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Automated customer service: A full guide

Automating customer service increases productivity, builds customer loyalty, and grows profits.

A comprehensive guide to automating customer service

Last updated November 20, 2023

According to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2023, 71 percent of business leaders plan to revamp the customer journey to increase satisfaction. If you’re one of those leaders, you may consider automated customer service as a solution to providing the high-quality, seamless experiences that consumers expect.

To help you learn more about automated customer service software and how it can improve your customer experience (CX), we’ll cover what automated customer service is, how it works, how it benefits businesses, and how you can automate customer support at your company.

What is customer service automation?

Automated customer service is a form of customer support enhanced by automation technology, which businesses can use to resolve customer issues—with or without agent involvement.

graphic that gives the definition of automated customer service

With automated customer service, businesses can provide 24/7 support and reduce labor costs. They may leverage automation to handle customer interactions from start to finish or use it as a tool to assist live agents.

For example, automation technology can help support teams by providing contextual article recommendations based on customer feedback and automatically routing requests to the right agents. This helps boost agent productivity and allows agents to focus on resolving issues that truly require a human touch.

How does automated service work?

Imagine one of your customers has an issue with an electronic product they purchased from your company. It won’t turn on. With Zendesk, your customer can reach a resolution thanks to automated customer service. This is what their journey might look like:

  1. The customer goes to your website.

  2. After navigating to your support page, an AI chatbot greets them, asking them to describe their problem.

  3. The chatbot picks up on the keywords: “won’t turn on.” The bot uses these input keywords to direct your customer to an article in your knowledge base.

  4. The article instructs them to check if they removed the plastic tab in the battery slot. They realize they haven’t, so they remove the tab, and the device begins working perfectly.

But say the issue is larger than that—maybe your customer purchased a defective product. It’s the middle of the night, and no live agents are available. Fortunately, automated customer service software can help get your customer on the path to resolution before your agents come online. For example:

  1. When the AI chatbot can’t resolve the issue, it prompts your customer to email your support team, which they do.

  2. The customer receives a pre-written reply assuring them that a support ticket was created and someone from the support team will reach out soon.

  3. When your team returns to the office, a support agent tackles the ticket. Because you integrated your automated customer support software with your ticketing system, the agent sees that the customer has already done the basic troubleshooting steps.

  4. Without asking questions or making the customer repeat themselves, the agent contacts the customer, saying they understand that the product is defective and can immediately process a replacement.

When it comes to automated customer service, the above example is only the tip of the iceberg. Next up, we’ll cover different examples of automated customer service to help you better understand what it looks like and how it can help your agents and customers.

What are some examples of automated support?

Graphic that gives examples of automated customer service

Automated customer service can be simple or complex, depending on your industry and company size. When implementing automated customer service for your business, consider the following examples of automated support:

  • Automated ticketing systems: With automated ticketing systems, support tickets are automatically routed to the agent best equipped to answer the question. This helps teams decrease resolution time and improves the overall customer experience.

  • AI chatbots: An AI chatbot can answer customer questions and provide article recommendations to assist customers and agents. LendingClub, an organization that connects borrowers and investors, used Zendesk to deploy an AI chatbot that resolved 12 percent of tickets—freeing up live agents.

  • IVR (interactive voice response) software: IVR software is an automated tool that reduces strain on your support team by greeting callers and directing them to the right place. You can also use it to accept payments and answer common questions using pre-recorded responses.

  • Automatic translation: Automated customer service software can automatically translate conversations, allowing your team to help customers globally. KRAFTON, one of the largest gaming companies in the world, used Zendesk to provide customer support to players in 13 different languages.

  • Automated notifications: AI automation technology can set up intelligent notifications based on set rules. For example, you can create automated alerts to remind your agents to return to a service ticket if it sits unaddressed for a certain amount of time.

Whether you need an AI chatbot to point your customers in the right direction or want to improve your contact center using IVR software, automated customer support systems like Zendesk can help you enhance your customer experience across the board.

What are the benefits of automated customer service?

Graphic that gives examples of automated customer service

Automated customer service has the potential to benefit both small businesses and enterprises. Read along to learn more about the benefits of implementing automated customer service, from saving time and money to gaining valuable customer insights.

