In a world increasingly dominated by machines, automation undeniably gives companies a competitive edge. But ActiveCampaign's Jason VandeBoom says that's not a reason to cut humans out of your sales business.

You'd think being CEO of a marketing- and sales-automation provider would have him telling customers to use the technology as much as possible. In reality, he sees a few areas of business where human beings are crucial, and the most important one is customer communications.

Yes, you can automate all your customer communications, but usually, that just creates an impersonal, alienating experience that, in the long term, actually hurts the overall customer experience. Even ActiveCampaign has team members whose job is providing one-on-one customer support. As VandeBoom sees it, automating the whole of your customer communications should never be a goal.

Then what do you automate? He recommends a few very simple steps that will help you achieve the right balance of automation and human interaction at your company. "Done well, automation is about bringing two humans together at the exact moment personal touch is needed," he says.

Here's how to get there:

1. Accept that you need both automation and humans.

Some degree of automation is necessary to address every single customer's needs, since relying completely on human interaction is too expensive and challenging to scale for most organizations.

Just as important, automation can do things that are impossible for humans. It can monitor massive amounts of data, so it can automatically alert organizations as soon as it sees signs of a problem. At that point, a human can reach out and address the concern. It's automation's ability to quickly "see" the problem that allows a productive conversation between two people to then happen.

In a sense, automation just optimizes all of your "human moments" so that your team members are in touch with the right customer at key moments throughout their customer journey.

You can take the first step toward achieving the balance of automation and human touch by acknowledging the need for both in your organization and communicating that need to your team members.

2. Automate to better serve your customers, not avoid them.

If you're implementing automation because you just want to reduce costs or avoid interactions with customers, you'll end up hurting your customer experience, not to mention yourself.

It's important that improving your customer experience remains your main motivation. "[Automation] is about investing your human resources when it will have the most positive impact on the customer experience," says VandeBoom.

When this is what drives you, you'll implement automation in a way that provides more helpful, personalized service for your customer. And if the customer experience is easy and enjoyable, people will stick around, refer others, and help your business grow.

So constantly ask yourself, "What can I automate that would improve the customer experience?" And before implementing an automated solution, question whether the end result is actually better for the customer.

3. Let automation do what humans can't.

Automation is most effective when it's used to monitor massive amounts of data and instantly notify humans when it sees certain things.

For example, automation can tell you when a contact is spending a lot of time on your pricing page. It can then notify a sales representative, announcing that it's probably time to reach out to this contact to answer any questions.

Or, it can monitor for repeat views of the "Help" section of your website and alert a customer-service employee. This proactive support will wow your customers and turn them into advocates.

In both those examples, automation helps to bring two real humans into contact just when that personal touch would be most helpful and welcome. In the long term, this is a far more effective strategy than simply using automation to troubleshoot and resolve issues.

"It may take some trial and error before you find the precise formula that works for your business," says VandeBoom.

If you're unsure of where to start, look to your platform for assistance. And plan it out. It's extremely important to know how you're going to set up your processes before you build everything out in your platform. Hopefully, these steps will be a starting point for you.

Published on: Oct 4, 2017