mm1 Study: The limits of automation and customer satisfaction (2018)

What expectations do customers have for digital offerings? What do customers nowadays consider good customer service? You primarily want quick answers to your questions and processes without wasting time. Automation seems to be the ideal solution for companies and their digital contact points. Telecommunications service providers, among others, also deal with the current developments of digitalization – particularly automation.

8 factors make a crucial difference in customer satisfaction

To specifically research the ambivalent customer perspectives on the opportunities and risks of automation, mm1 has conducted a representative customer survey in Germany (n = 504) and analyzed relevant use cases. A study was conducted on how the increased use of automation technologies with increasingly greater degrees of automation affect customer satisfaction. At first, an increase in customer satisfaction was detected for many use cases, in which automation was increasingly gaining a foothold. However, there is a mostly strong decrease in satisfaction if the level of automation is excessively high.

User satisfaction is heavily dependent on eight factors: They are mainly the perceived loss of control by the user or limits to their autonomy, possible limitations regarding privacy and personal data along with an increase in user friendliness due to automation. In addition, the conditions for expectations, "human touch", transparency, safety & reliability and product design affect user satisfaction. These factors significantly shape the interaction with the automated applications and how users perceive them, thereby having a direct effect on their satisfaction.

Customer satisfaction is highest with already known and established use cases, such as automated navigation via smartphone. Satisfaction is lower with new, unknown applications. This particularly applies to smart speakers such as Amazon Echo, which furthermore operate in the very sensitive area of our own household and are viewed more critically.
A lack of understanding of the underlying technologies and media reports are often reasons why users have concerns, fears and worries: Many distrust technology, are fearful of (data) spying and hacking attacks or financial harm.

Recommended actions for monitoring, privacy and transparency

To deal with companies with an increasing number of automated applications, mm1 has derived the following recommended actions regarding the characteristics of monitoring, privacy and transparency, which were previously identified as being of particular importance.

1. Be careful with user privacy and autonomy!

The manner in which personal user data is handled and used in the company must be clear in the company and for the users.  The level of automation must match the application; the user should receive useful assistance, but their autonomy should not be excessively limited.

2. Proactively handle concerns and be ready for possible setbacks!

Provide the customer with a clear, transparent information policy to assuage safety concerns and dispel their fears of losing control. Negative customer/press responses on automation should be anticipated and counteracted with (proactive) communicative measures. A certain degree of flexibility on responding to new or unanticipated customer requirements will be necessary.


3. Follow the framework conditions of product design!

Added value for the customer should be clearly discernable when increasing the level of automation. If possible, product variants for customer segments with various comfort and control/privacy needs should be offered. Users must be shown the limits of automation, particularly for applications, in which automation, e.g. assumes responsibility for human lives. When automating consumer products, user "touchpoints" to the product must be implemented to improve their identification with the product.

Furthermore, the study provides a so-called "automation framework" to deduce the right level of automation with the highest user acceptance from various characteristics and context factors for digital offerings and use cases.

All in all, the increasing level of automation to simplify processes without limiting the control or privacy of users is seen in a positive light. As such, the following holds true for companies: "It’s better to ask for forgiveness than for permission." (Grace Hopper, computer pioneer)

"Automation is viewed positively by users overall – against the backdrop of the continuously increasing importance of automation, this is reason enough for companies to clearly place their bets on this development and not fall behind", says David B. Hofmann.

The study can be requested here.