Save agents time and reduce costs

Automated customer service can save your agents time by automatically tagging tickets and intelligently routing them to the correct agent based on skill, channel, priority, and availability—eliminating the need for manual ticket routing.

Automation features can help your team members effectively manage their workflow and keep things moving quickly. For example, you can set up an automation to close tickets four days after they’ve been resolved.

Other automated service solutions like AI chatbots can handle recurring customer questions without human intervention, reducing costs as your support agents dedicate their time to the customers who need it most.

Deliver fast, 24/7 support

When it comes to good customer service, speed is king. Customers today expect to get what they want quickly. If your response times don’t keep up with your customers’ busy lives, you risk giving them a negative impression of your customer service.

Automated customer service enables you to deliver fast, 24/7 support. Unlike human agents, AI chatbots never have to sleep, so your customers can get answers to their questions whenever they want.

Graphic of quote from Lauren Hakim, Group Product Marketing Manager at Zendesk

In addition to answering customer questions, automated customer service tools can proactively engage with your customers.

“Bots can help you get ahead of customer asks by reaching out with meaningful, timely, and personalized interactions that drive engagement and retention and increase sales and conversion rates,” says Lauren Hakim, group product marketing manager at Zendesk.

Gain greater insights

Another benefit of automated customer service is automated reporting and analytics. Automated service tools eliminate repetitive tasks and busy work, instantly providing you with customer service reports and insights that you can use to improve your business.

Graphic of quote from Rob Stack, Group Documentation Marketing Manager at Zendesk

Automated customer service software can also automatically combine customer support and sales data across channels. As a result, you gain visibility into all customer interactions and get the details you need to make informed decisions.

Additionally, automated customer service solutions allow you to easily report on your success, whether you’re using customizable charts or leveraging pre-built dashboards that are automatically populated with key customer service metrics.

How does customer service automation benefit small businesses?

Personalized customer service can be a big selling point for small businesses. So, you may be hesitant to trust such a critical part of your business to non-human resources. But with the right customer service management software, support automation will only enhance your customer service.

A smaller business is less likely to have an army of customer support representatives. Every hour those workers spend on the clock is precious. When smartly implemented, automated customer service software increases productivity, providing a better customer support experience for agents and consumers alike.

How does customer support automation benefit enterprises?

For a larger corporation, it’s all about scaling customer service resources to meet demand. As a big company, your customer support tickets will grow as quickly as your customer base.

Imagine a simple reboot of your product is usually all that’s needed to fix a common problem. If just one customer calls about this issue per day, your support team can handle that. But if hundreds of customers call in every day, your entire support team will get bogged down explaining something that AI-powered customer service could address in seconds.

Moreover, humans can only converse with one customer at a time. An automated support system can handle multiple requests simultaneously, saving you significant labor and operating costs.

What are some cons of support automation?

The biggest potential disadvantage of using automated customer service is losing the personal touch that human interaction can provide. While automated customer service technology is improving yearly, it isn’t always a replacement for someone looking for a real human conversation.

If your customers can’t reach a human representative when they need one, you risk leaving them with a bad customer experience. Fortunately, you can avoid this by providing your customers with a clear way to bypass automated service systems and speak to a human when necessary.

While automated customer service may not be perfect, the pros far exceed the cons.

How to automate customer service and increase customer satisfaction

Graphic depicting steps to automating your customer service

Now that you know exactly what automated customer service is, how it works, and the pros and cons, it’s time to get the automation process started. To successfully begin automating your customer service and increasing customer satisfaction, consider following these six steps.

Identify your needs

When determining your customer service automation requirements, think about where automation software will have the biggest impact. For example, if your phone inquiries outpace your email inbox, you might want to focus on an IVR system. But remember not to neglect customers’ preferences for omnichannel support—you need to provide a consistent, reliable communications journey across channels.

This is why you must choose software with high functionality and responsiveness. As you find the best way to incorporate AI customer service software into your company’s workflow, remember that it should be agile enough to keep pace with customer expectations and changes.

For example, say you add a sophisticated AI chatbot to your website. As your customers learn that your live chat support is very efficient, your chat volume may surpass your phone queues. An integrated customer service software solution allows your agents to transition easily to wherever demand is highest.

Know which customer service tasks can be automated effectively

Your automated customer service system is your first line of defense. What are the high-volume, simple tasks your support team spends a lot of time on?

