Getting web self-service right from your customers’ perspective

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I was very interested to read Jeremy Cox’s guest editorial last week, putting the case for marketing, in response to our series of articles on why marketing doesn’t work (see Why marketing isn’t working any more – a definitive answer for the latest in that series). I thought about commenting on that editorial, but am reserving my comments for the live debate we plan to hold on October 7th. If you’re in London around then, I hope you’ll make it to the debate (email Sara Brown at mailto:[email protected] for details).

However, this week’s editorial is on a much more positive note – the increasing importance of web self-service, and how to get it right. We’ve covered some of this ground before in an editorial, Generate a massive ROI by getting self-service right, which discussed a recent Hewson Group report, Profit or Pain from your user experience, which outlines best practice in web self-service. The subject was brought to my attention again by a white paper by Surado Solutions which arrived whilst I was on holiday and which has some words of wisdom on Web self-service.

We have published their white paper this week and though it talks a lot about their own solution, it makes some useful points.

So first of all, what is Web self-service? The Surado view is that it is founded on the principle of enabling customers, partners, and employees to obtain information or conduct transactions directly over the Internet, avoiding the time-consuming and costly traditional processes involving multiple verbal or written interactions.

Here lies one of the major benefits to the organisation implementing it. Online transactions are typically around nine times less expensive than a transaction on the phone, and of course they are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. However, the benefits are not limited to improvements in efficiency, leading to up to 70% savings of the direct cost to serve in the call centre. The Hewson report also shows that well-designed self-service facilities can actually increase sales effectiveness. Depending on the maturity of web self-service in a particular industry, improvements in usability can lead to an up to 64% increase in online sales. These benefits are not limited to web self-service. We have reported recently that both First Direct (25%) and Cahoot (10%) are seeing significant reductions in contact centre calls through the use of customer-specified SMS calls as a service delivery mechanism.

So how do you get it right? The following best practice guidelines come from either the Surado Solutions white paper, or the Hewson report mentioned above:

  • Firstly, make sure that you’re providing customers with what they want. Conduct a customer needs assessment before building your web self-service environment. Customers want to do business ‘their way’ and that way may frequently be very different from what the organisation thinks they want to do.

  • Actively seek customer feedback on the self-service facilities you provide. This allows customers to tell you what they like and don’t like about your self-service facilities, and encourages them to feel ‘ownership’ of your site, particularly if you use that feedback to develop and change your facilities.

  • Make sure that you keep the web-site up-to-date, and consistent with other channels. Particularly if you are providing transactional capability, it is essential that pricing and product information is accurate.

  • Most online web-sites are like a leaking pipeline. Review the whole online purchase process to identify the leaks in your process. Online sites are leaking customers at every point in the buying cycle. A significant proportion of visitors wants to buy online but are finding it just too difficult or time consuming. The Hewson report is particularly helpful here by outlining an approach to analyzing the key buying cycle points to identify where you’re leaking sales so you can plug the holes.

  • Note that online shoppers are surprisingly sticky. 90% of online shoppers buy regularly from five or less sites, and 75% of UK online shoppers spend over £2,000 per year on average with their top three sites. A key criteria for becoming one of those favourite sites is to provide a good end-to-end user experience .

  • Most companies have yet to reap the benefits from adopting leading-edge eService technologies. With the current state of technology, about 86% of customer queries can be answered online.

Contact centers are still typically disconnected from web-sites. The sheer volume of telephone calls and emails generated by their Internet services, has overwhelmed many organisations. Managers are not taking action to coordinate activity between the many functions involved in online sales and the supporting contact centers.

