Automation is often helpful when it comes to delivering experiences that keep your customers coming back to you. Combine smart automation with data you already have about your customers to deliver customized experiences that showcase that you value them and their time.

I love that I can buy a book on Amazon with one-click, and a few seconds later that same book appears in the Kindle app on my phone. I get a lot of satisfaction when a company I've previously bought from online remembers my credit card credentials and I don't have to get up, go get my wallet, sit back down, and then enter in all my details.

Automation is useful when it reduces the friction associated with your customers completing tasks, so they can go on with their day. But there are times when automation goes all wrong, and instead of enhancing the customer experience, it hinders it.

I feel this way much of the time when I go to the airport for international travel. One airport, in particular, has lines that feel like they are a mile long filled with confused passengers with a ton of luggage, struggling to figure out how to check themselves in, print their boarding pass, and place luggage tags on their own bags. 

When this happens, I find myself wondering why there aren't more staff on hand to help passengers with the check-in machines. They've got all the data about our flights, so they should be able to predict the number of people that will show up at a given time who will need to go through their check-in and baggage drop process. 

Thus instead of reducing friction, removing the human touch in favor of automation can sometimes add additional headaches.

The key to making both automation and human touch remarkable.

Jonathan Smalley is CEO of Yaguara, an operations performance management tool for eCommerce companies. He told me that for many companies the sweet spot of delivering experiences that delight on a consistent basis involves a bit of human touch.

I think it's easy to just say the silver bullet to [customer experience] is some type of automation. When a lot of times probably the silver bullet to that is some combination of automation and doing things that don't scale. Because ultimately, that's what's going to drive happy customers.

As you think about ways to make your business operations more efficient, bake into those processes mechanisms that enable you to use data you have available to you about your customers to enhance their experience with you.

This is possible whether or not your business operates online or not. 

A few months ago, I went on a trip for my birthday. I was delighted when I received a call from the manager of the resort wishing me a happy birthday. When I arrived for my spa treatment, the staff gave me a "birthday discount," and when I arrived for dinner at a restaurant on site for the evening, the musical entertainment serenaded me with the "happy birthday" song, and then the dining crew brought me a gluten-free birthday cake with a candle. I was giddy.

I don't remember telling anyone on site that it was my birthday. But later I remembered that when I arrived at the hotel, the front desk staff took my ID for a moment to complete the check-in process. I imagine that as they looked at my driver's license, they took note that my birth date fell on a day where I would be a guest.

The staff used information about me to deliver a series of remarkable experiences. And they carried them through with a number of human interactions that made a fantastic birthday even more special.

Smalley also notes that companies should use this principle when determining when automation makes the most sense: "Use data to learn and iterate rapidly, and then automate where automation provides value, not just where it seems easy."

For a cupcake bakery that I frequent often, they take data they've collected from me such as my birthday, and use it to automatically send me a coupon during my birthday month every year. 

Put the information you have about your customers to good use. Use it to enhance their experience through automation and to deliver personalized delightful experiences through human interaction they'll want to tell all their friends about.