These tasks might be:

  • Greeting customers and assuring them that their message was received

  • Gathering customer data (like account numbers) to populate forms

  • Prompting customers to reset passwords

  • Verifying accounts

  • Troubleshooting for products that aren’t working as expected

  • Triaging tickets to the appropriate representatives

Such tasks are simple to automate, and the right software will do so while seamlessly integrating into your existing operations.

For example, Degreed, an educational platform that helps users build new skills, turned to Zendesk to get a handle on its high ticket volume after facing rapid growth. With Zendesk, Degreed improved team efficiency and transformed its customer service strategy by automating certain activities, leading to a 16 percent improvement in its CSAT score.

“Automation is improving team efficiency and enabling Degreed to run a lean team during a period of hyper-growth. We’ve come a long way in the last three years, and Zendesk has been a massive part of that success story.”

–Kevin Barry

VP of Global Technical Services and Support at Degreed

Flag customer service tasks that shouldn’t be automated

Alternatively, you’ll also want to identify specific customer service tasks that live agents should perform.

These tasks may include:

  • Speaking with customers who prefer to talk on the phone

  • Handling highly complex customer support interactions

  • Onboarding new customers

  • Facilitating upgrade and cancellation requests

With automated customer service solutions effortlessly handling simple, high-volume tasks, your live agents can dedicate their time to providing support in situations that benefit from a human touch.

Make sure your team is aligned

To reap the benefits of automated customer service, you need to ensure your customer service team is on the same page. For instance, you’ll want to:

  • Train your support team on the automation tools at their disposal so they know how to use them.

  • Determine which support team members are responsible for managing and maintaining your automated customer service tools.

This way, your agents will know:

  • What to do when a customer service ticket is escalated to them

  • Where to find the relevant information needed to quickly help a customer

  • Who to go to for system fixes, questions, and feedback sharing

Test your processes and results before a complete roll-out

Before completely rolling out automated customer service options, you must be certain they are working effectively. Failure to do so may result in your business pushing out automated customer service solutions that don’t meet customer needs or expectations, leading to bad customer service.

For example, you'll want to make sure your AI chatbot can accurately answer common customer questions before pushing it live on your site. That way, you can rest easy knowing your customers are in good hands with the new support option.

Additionally, you’ll need to give your support team a chance to test the automated customer service software, so you can proactively identify any areas of concern.

Monitor your automation processes and improve them as needed

Lastly, it’s important to continually monitor your automation processes to ensure your customers receive high-quality service.

You can’t fix problems you don’t know exist. Every support interaction should end with a survey that allows customers to rate their experience and provide customer feedback. Their input lets you make necessary changes to improve your automated customer service experience.

You should also consistently audit your automated customer support offerings to make sure everything is accurate and working correctly. This may include auditing your knowledge base, updating your pre-written responses, and testing the responsiveness of your chatbot.

How does Zendesk help with automating customer service?

Zendesk provides one of the most powerful suites of automated customer service software on the market. From the simplest tasks to complex issues, Zendesk can quickly resolve customer inquiries without always needing agent intervention. For instance, Zendesk boasts automated ticket routing so tickets are intelligently directed to the proper agent based on agent status, capacity, skillset, and ticket priority. Additionally, Zendesk AI can recognize customer intent, sentiment, and language and escalate tickets to the appropriate team member.

Our advanced AI also provides agents with contextual article recommendations and templated responses based on the intent of the conversation. It can even help teams identify opportunities for creating self-service content to answer common questions and close knowledge gaps.

Here are some other ways Zendesk is leading in automating customer service:

  • Automated and intelligent workflows

  • Real-time analytics

  • Supported third-party integrations

  • Low/no-code AI chatbots for 24/7 customer support

  • Automated, intelligent omnichannel routing

  • Automated responses

  • Automated phone receptionist

  • Automated insight into trends

By leveraging these automated customer service features, you can transform your customer experience for the better while reducing your support costs.

Frequently asked questions

Are you ready to try automated customer service?

It’s time to give automation a shot. With Zendesk, you can streamline customer service right out of the box using powerful AI tools that can help quickly solve customer problems both with and without agent intervention.

From intelligent ticket routing based on sentiment, language, and intent, as well as 24/7 deflection with bots, Zendesk is a turnkey solution for providing fast, high-quality customer support—and, above all, positive customer experiences.

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