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Automation or personal customer service?

DATE: 05/08/22

AUTHOR: Fiona Kennedy

Gradual or racing, the move towards automating customer service across industries is hard to ignore. Combining information technology with business management to optimise output  is seen to protect companies and allow them to prosper. The idea of lowering the volume of human interaction while raising levels of productivity and cost efficiency is hard to resist. But what does automation really look like in practice? In the end whether automation or personal customer service, what are the wins and losses for companies and consumers?

In automation’s corner

The pros list on the side of automated customer service is long and pretty hard to argue with. When companies are looking to scale or to protect themselves from raising overheads and saturated markets, the reasons to automate are indeed compelling:

Increasing Productivity

A core objective for many companies is how to increase their productivity while (relatively speaking) keeping their costs unchanged. How can we talk to more customers? How can we respond to more queries and manage the communications more efficiently without taking on more staff?  The answer is automation. Whether through emails or chat bots, social media or FAQs, any number of means can be taken to short-hand direct customer service.

Saving Cost

The most traditional route of customer service involves humans. Humans who need to be recruited, trained, managed and engaged. All of those components cost a company money. If there is a way to automate a piece of the customer journey – quick questions about a product for example – without necessitating a new member of the team, the cost savings will be notable. Automation is seen as a way to protect growing firms from excess call volumes as well as speeding up the process for customers.

Freeing up your human resources

If your team is tied up in repetitive, manual tasks, it’s clear they won’t have time to turn their attentions to more skilled creative or strategic tasks that are also necessary to the maintenance and growth of any business. The offer of  automating some of these more basic processes could free up a team to turn their attentions to their real comparative advantage.

Monitoring and evolving performance

Automation by nature involves checks and progress reviews. It is easy to record key metrics, to regularly review progress and performance and to edit the automation processes to respond.

Cutting down on mistakes

Making use of automated solutions naturally removes the margin for human error. No matter how well trained and efficient a human team may be, there will always be a mistake along the line. The use of automated systems can eliminate or drastically reduce these errors.

24/7 availability

Team members all have structured working hours, with legal maximums and preferred working days. The same is not true of automated systems which offer customers the facility of 24/7 response and customer service. When companies are operating over several territories, or engaging with various customer groups who live on line at different times, the existence of automated solutions becomes even more beneficial.

Maintaining your brand voice

When demand ramps up and all members of the team are managing several demands at once, it’s not unusual for the brand voice to slip. For messaging and communication to change when it should remain consistent to the style sheet. Relying on automated solutions removes this risk and ensure that all communications are pre approved and relayed according to pre established brand guidelines.

Arguing against automation

It’s not a clean sweep in favour of automation. Quite the contrary. Some of the possible cons include:

No scope for creativity or flexibility

By nature, an automated solution is pre-programmed which means it will have only a specific numbers of responses available. Whether that is an auto response email, scripted responses on a bot or the content of FAQs, automation is necessary limited by its pre-programming and lack of human involvement. This limits the scope to really answer problems, to provide solutions and to be sensitive when needed.

A lack of human contact

The advent of automation naturally means a lack of human contact. The older generation often feel more comfortable talking to a human being. Then there are high worth customers who expects nothing less than direct personal contact. The demand for real human interaction is real and ongoing. No matter how well programmed and cleverly drafted the automations are, they never will be able to replicate a real human response.

Encouraging worker displacement

Replacing human interaction with an automated customer service team results in worker displacement. Either by redundancy when jobs are filled by machines rather than people, or by choice when teams find they have less hours and less responsibilities to maintain. Many find the idea of machines replacing humans undermines their working relationships and roles in a company.

Higher investment and higher maintenance

While cost saving in the long run, the initial set up for automation can require a heavy capital investment. Moving forward it also necessitates regular updates and a higher level of maintenance depending on how sophisticated it is. Automation is not a capped service so taking it on also necessitates taking on the evolution of what is required technologically.

The full picture of automated customer service is weighted on both sides. The ideal solution could be a combination of both personal customer service and areas of automated customer service. This would allow maintenance of human contact and the possibility of creative care, while still optimising productivity and costs. Collaboration as always wins out.


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