Predictions don’t always pan out the way analysts hope and expect.

But Gartner’s 2011 prediction that 85% of customer interactions with brands will be managed without human involvement by 2020 seems to be right on track.

There’s the emergence of chatbots. The rise of machine learning and big data analytics. The actual intelligence of artificial intelligence. All these new technologies make it easier to take a more hands-off approach to customer conversations.

But is that really the best idea?

If you’re trying to automate engagement because you think that’s what consumers want, it’s time to take a closer look at the state of customer conversations.

The Flaw in the Automation Argument

At first glance, consumer demand for new ways to interact with brands and the need for optimization of engagement processes have created a perfect storm for automation.

On one side, you have 72% of Millennials (and the majority of consumers, in general) avoiding phone calls and email support at all costs. On the brand side, you see self-service portals having far greater success in customer engagement.

Brands are making a jump to automated customer service and engagement solutions to satisfy both sides. Consumers get to be more self-sufficient and brands enjoy the cost savings and scalability of AI-powered customer conversations.

There’s just one problem. You see customers frustrated with your existing communication channels—phone calls, emails, desktop contact forms, etc.—and jump to a conclusion that automation and self-service are preferred.

In reality, consumers aren’t avoiding your customer support because they don’t want to deal with human agents. They’re turning to self-service because your communication channels don’t meet the expectations of mobile-first customers.

The value of automation is undeniable. You just can’t abandon human relationships in the pursuit of preemptive service and cost efficiency.

Automation Complements Human Capital

When chatbots are failing to fulfill consumer queries 70% of the time, you know you can’t rely on them to fully replace human agents.

However, natural language processing gets better every day. As it improves, automated solutions will promise to match the language and emotion of humans.

Don’t fall into this trap.

Regardless of how powerful automation solutions become, there will always be value in keeping humans in the customer conversation. Just to name a few:

1. Natural Brand Humanization

Why expend your effort trying to make bots feel like humans when you can just put humans in front of the customer? Automation is great for facilitating initial, just-in-time contact. But as the relationship grows, trust an actual human to humanize your brand.

2. Respecting the Customer

Our CEO Ron Palmeri likes to say that if a solution is built for everyone, it’s built for no one. In a sense, automated customer conversations are built for everyone and personalization is introduced based on contextual data.

When things have to escalate beyond the scope of a bot, humans can solve unique customer challenges. This balance helps you streamline support without sacrificing 1:1 service. 

3. Empathy Is a Human Trait

There are exceptions to every rule—unless you’re a bot. Automated customer conversations don’t leave room for extreme circumstances or situations that fall through the cracks of established business logic. You can automate aspects of the conversation, but a human should always be there to empathize when necessary.

Where to Go from Here?

Automation is great, but that doesn’t mean our goal should be to cut costs by replacing valuable human agents with bots (at any stage of the customer journey). Instead, focus on empowering your human agents to be more productive.

Studies have shown that the average sales rep only spends 11% of their time actively selling. Instead, sales reps spend so much time dealing with manual data entry/management. This is an area where automation can shine rather than using it to take humans out of the customer conversation.

Think of it this way. Relationships with consumers are no longer just about robust databases—they’re about lifetime customer conversations. And the only way to build these lifetime customer conversations is to leverage the best of both automation and human interaction, not eliminate one for the other.

The key to keeping humans in the customer conversation is to find the best ways to facilitate frictionless interactions between your agents and consumers. However, you have to do this at each stage of the customer journey to forge a lasting relationship.

If you want to learn more about how to facilitate balanced conversations from awareness all the way to advocacy, check out our free white paper, Creating Delightful Moments Throughout the Entire Customer Journey.