Perhaps the most interesting point from these best practice guidelines is the focus on ‘giving the customer what they want’. In a sense, self-service facilities are a way of passing costs out of the business and across to the customer. When I transact at my online bank, the online transactions I undertake replace those that would otherwise have been undertaken by a bank teller, at the bank’s cost. Customers are well aware of the benefits that companies get from the implementation of self-service facilities. Indeed, some recent Detica research pointed out that 75% of consumers feel that the real beneficiaries of self-service are not the customers, but the companies that introduce such systems. If you want your customers to take on this cost, you have to be willing to give them something in return: easier ways of doing business in their terms; better information, even price incentives. Above all, customers are not only spending money on your self-service web site, they are also spending time, and for many, time is becoming as important, or even more important currency than money. That is why it is so important to make self-service customer interactions easy for them to undertake.

It seems clear that internet-based self-service is the way to go for most B-C organisations because of the significant reduction in costs they can introduce. If a significant percentage of customer transactions can be moved to the internet from conventional channels (telephone or face-face) it significantly reduces the organisation’s cost base, making it very difficult for more traditional businesses to compete. However, for those web-based services to be accepted by the customer, they have to be designed with the customer in mind.

As always we’d like to hear your comments. Make them below or email me at mailto:[email protected]

Regards,

Richard Forsyth

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By admin
05th Aug 2003 19:34

Richard makes a good point in his second bullet that states: "Actively seek customer feedback on the self-service facilities you provide. This allows customers to tell you what they like and don’t like about your self-service facilities, and encourages them to feel ‘ownership’ of your site, particularly if you use that feedback to develop and change your facilities."

We have seen this first hand. Ironically, we at Customer Feedback Solutions developed a feedback management tool that has also become a customer self-service tool because our customers typically want a single customer porthole for thier company. Our experince leads me to state that feedback and self-service are one in the same - you cannot have one without the other.

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avatar
11th Aug 2003 18:32

Richard,

Whilst not disagreeing with you I'd suggest that you gave a rather conservative answer. My answer would be that the customer always comes first. Determining what the customer wants is followed by examining creative ways to meet those needs, however seemingly unreasonable they are. Thinking about costs at the same time makes it hard to be creative. The most profitable market offerings are not simply linear extentions of what is done today with the most costs stripped out. They are built from customer needs and value priced. As the Hewson report says sales can go up dramatically when self service is put in well.

Kind Regards
Malcolm Wicks

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25th Aug 2003 17:06

Wendy

My assertion that eCommerce is worst served by being a bit customer-oriented and a bit cost-oriented comes from three different pieces of research.

The first is from Marketing Science Institute research on market-orientation. This found that when implementing a market-oriented strategy, significant investments in developing a variety of capabilities across a company had to be made before any business benefits at all were achieved, but once a capability development threshold across the company had been reached, the benefits increased rapidly.

Takeaway 1: Customer orientation by itself is not enough. Anyone who says that the customer comes first clearly does not understand how complex adaptive business systems function.

The second comes from CREC (University of Texas) research on e-Business Value. This found that investments across a variety of complementary ‘operational excellence’ capabilities (involving customer, supplier and internal capabilities) were required before a company achieved significant business benefits. This applied more to larger firms, smaller ones achieving business benefits with less effort.

Takeaway 2: You need to invest in enough of a variety of complementary business capabilities across a company, if you want to create significant business benefits. This may not apply so rigidly for smaller companies who have fewer organisational collaboration problems

The third comes from research published in the Journal of Marketing in 2002. It looked at the business results of companies who had taken a revenue expansion strategy, a cost reduction strategy, or both simultaneously. It found that companies that adopted a revenue expansion strategy (through customer management) had superior results to those that focussed on cost reduction. Both had superior results to companies who attempted to do a bit of both.

Takeaway 3: Strategies that focus on both revenue growth (through customer management) AND cost reduction perform worse than strategies that tackle one or another. Revenue growth strategies are the overall winners.

If you think about eCommerce as just one aspect of a larger business system, it is plainly obvious that a bit of customer-orientation and a bit of cost-reduction is not going to deliver the bigger benefits.

