Automation Can Be Good, But Use With Caution.

I’m all for automation.

For processes that are repeatable and don’t require a ton of thought or human interaction, consider automating. I’ve been using TextExpander (for Mac) over the past few months. It allows me to create snippets for commonly-used text. For example, I use a few different signatures – Blue Sky Factory email, personal email, blog comments, etc. By simply typing “bsig” TextExpander drops in:

DJ Waldow
Director of Community, Blue Sky Factory

Pretty handy. In fact, TextExpander has some neat stats on how much time and effort I’ve saved. See below:

TextExpander Stats

Hey, 45 minutes is 45 minutes! This is just the tip of the iceberg too. If I was smart (which I can be at times), I’d create a bunch of other snippets to answer commonly asked questions. I could create forms with “fill-in” snippets to really start saving time. But, this post is not about TextExpander. Not really. It’s about when automation can be detrimental.

Where Automation Can Go Wrong

When you automate to the point that your organization is no longer human, you lose. When your email replies start to sound like they are from a machine or your automated phone system includes 42 options and it takes 4 minutes before you speak with a real person, you lose. This is the point where automation fails. I know. I get it. If you can save time, you save money. If you can automate and reduce your costs, you can spend time in areas that will drive more revenue.

However, if you automate to the point where humans are no longer a part of the equation, people will go elsewhere. Eventually, a lack of that human touch means that I will find an organization that does listen, that does care, that is human.

How To Balance Automation With Human

I often use Southwest Airlines (SWA) as my example of “how to do it right.” I love them. I love flying on their airlines. I love speaking with the humans at their company. When it comes to the “automation balance,” SWA again wins. Yes, their phone system has a few prompts, but I can always reach a human within minutes. In fact, they even provide the option for me to key in my phone number and have someone (a human) call me back instead of waiting on hold. Brilliant. Human.

Think about when you send an email to a “[email protected]” address. How often is that first touch, the first reply, stale and boring? How often does the email come from a machine instead of a human? I realize that it’s not scalable to have every single email reply come from a human. However consider this:

  1. I send a support inquiry email.
  2. I receive an auto-reply (machine) email that reads, “Your case was received and someone will be in touch within 24 hours.”
  3. I receive a personalized (human) emails that acknowledges my issues, includes a bit of human, and most importantly, answers my question.

The key to #3 is that it’s from a human. I am more likely to feel the love from a human rather than a machine.

What examples do you have of companies who balance automation with a human reply? Please share in the comments below.

DJ Waldow

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