When is the right time to automate?

In previous posts, I’ve talked about deciding on outsourcing or keeping in house, and I’ve also talked about which team owns different aspects of your customer journey. Following a colourful discussion with a former customer this week, I thought it would be interesting to talk about when it’s the right time to automate your customer experience. Opinions vary amongst those in the know, with different suggestions based on segment, value, geography, B2B versus B2C or cost. But for me, it’s a relatively straight-forward decision on when you can or should automate your delivery, and here are the 5 criteria I use to assess whether I should automate or not.
Is it broken?
It’s a pet peeve of mine that when corporates can’t get a “process” working, they outsource it, patting themselves on the back for fixing the issue and saving money. The reality of course is that the customer journey stage that is disjointed or clunky can not be fixed by another company – you need to own that, ensure it works before you ever think about handing off to a third party. In the same way, the customer journey needs to be broken up into its respective stages and analysed for success. The parts that work well and flow efficiently are candidates for automation – those that don’t work so well need human intervention to fix them before they can be assessed for the next criteria.
Is it scalable?
Whether you start out your business with a view to conquering the world by offering mass service and product to everyone on the planet, or you set out to offer the highest touch, most premium and customised experience to customers, everyone at some point needs to ask themselves how scalable their model is. This is particularly the case around the human capital required to deliver the model. If the way you deliver your customer experience requires you to double your headcount every time you double your customer base, you need to get your “Lean” hat on and look at how you can reduce the need for people at every stage current stage. This is an obvious point to consider automation, initially focusing on the outcome you desire, then working back to how you move from human delivery to automation.
Does it add (real) value?
If you’ve ever had a delivery from a traditional department store, or worked with a global auditing firm, you’ll be familiar with a really high touch experience. You interact with so many people, face to face, over the phone, online, via email, that you start to forget who is who and what each person is responsible for. If it’s really confusing (I’m think ning of an experience I am currently having with a high end department store), the staff actually start to contradict each other (electrician arrives to repair faulty goods before replacement gods arrive….) The perception is that all these human contacts add value for the customer. Auditing firms have a bunch of people sat in your office to convince you that the fees are justified. Reality check – in a great customer experience, I only want to interact with a person if it adds value to me (and not value that you think I want!) If, reflecting on your data and customer interactions, a particular stage of your customer journey does not really add value by having a human involved, this is another tick in the box for automation.
Can I measure it?
Hopefully I “teaching granny to suck eggs” here, so I’ll keep this short and sweet. If you aren’t measuring to some degree your customer journey (from both subjective and objective perspectives), the impact of any changes you make will be very hard to assess. It doesn’t matter what you hypothesise about the plus or minus of the change you plan, only by measuring it will you be able to determine whether you were right. This is especially important for automation – whilst you may reduce cost by automating, you may infuriate your customer, leading to future reduced or lost revenue. Before you can move to automate a stage of your customer journey, make sure you have a measurement of the delivery and customer sentiment in place.
Can I reverse the automation?
With the best will in the world, oodles of planning, all the right measurement and a clear purpose for automating, you’re potentially expecting your customers to change their habits. How it worked before compared to after you automate may feel different, so this should sound alarm bells. There is always a risk that rather than embrace the change, your customer disengages. Along with all the supporting collateral and information to demystify and ease in the change, it is often worth considering whether you can keep the alternative option around you nomn-automated option to run in parallel, at least for a period of time. Likewise, if the automation fails to achieve the desired outcome, can you back it out and go back to your old delivery mechanism? This criteria will absolutely vary dependent on what you are trying to automate, but can be summed up by asking, “so what is your plan B?!”
I have little interest in what my competitors are doing if I’m really honest – they rarely set the benchmark for the best customer experience around, and tend to copy each other for the most part. Instead, looking to the customer experience that I own, and the customer journey I deliver, linking my objective data points with the customers’ subjective feedback ultimately helps me answer the five points above, and move towards automation of the right stages of the customer journey at the right time. As you look to reduce time, cost, resources, complexity, bureaucracy, effort and energy in your customer journey by introducing automating, these 5 criteria should help you target the most appropriate stages to focus on.

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