Best regards, Graham

Thanks (0)
avatar
By admin
03rd Nov 2003 12:03

I've worked in many environments where managemetn insist they are taking account of customer needs, and conducting customer needs analyses. This process rarely goes far enough, however. To make services work optimally, customers have to define them. That means havaing to hand the methods and resources to bring people together, enlighten them on the possibilities that technologies offer; design for simplicity so that users can engage in the design process; and make debate the potential benefits of a sollution openly.

Thanks (0)
avatar
05th Aug 2003 00:32

There is significant value to customers and suppliers when web self services are put in well. The downside is that the full impact of getting is wrong is not always obvious.

Sometimes issues are spotted by increases in email or complaining phone calls. Companies can then react appropriately. But often customers do not express their displeasure in a direct communication. I'm sure that every reader of CRM Forum has at one time or another been left with a feeling of disapointment after visiting certain websites. In most cases we did nothing but our regard for the organisation went down. Perhaps solely based on our web experience we would never again want to do business with that organisation. Self Service web sites mutiply the effect.

The biggest reason for customers ceasing to do business with a supplier is that they felt they were being treating inconsistently. The web self service that is mainly put in to reduce costs, and/or is not well engineered will look inconsistent from the rest of the company. Undoubtably this will have a negative impact on customers.

The key word to ensure success is consistency. That's consistency with other things that the company does and with what the customer expects. This does not happen by accident and needs to be an integral part of an overall strategy.


Malcolm Wicks
www.3sc.co.uk

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avatar
05th Aug 2003 12:31

Hi Richard

I was intrigued to see the Surado Web Self-Service whitepaper featured on the "front page" of CRM-Forum as on first reading I thought it was one of RightNow Technologies' white papers, penned by CEO Greg Gianforte. It is even more interesting to click on the article and find it nestling next to the Hewson report, which was sponsored by RightNow and draws heavily on earlier research from
Doculabs undertaken in 2001 which surveyed 3.7million customer service requests sent via the Web to over 200 US businesses, again sponsored by RightNow Technologies.

In his own white paper on Web self-service, CEO of RightNow Technologies, Greg Gianforte notes that typical customers arrive on a Web site looking for information that addresses their specific needs. Eight seconds is the amount of time surfers are prepared to wait when seeking information online, according to research from Intel.

A small amount of content can take care of a tremendous amount of business. If it’s the right content!

What customers need is the Internet equivalent of the banks’ “hole in the wall”. They need to be able to key in a request and get instant payback. Self-service is not only more satisfying for customers, but it is also the most cost-effective customer service a business can provide. Companies not developing effective self-service can end up spending far more on customer support than their competitors – as much as 20 times more per incident.

Greg expounds on these issues in his white paper "The Insider's Guide to Customer Service on the Web". I will be happy to provide a copy for CRM-Forum readers to build on the Hewson and Surado information.

Thanks (0)
avatar
05th Aug 2003 00:32

There is significant value to customers and suppliers when web self services are put in well. The downside is that the full impact of getting is wrong is not always obvious.

Sometimes issues are spotted by increases in email or complaining phone calls. Companies can then react appropriately. But often customers do not express their displeasure in a direct communication. I'm sure that every reader of CRM Forum has at one time or another been left with a feeling of disapointment after visiting certain websites. In most cases we did nothing but our regard for the organisation went down. Perhaps solely based on our web experience we would never again want to do business with that organisation. Self Service web sites mutiply the effect.

The biggest reason for customers ceasing to do business with a supplier is that they felt they were being treating inconsistently. The web self service that is mainly put in to reduce costs, and/or is not well engineered will look inconsistent from the rest of the company. Undoubtably this will have a negative impact on customers.

The key word to ensure success is consistency. That's consistency with other things that the company does and with what the customer expects. This does not happen by accident and needs to be an integral part of an overall strategy.


