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Is automation your golden ticket to great CX?

Published: May 17, 2017
Author: Gordon Littley


Buying a new car can prove such a headache. I love the test drive, looking at all the gadgets and choosing different features, but I can’t stand the paperwork and insurance admin that follows. So I was pleasantly surprised when I bought a car recently and was directed to an app on my smartphone to update my insurance policy. One scan of the barcode on the car door and four clicks later, I’d swapped the cars over and agreed the revised insurance premium.

This is just one example of how automation is being used to deliver an improved customer experience. And it’s a story I must have told hundreds of people by now — imagine how much business you’d get if all your customers did the same. When technology is used well it delivers experiences that help retain existing customers and win new ones.

The key phrase in that last sentence is, of course, “when technology is used well.” Technology isn’t a panacea for all your CX issues. Sometimes, it can even make things worse. How many of us have actually had a really good experience with a chatbot? How often are you left frustrated with the number of times you had to rephrase your question to get an answer to your query?

Start at the end

So when is the right time to turn to technology and automate CX? To answer that question, you have to start at the finish line. You need to ask what your customer wants to achieve — what is their “job to be done”1? I wanted to change the vehicle on my insurance policy in the simplest and fastest way possible — and the solution was an app. But if my “job to be done” had been finding the answer to a complex question about my insurance cover, talking to an agent may have been the best route.

Generally speaking, your customers are more concerned with getting the right result, and quickly, than with how you go about delivering it. If you can identify their destination, you can then work backwards and determine the best route — and that might, or might not, involve automation.

Think before you automate

Here are three things you should consider before automating a service:

If it’s already broken, automation won’t fix it

Automation can’t fix a process that is fundamentally flawed to begin with. Take my experience with a credit card company. It had previously been in the news for poor fraud detection and said it was doing more to crack down on identity theft — as a result, had implemented automation to help spot suspicious activity. Unfortunately, this meant that the first time I tried to use my new card, it was declined. The automated system was excellent at recognizing activity on my account, but terrible at distinguishing typical behavior from the suspicious kind. My job to be done was using my new credit card for a payment and automation meant I couldn’t do that. Before looking to new technology, be clear about what needs fixing and exactly what you want to achieve.

Have a human safety net

I’ve already mentioned how frustrating chatbots can be. But that doesn’t mean you should rule them out — huge strides are being made in developing AI. Chatbots might not provide the best experience today, but the more they learn through interactions with people, the better they’ll get at solving problems and handling queries. Customers are likely to be more forgiving of being asked to repeat a question if they know they’re talking to a bot, not a person. You can also minimize the potential for frustration by always providing them with a human safety net. That might mean there’s a quick link to speak to a customer advisor. Or even better, your chatbot could recognize when a customer needs handing over to a human — this may be because it can’t answer their question or it realizes they’re becoming annoyed.

Get your priorities straight

If your motivation for automation is to cut costs, it’s likely that your customers will recognize that. You might save money initially, but ultimately you could break your customers’ trust in your service and lose business. Using technology to provide a novelty factor is also unlikely to work for you in the long run. You might drum up some interest at the start, but that business won’t last if your new process is actually unwieldy or doesn’t do something useful. The aim of automation should be to improve CX and to give your customers a more efficient means of meeting their goal. If it’s not delivering that, it’s not the right option.

Next steps

Focusing on your customers’ jobs to be done is the first step in delivering great CX. But, of course, just because one route is the fastest to a particular outcome, it doesn’t mean customers will use it. Scanning a barcode may be the most efficient means of changing an insurance policy, but some people may want the reassurance of talking to a person instead. When devising your CX strategy, you also need to take into account customer preferences — I’ll be talking about that in greater depth in my next blog post.

I’d love to hear your views on the role of technology in CX. I’ll be speaking at the Customer Focus Summit in London on May 23. I hope to see you there.

Gordon Littley leads the specialized sales organization for Verizon’s industry leading applications services group. The organization specializes in delivering high-value solutions and specialized sales for Verizon Enterprise customers.


1 The job to be done is more complex than a customer simply wanting a particular product or a service. It describes their motivation for wanting it at a given time. For more information about Job To Be Done theory, watch this lecture from Clayton Christensen.