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Human vs. Digital Customer Service: How to Find the Right Balance?

By Etie Hertz

July 12, 2021


Three weeks ago, I found myself at a happy hour with a close colleague discussing a very post-pandemic issue: dealing with customer service at Airbnb. My colleague had rented what she believed was a newly-remodeled home in an up-and-coming area of Miami. Excited to kick back and relax, she was disappointed when her spouse and she drove up to discover they’d be sharing walls (and more importantly a grassy yard) with another unit.

Not feeling like she was getting what she signed up for, she found herself on Airbnb’s chat for a good twenty minutes before calling it quits and dialing their helpline.

Eventually, after multiple persistent calls, they were allowed to cancel their reservation and received a refund — but not before she experienced the disconnect between her digital and human interaction with Airbnb. In short, what she conveyed through chat needed to be completely reiterated to the human she spoke with on the phone.

So what does this say about the dichotomy of digital and human interactions in customer service? In short, the disconnect is too large. With numerous brands flooding the market — from consumer goods to services — a company is only as good as the brand they put forth. The above vacation rental issue may have been resolved this time, but what about the next? 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.

To be fair, Airbnb is not the only company that has this problem. 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? The human/technology gap is a problem for many companies.

So how can brands bridge this gap? Let’s take a closer look at how companies can solve this issue.

Best Practices to Creating Great Digital Experiences for Your Customers (with a human touch)

Let’s be clear: depending on your industry, your playbook is going to vary; there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to designing the best experience for your customers. However, below are a few best practices your company can adopt to jumpstart your company’s journey to better customer service and support.

Multiple Self-Service Channels

If you’re not already employing multiple channels of self-service, put it on your list.

This means everything from extensive FAQs to a good old-fashioned robust website. Self-service is not only convenient for your customers but also cost-saving for your company. According to Gartner, companies can spend up to 80 to 100 times more on an issue if a customer decides to switch to live support despite their issue being completely solvable using self-service channels.

Looking for inspiration? Below are a couple of examples to get your self-service creative juices flowing:

Airtable has Exceptional FAQs

FAQs are more often than not overlooked entirely, relegated to the bottom of a homepage’s footer with minimal time and effort dedicated to them. If this sounds like your company, and your marketing and customer support team approach them more as an afterthought, it’s time to rethink your FAQ strategy. It’s a simple ROI formula: Every time your FAQ page is able to answer a question without the use of a human customer service rep, you’re decreasing your costs and improving efficiency.

Warby Parker has a Next-level Website

When we say Warby Parker has a next-level website, we’re not even talking about its exceptional UX. We’re talking about something that might seem minor, but to a frustrated customer can make or break their experience: a universal footer with a dedicated section to customer service. Not only do they provide you with a phone number, but they also provide clickable icons that direct you to chat, text, email, or call a customer service rep directly. In addition, they have an extensive FAQ page that is both easily searchable and navigable.

Numerous Human-Driven Channels

Gone are the days when providing customers with a single 1-800 number or support email is sufficient. In a Zappos, Apple, and Amazon world, your customers expect support that is not only easy to use but available in a variety of formats. Companies must ensure that multiple human customer service touchpoints are at their disposal; ranging from phone and email to live-chat and social channels.

You also need to set expectations for your customers, stating when human support is accessible — whether this is 24/7 availability, during regular business hours, or if customers should expect a response within 1-2 business days. (The latter obviously being the least ideal.)

Understand When Human Escalation is Needed

To take your human support a step further, track and analyze your customer journey and identify when your customers need human-based support. Understanding when to proactively push your customers towards human support is crucial, and this kind of analysis can provide that insight. For example, based on a user’s response to questions within the Bank of America mobile app, Erica (B of A’s virtual financial assistant) will push you towards the appropriate person to provide support.

At Loris, we believe that real, human conversations are the best way to engage with your customers, especially those customers who have unsuccessfully tried the typical self-service routes. Customers want customer service reps who can empathize with their issues, provide real human connections, and can quickly solve the customer’s problems (and Loris helps agents effectively accomplish these goals every day).

Gather Feedback

There is a reason that companies have become data-obsessed. Customer data is valuable for every team in your organization: from sales to marketing to customer service.

Gathering feedback on the strength of your customer journey is a foundational step when adding a level of humanity to your customer care. Nowadays, there are a myriad of ways to collect feedback: phone, email, digital surveys, chat, focus groups, etc. Regardless of the channel that your company uses, below are a sample of key questions to ask:

How to Get Started: A Customer Service Roadmap

Now that you have a handle on best practices to bridge the technology/human gap in customer service, let’s take a look at how to put these into action.

Access your Current State

Understanding the current state of your customer’s journey from a technology and customer point of view is important. Identify where you are at, where you want to be, and what will get you from point A to B in the shortest period of time.

Identify Needed Technology

Once you’ve identified the gap(s), it’s time to determine the appropriate technology you can leverage to close that gap. These technologies can include Loris.ai real-time coaching technology for customer service reps, experience management platforms such as Qualtrics, or basic surveying tools like Google Forms.

Build a Customer-centric Culture Through Training

Train your customer service reps so that they can better service your technology-enabled customers.

Empathy is key: Ensure that your customer service reps have been trained on how to relate to your customers. This is where Loris shines: We focus on helping companies boost empathy and their bottom line — leveraging the smartest AI technology in the customer support space.

Build your Strategic Roadmap

Just like everything else in technology, exceptional customer experience isn’t built in a day. That’s why it’s important to create a strategic roadmap for where you want to see your customer service in the immediate and long-term future, and how your company plans to get there.

Whether you’re a B2B, B2C, or D2C company, building a robust customer service strategy and team is essential to building a sustainable brand that can weather any market volatility. No one can deny that you have to connect with your customers, manage expectations, and above all empathize with their experiences if you want to win in this post-pandemic world.