Malcolm Wicks
www.3sc.co.uk

Thanks (0)
avatar
05th Aug 2003 12:31

Hi Richard

I was intrigued to see the Surado Web Self-Service whitepaper featured on the "front page" of CRM-Forum as on first reading I thought it was one of RightNow Technologies' white papers, penned by CEO Greg Gianforte. It is even more interesting to click on the article and find it nestling next to the Hewson report, which was sponsored by RightNow and draws heavily on earlier research from
Doculabs undertaken in 2001 which surveyed 3.7million customer service requests sent via the Web to over 200 US businesses, again sponsored by RightNow Technologies.

In his own white paper on Web self-service, CEO of RightNow Technologies, Greg Gianforte notes that typical customers arrive on a Web site looking for information that addresses their specific needs. Eight seconds is the amount of time surfers are prepared to wait when seeking information online, according to research from Intel.

A small amount of content can take care of a tremendous amount of business. If it’s the right content!

What customers need is the Internet equivalent of the banks’ “hole in the wall”. They need to be able to key in a request and get instant payback. Self-service is not only more satisfying for customers, but it is also the most cost-effective customer service a business can provide. Companies not developing effective self-service can end up spending far more on customer support than their competitors – as much as 20 times more per incident.

Greg expounds on these issues in his white paper "The Insider's Guide to Customer Service on the Web". I will be happy to provide a copy for CRM-Forum readers to build on the Hewson and Surado information.

Thanks (0)
avatar
07th Aug 2003 09:31

Richard

A challenge for you...Is it about customers, or is it about costs?

In one of your last paragraphs you talk about the key factor in implementing successful web-self service as, "focus(ing) on ‘giving the customer what they want’". Indeed, you have been fulminating quite rightly about this in your columns for some time.

Yet in your last paragraph you say, "It seems clear that internet-based self-service is the way to go for most B-C organisations because of the significant reduction in costs they can introduce".

So is it about customers, or is it about costs?

For many companies, these are largely either-or alternatives. Either the customer gets a high-usability website based upon a detailed understanding of their cognitive scripts, that enables customer transactions 'their way' and that adapts to the customer as their requirements change over time. Or the company rolls-out a website that mets their low cost per transaction requirements and leaves the customer to scratch their head and reach for the phone if they still want to do business with the company. Research suggests that a half-way house - a bit of customer-orientation and a bit of cost-orientation - is the absolutely worst combination.

I believe that there is still considerable confusion as to how to go about harnessing web self-service technologies to create value for all parties.

At the moment, the simplistic, lower-cost side still seem to be in the lead.

Graham Hill
Independent CRM Consultant

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11th Aug 2003 13:44

Graham,

In my view it is about customers and it is about costs – and both are driven by the customer.

Customers will pay a (small) premium for better quality customer service. However, this is always within the costbase (and hence price) of a specific business model. When a new business model comes along which leads to significantly lower prices, customers will desert the companies they had been loyal to, to get the significant cost reduction. Examples?? I was happy to desert Habitat for Ikea, and branch-based banking for Internet-banking.

For many industries, using the web for service is just such a new business model, significantly changing the costs of sales, marketing, and service.

In both the furniture and banking cases, the new business model puts a heavier burden on me as a consumer. (I have to pick my own furniture from the warehouse, deliver it to my home, build it myself; I have to act as a bank teller, set up my own direct debits, etc., etc). I accept that increased burden for the cost savings and other benefits compared with the ‘old’ business model.

Within the new business model, however, I will select the supplier that offers me the best customer service, and other added-value services offered to me. I am even happy to pay a (small) premium for that better quality customer service, within that business model.

I hope that answers your question.

Best wishes,

Richard Forsyth

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avatar
By admin
05th Aug 2003 19:34

Richard makes a good point in his second bullet that states: "Actively seek customer feedback on the self-service facilities you provide. This allows customers to tell you what they like and don’t like about your self-service facilities, and encourages them to feel ‘ownership’ of your site, particularly if you use that feedback to develop and change your facilities."

We have seen this first hand. Ironically, we at Customer Feedback Solutions developed a feedback management tool that has also become a customer self-service tool because our customers typically want a single customer porthole for thier company. Our experince leads me to state that feedback and self-service are one in the same - you cannot have one without the other.

