Automation is the way of the future, or so I am told. We want to automate our interactions away to the point where, ideally, a customer does not one have to speak with another human in order to accomplish every single goal or task available within your product.
When we automated in the machine industry, it was to cut costs—robots were cheaper, in the long run, to have working in mass-production than humans were. There was less room for error, products were more perfect, they were able to create more. Is that why we are trying to move to automate questions away for support? People can do things faster? Less room for error from an unprepared support person? Not having to staff a full support team (or hire more) is cheaper for the company?
I might have slightly over-exaggerated in my title, but in the event that any of these above issues are motivators for your company's move to automation, I think it may be worth a reassessment of value. Here are the reasons why I think that keeping a strong human touch, especially when it comes to customers, can be helpful:
Robots, documentation, and other automated tools do not understand nuance. There is a reason that a human operator instantly picks up as soon as someone starts swearing or saying "trigger" words to an automated phone service. Your customers will all have different learning styles and preferences, and there is no way that you will be able to speak to all of them using the same singular method. I hate to break it to you, but even the most expansive of documentation resources will still lack something that someone needs. You can recommend related articles as much as you want: if they don't recognize the signals your titles are trying to give them and they don't have anywhere else to go, they will stop using your product.
Living creatures of all kinds are able to communicate and understand the nuances of tone, message, and intent. Documents, chat bots, forms and surveys can not. Your customer knows this just as well as you do.
Representation of Brand
What would you rather have: a perfect brand or a human brand? Humanity is what will help you stand apart from your competitors. If there is no life to your brand, nothing that helps your customers align with your values, you will have significantly less engagement, and probably less sales than your more human brethren. Just like in Ex Machina, robots and automation sure are pretty and shiny and definitely get the job done, but they are no replacement for humans—no matter how much they pretend to be.
Your customers would likely rather deal with a few typos or apologies for misinformation than they would trying to jump through one million hoops to find the right documentation or video gallery that they needed to find to get the job done. Plus, no matter how well-crafted your long-standing content may be, you will undoubtedly still need people to keep writing more in order to keep up with the pulse of your business.
Manufacturing machines break down and become outdated. Once they do, factories need to spend a whole 'nother boat load of cash buying the newest, shiniest edition. In these days where technology is evolving so rapidly, a company can find themselves needing to upgrade technologies as often as every few months. The idea of automating away support is still so fresh and new that tools come out every day promising to make it easier and easier to never have to touch your customers again. Instead of interviewing them, you can record them browsing your app; instead of having an employee watch your chat, you can have a bot monitoring it designed to look human. But things that look human and aren't human will eventually become rusty and need to be replaced. Stick to the rivers and the streams that you're used to, as TLC would say: use the fancy new support tricks as a test in tandem with the tried and true methods that are working for your company.
I'm not saying we need to be high-touch, holding-hands-with-customers-every-day, love reps, but I do think that putting a barrier in some places to require human support can be helpful. It can assist your product team in gaining new insights into what customers are looking for, it can help your developers uncover bugs, marketing develop personas—things being broken and real humans solving the problems ultimately helps give revenue back to your company. Your customers are your customers for a reason; if they knew everything about your product they would be your support team. It is very likely that, as much as you want them to help them selves, they will not always be able to, or even know where to start. In that case, you need humans. Sure, it may take longer, you may end up with some frustrated customers, but hearing about those frustrations with human ears, rather than letting them fall on deaf machine ones, may make a ton of difference to your customers and your brand.