exponentially as social distancing required almost exclusive online ordering of groceries, clothing, and other essentials. Beyond this, certain industries – in order to remain competitive – had to bring on automated software they might have been delaying. For instance, 2020 saw multi-family housing providers (such as apartment complexes) turn to a technology trifecta. Live-chat, automated lockboxes, and virtual tours were essential means by which to answer prospects’ questions and secure new lease contracts. 

Drivers Of Expansion

Undoubtedly, the tail-end of the 20th century signaled the rise of the self-serve model.

The creation of the internet in the 1990s, the boom of big-tech in the early 2000s, and the influence of big-tech companies in the 2010s expedited this rise to prominence. Specifically, it’s clear that key companies accelerating this growth include:

  • Facebook (with its Messenger for Business playing a key role)
  • Google (the most-used search engine in the world)
  • Apple (thanks to Siri being one of the most well-used, well-known intelligent virtual assistants for general use)

Clearly, though, there’s no supply without demand.

The relationship between the average US consumer and the average American business is a symbiotic one. As companies offer social networking platforms, iMessage, virtual assistants, chat bots, and even virtual tours: consumers have taken these businesses up on their offerings, primarily driven by convenience, ease, and speed. After all, why call a customer service representative and wait on hold when you can ping a chatbot and get a response in seconds?

In a recent study published by Open Market, researchers found 75% of millennials prefer texting over talking. And their reasons for this reflect the world’s surge toward automated customer service perfectly: texts are “more convenient”; texts work better with their own schedule; texts are less disruptive than a voice call, and they prefer to text vs. call in general. Now replace “text” with all the automated customer service options available: most of the alternatives to in-person service are simply quicker, more convenient, and less disruptive. And so the demanding forces behind the proliferation of automated support show no signs of slowing down.

Research And Data On The Benefits And Drawbacks Of Support Automation

Benefits

  1. The primary benefit of support automation is as simple as it gets: it’s what your customers want.

Here’s some eye-opening stats from a recent survey conducted by Groove HQ.

  • 73% of customers report they want to solve product problems on their own
  • Over 6 in 10 US customers report their go-to channel for simple inquiries is a digital self-service tool
  • ⅓ of internet users find voice or phone support the most annoying customer support channel
  • You can resolve over 80% of customer chat sessions via a chatbot
  • 90% of consumer have used self-service systems to find answers to their questions

And here’s the thing: having multiple channels of support and engagement works. Because here’s another interesting finding:

  • Companies with the strongest omnichannel customer engagement strategies retain an average of 89% of their customers. This compares to 33% for those with weak omnichannel strategies.

The takeaway here? Give your customers support automation options, or you risk losing out to your competitors.

  1. It saves your business money.

Did you know that by adding self-service, a typical utility could see $1-$3 million a year in savings?

In fact, IBM found that simply by implementing a chatbot – a company will save an average of 30% in labor costs. And that’s without any other self-serve technology!

As such, it’s definitely worth considering how self-serve could slot into your business model. Because when you implement self-service or automated support as a means by which to offer your customers efficiency, convenience, and speed, you save money which you can put toward other revenue-generating activities (or which you can feed directly toward your bottom line). You also tell them you value their time and respect their customer experience.

Criticisms

  1. Some products aren’t quite “there” yet

Customer support automation isn’t without its hiccups.

If you’ve ever spoken to a chatbot before (or an automated voice recording, for that matter), you’ll know that there are miscommunications and frustrations at times. Because the reality is, these technologies are not humans. And so they are not as developed or sophisticated in their understanding of complex issues. For that reason, it’s best to use bots and IVAs for simpler requests or inquiries.

Note here: there is a difference between general IVAs and enterprise IVAs. Thanks to Siri’s use by millions of iPhone owners, she is specifically designed to answer general, simple questions. On the other hand, enterprise IVAs are consistently learning and growing from a specific, niche number of concerns and inquiries. This makes them much better equipped (by virtue of machine learning) to answer more developed questions. That being said, again, we are still at a point in time where particularly nuanced problems still stump the software. And so humans are best-positioned to continue answering these concerns for the time being.

  1. Human speech. It is complicated

Alexa doesn’t get it when you respond sarcastically to her (and Siri won’t either). Most criticisms around customer automated tools center around their inability to tackle nuances in human speech, inflection, and intonation.

Specialists predict that these concerns will be of primary importance in the coming years. So developers will focus around trouble-shooting these shortcomings. In the meantime, there is speculation that these smart technologies will eventually come to offer a personalized, emotionally rewarding experience for users. This is certainly a plus for consumers who place priority on a friendly, engaging customer service experience.

The Move To Remote First Service

It appears that the growth of automated customer service offers a number of industries has primed the market for the benefits of remote first service. Specifically, it enables service based organizations to give and receive help using remote virtual assistance. And it does not struggle with the miscommunications or interactive limitations that other customer service technology is currently battling right now.

Instead, it allows us to solve complex issues easily and expediently using augmented reality.

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Whereas in the past service-based companies would find it difficult to communicate instructions with on-the-ground persons, and instead have to rely on in-person service calls, they now find they are able to cash in on the benefits self-serve offers.

And just as the retail, real estate, and food industries have embraced self-serve automation, it’s clear that remote first service offers similar financial and operational benefits to service-based partners that have the potential to spur increased customer satisfaction and improve productivity and ROI, among other key factors to business growth.

Interested in learning how remote first service can benefit your business? Learn more about results we’ve driven for previous clients here, or get in touch today to schedule a demo.

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