Thanks (0)
avatar
11th Aug 2003 18:32

Richard,

Whilst not disagreeing with you I'd suggest that you gave a rather conservative answer. My answer would be that the customer always comes first. Determining what the customer wants is followed by examining creative ways to meet those needs, however seemingly unreasonable they are. Thinking about costs at the same time makes it hard to be creative. The most profitable market offerings are not simply linear extentions of what is done today with the most costs stripped out. They are built from customer needs and value priced. As the Hewson report says sales can go up dramatically when self service is put in well.

Kind Regards
Malcolm Wicks

Thanks (0)
avatar
18th Aug 2003 16:56

Graham,

Can we exploring your contention that websites can either be customer-centric or cost-centric and its a danger to be stuck in the middle.

My own view, based on the research we did for 'Profit or Pain' is that self-service technologies such as RightNow enable the overall cost-to-serviice to be significantly reduced whilst improving the customer experience (witness the title of our white paper on this subject "Beyond Philanthropy: How Improved Service Contributes to Efficiency and Profitability" at www.hewson.co.uk)

Indeed your own argument contains the seed of one answer: that companies who roll out an apparently low cost website leave - and i quote you - "the customer to scratch their head and reach for the phone if they still want to do business with the company."

The cost, measured on a transactional or revenue basis, of these apparently low cost websites is generally higher than their customer centred competitors. It's just hidden.

Given your considerable experience and insight Graham, I'm very interested to understand in the context of website design and ebusiness strategy why a half-way house - a bit of customer-orientation and a bit of cost-orientation - is the absolutely worst combination.

Regards as ever,

Wendy

co-author 'Profit or Pain from Your User Experience'
www.hewson.co.uk

Thanks (0)
avatar
25th Aug 2003 17:06

Wendy

My assertion that eCommerce is worst served by being a bit customer-oriented and a bit cost-oriented comes from three different pieces of research.

The first is from Marketing Science Institute research on market-orientation. This found that when implementing a market-oriented strategy, significant investments in developing a variety of capabilities across a company had to be made before any business benefits at all were achieved, but once a capability development threshold across the company had been reached, the benefits increased rapidly.

Takeaway 1: Customer orientation by itself is not enough. Anyone who says that the customer comes first clearly does not understand how complex adaptive business systems function.

The second comes from CREC (University of Texas) research on e-Business Value. This found that investments across a variety of complementary ‘operational excellence’ capabilities (involving customer, supplier and internal capabilities) were required before a company achieved significant business benefits. This applied more to larger firms, smaller ones achieving business benefits with less effort.

Takeaway 2: You need to invest in enough of a variety of complementary business capabilities across a company, if you want to create significant business benefits. This may not apply so rigidly for smaller companies who have fewer organisational collaboration problems

The third comes from research published in the Journal of Marketing in 2002. It looked at the business results of companies who had taken a revenue expansion strategy, a cost reduction strategy, or both simultaneously. It found that companies that adopted a revenue expansion strategy (through customer management) had superior results to those that focussed on cost reduction. Both had superior results to companies who attempted to do a bit of both.

Takeaway 3: Strategies that focus on both revenue growth (through customer management) AND cost reduction perform worse than strategies that tackle one or another. Revenue growth strategies are the overall winners.

If you think about eCommerce as just one aspect of a larger business system, it is plainly obvious that a bit of customer-orientation and a bit of cost-reduction is not going to deliver the bigger benefits.

Best regards, Graham

Thanks (0)
avatar
By admin
03rd Nov 2003 12:03

I've worked in many environments where managemetn insist they are taking account of customer needs, and conducting customer needs analyses. This process rarely goes far enough, however. To make services work optimally, customers have to define them. That means havaing to hand the methods and resources to bring people together, enlighten them on the possibilities that technologies offer; design for simplicity so that users can engage in the design process; and make debate the potential benefits of a sollution openly.

Thanks (0)