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The Ideal Customer Service Ecosystem? Humans, Self Service, and Automation

A colleague recently told me about a frustrating customer service experience she had with Airbnb.

My colleague had rented what she believed was a stand-alone home in Miami. Excited to kick back and relax, she was disappointed when she arrived to discover she’d be sharing walls and a yard with another unit.

Feeling like she wasn’t getting what she paid for, she tried and failed to resolve the problem through Airbnb’s support chat, before giving up and calling their helpline. 

After multiple calls, she was finally allowed to cancel her reservation and received a refund — but not before she experienced the disconnect between digital and human customer service. Her experience highlights the lack of continuity between digital and human-driven channels, one of the most frustrating aspects of customer service today.



Human and Digital Channels Create Opportunities (and Pitfalls)

Support ticket volumes shot up post-pandemic, and continue to rise. Meanwhile, customer expectations for high-quality customer service are also increasing. The result is a perfect storm for customer support teams. 

In one survey of what matters most to customers, the three categories that experienced the strongest year-over-year growth between 2021 and 2020 were helpful/empathetic agents (42% YoY growth), availability of preferred channels (38% YoY growth), and quick resolutions (20% YoY growth). 

To meet these expectations, it’s best practice to offer multiple customer service channels, including self-service options. An organization might offer a combination of: 

  • Human phone support
  • Digital phone support
  • Live chat support
  • Chatbot support
  • SMS support
  • Email support
  • Social media support
  • Knowledge base/FAQ

The goal is always to help customers identify their issue, and encourage them to self-service if possible. According to Gartner, companies can spend 80 to 100 times more on an issue if a customer decides to switch to live support despite their issue being solvable using self-service channels.

In cases where self-service isn’t sufficient, it’s crucial to help customers select the right channel as soon as possible; and if they switch from digital to human support, to ensure the transition is seamless. 

While more service channels create more opportunities for positive customer experiences, they also create compounding opportunities for negative ones — especially if there’s no continuity between channels.

That’s what happened to my colleague. Rather than have one acceptable experience on the helpline, she started in the chat, unaware that her issue couldn’t be resolved on that channel. Then when she moved to the helpline, she had to reiterate everything she’d said on chat. Long wait times stacked on long wait times, and she felt like her time had been wasted.

A roadmap to a better customer service ecosystem: Download the Guide


Bridging the Gap to Maintain Your Brand

From inside the organization, it’s easy to see that different support channels are operated by different teams. But to the customer, they’re all representing one thing: your brand. 

57% of consumers say customer service contributes to brand loyalty. Airbnb isn’t the only kid on the block these days (hello Vrbo), and the reality is that it all comes down to consistent, reliable, and exceptional customer service. 

When a company drops the ball, it’s only a matter of time before it ends up in another company’s court. And thanks to social media, one bad experience can snowball, like this viral story about a terrible car rental experience. 

To be fair, Airbnb is already offering above-average service. Remember how Robinhood didn’t provide any human customer support? Or have you ever called any of the U.S. airlines only to be told that the hold time is 3+ hours? 

Customers may be willing to forgive an initial issue, but only if customer service makes it right. If a company makes a mistake, but the customer service is excellent, 78% of consumers will do business with them again. But you can’t provide that level of service without continuous omnichannel support.

Striking a balance between digital and human customer support, and ensuring that the relationship between them is seamless, is the key to providing that excellent service — and maintaining your brand and growing brand loyalty in today’s customer-first landscape.


How to Strike a Balance Between Human and Digital Support

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for creating exceptional customer service. Different customers prefer to communicate with your brand differently.

And that’s exactly the point. To create the best overall experience, you have to start by offering consistently reliable service experiences on each channel. 

But in many ways, that’s the easy part. To stay competitive, you also have to ensure the entire support ecosystem is cohesive. 

Here are a few quick examples of a cohesive digital and human support ecosystem:

  • The website helps users easily find support information and gently funnels different kinds of requests to different channels.
  • There is an up-to-date, easy-to-use FAQ to help customers find answers quickly and keep other channels open for more complex queries. There is a direct path from the FAQ to human support when answers aren’t available. 
  • It’s clear to customers whether they’re talking to a chatbot or a live person.  Chatbots are best used for simple requests.
  • In the case of more complex requests/issues, the chatbot can reroute customers to a live agent who can provide empathetic, effective customer service.   Live chat is now available with real-time suggested language assistance for human agents to improve conversation outcomes. 
  • Messaging and policies are consistent across channels, so customers aren’t ever told two different things in two different places.

A Roadmap for Addressing the Disconnect

We’ve put together a comprehensive guide that explains best practices for digital, automated, and human service channels, a roadmap to bridging the gap, and a list of technology vendors who can help.