Busy companies want to provide excellent customer service to the people they do business with, but employing enough service agents to handle all incoming email and phone contact can be expensive. If your company’s budget doesn’t allow for a dedicated customer service staff, you might consider automating it instead.

From a consumer’s point of view, automated customer service isn’t that attractive. When a customer or client has a question or complaint, they want to get in contact with a real person who can help them promptly. However, from the company’s point of view, automatic systems save time and money. Done correctly, they can deliver what the consumer wants, too.

What Works with Automated Customer Service

Auto responder email systems provide the first step of good customer service. These programs send out a pre-set email that is written ahead of time as soon as someone contacts the company through email. These letters can contain an indication that the contact was received and give a timeline for responding. It can also give some general information that could help the customer solve his or her own problem if possible.

Voicemail and phone answering systems with automated messages can also give general information and promise to return the call within 24 hours. The sooner the better. This also works for automatic chat systems on websites or social media pages.

FAQ pages and Knowledge Bases are more static than automated, but they are important parts of the customer service experience. When people can easily and efficiently find the information they are looking for, they will think more highly of the company even before contacting them. Make sure the search system is robust and functions properly.

In general, any automated customer service method’s main goal is to let the customer know that you have received their message and will get back to them quickly. This helps improve overall impressions of your company because it shows you listen and care. If the message is not backed up quickly with contact, however, that benefit dissolves quickly. The systems can be used to answer easy questions or give basic information that could otherwise clutter up your customer service lines as well.

What Does NOT Work with Automated Customer Service

The same systems that can deliver a positive customer service experience can also be negatives and give customers a very poor impression of a company. It all depends on the execution and how much automation you rely on. Too much is a bad thing.

Sending only autoresponder emails that attempt to answer general questions without specifically helping customers will leave your customers feeling ignored and unappreciated. Likewise, always letting voice mail pick up the company phone will result in frustration and loss of business. Relying only on Frequently Asked Questions to handle every customer query does not work either.

One of the worst automated systems that customers of any industry complain about is the automated phone menu that makes them press dozens of buttons before they can talk to a person. Sitting through long menu choice lists peppered with general information blurbs and advertisements for various offers will have many customers slamming down their phone and giving up.

Positive customer service can lead to positive business growth, increased brand reputation and trust, and, ultimately, profit. While automating some to save money and time makes sense, too much automation distances you from your customers and leads to feelings of being ignored and under-appreciated.