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Self-service is great but we still need humans too

27th Apr 2020
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In contrast to such warming phrases as “don’t worry, this one’s on me” or “I’ll let you decide,” the phrase “unexpected item in the bagging area” is more likely to send your blood pressure soaring. But as it turns out, we’re a lot more positive about self-service than we like to admit.

Self-service has become more commonplace at home and in the workplace. Supermarkets, banks and restaurants routinely offer self-service as an option, while IT service desks, HR and procurement are using it more-and-more in the workplace.

Our survey says…

A recent Cherwell survey of over 2,000  people has revealed that, despite self-service being relatively slow to take off since its arrival in Britain in the 1950s, Brits now appear to have fully embraced its benefits, with many find it empowering to be able to control activities themselves and a much quicker way of getting things done.

Not having to wait for a member of staff to be free and being able to perform routine tasks at a time and place convenient to you, can save a considerable amount of time and open up a whole new world of convenience. What’s more, 24% of respondents to the survey said that the lack of human interaction was actually a bonus for them, perhaps finding that the obligatory small talk with others was just too much to bear.

Of course, there have been teething problems with machines open to card fraud and theft being made easier (by customers using fake barcodes for example), but ‘wait warping’, the illusion that things are moving faster than they really are, seems to make up for that when customers are empowered to take control of their own destinies.

The survey revealed that 86% of Brits say that they find self-service to be a positive experience, as long as support is readily available when something goes wrong. Humans were the preferred form of support (49%), while virtual chat (31%) and email support (26%) were still popular. 54% said that having a human available was second only to not having any errors in the software itself (70%) in ensuring a positive self-service experience. Nearly three quarters also reported that they found that self-service at work speeds up getting things done, and two fifths said that it makes their lives easier.

Perhaps not surprisingly, larger organisations are much more likely to offer self-service options to their employees than are smaller companies. For example, 70% of companies with a turnover of £10 million+ offer self-service IT support vs. only 58% of those with a turnover before £10 million.

Which category do you fall into?

Broadly speaking, most people seem to fall into two categories – those who have no problem with self-service at all, don’t want to interact with anyone else and just want to be left alone to get on with what they have to do, and those who are wary or impatient when interacting with machines and who will only tolerate them up to a point. They then seek human assistance. A 2019 poll estimated that the average person will spend 47 days queueing over the course of their lifetime, so no wonder some people will bite the bullet and try to use an unfamiliar machine even if their instincts are usually to seek out a human assistant.

It’s also interesting that nearly 1/3 of Brits are happy to receive help from virtual assistants; so, while we want human interaction when something goes wrong, this person does not necessarily have to be physically available. With virtual support technology having come on leaps and bounds in the last few years, this figure is likely to get even higher over time.

Future Gazing

Self-service will continue to become more widespread, and thankfully, the technology will continue to improve the customer experience in many ways. AI for example has already transformed customer service for the better, with virtual agents or “chatbots” now able to perform a myriad of routine tasks all by themselves, leaving their human counterparts available to solve more complex issues. But changing passwords or requesting a new PIN number is only a fraction of what virtual agents will be able to do in the near future. As these AI algorithms continue to learn, they will become more sophisticated and be able to complete many of the complex tasks too.

As self-service technology continues to improve, we will soon be able to resolve the majority of our problems, and complete the bulk of our tasks, through self-service models alone. While interaction with human agents – whether face-to-face or virtually – will never go away completely, it will be reserved for those situations where human insight and expertise is required.

For more information, please refer to the Cherwell report “Unexpected item in bagging area” which can be downloaded here.



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