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Self-service success is about so much more than reducing costs

10th Feb 2016
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Even if you make the perfect product, people will still need help and advice. Providing this support is a cost, so naturally companies analyse this spend to see if it can be reduced. Traditional customer service channels rely on people answering phones or responding to email, which can be expensive. Self-service technologies can help companies cut their support costs through reducing the number of calls to customer support agents, providing customer self-help without support agent interaction, and using labour-saving automation for dealing with both issues and service requests.

However, a singular focus on cost cutting might end up saving a company very little. There is a high probability of lower customer adoption levels if other drivers are not considered in a company’s self-service strategy. In fact, a little-used self-service capability might actually have a negative return on investment when ongoing transactional savings are set against the initial investment and ongoing operational costs.

The self-service cost-saving paradox

The paradox here is that thinking about more than the financial aspect of self-service is actually more likely to result in larger savings and greater efficiencies compared to only looking at cost reduction. If self-service cannot entice customers to use it then it won’t get enough use to realise the promised cost savings. Conversely, if a self-service capability is well designed and focused on customer behaviour in common scenarios then it will achieve better results in terms of customer satisfaction, even as it reduces the costs involved for the company.

The bottom line is that if it is easier to call customer support than it is to use a cumbersome and ineffective self-service capability, then customers will continue to use the phone channel.

Self-service needs to be selfless to be successful

There are other benefits to be sought if self-service is to be done right. To achieve this wider goal, it’s important to think about designing the service to meet the needs of the customer. Self-service should be the proverbial ‘win-win’ situation where both the company and its customers see value from the channel. These include:

  • Improved support availability and efficiency. Self-service can provide 24/7 support availability, even if only for the simpler issues. It can also provide support for multiple languages and time zones at a far lower cost than employing local, native language speakers.
  • Making customer support workload more efficient. Self-help, via a knowledge base, can result in fewer calls to support, giving a reduction in interactions and thus in customer support workload. It doesn’t always require an immediate customer support response and consequently these requests can be worked on at less-busy times of the day.
  • Meeting modern support expectations and delivering an improved customer experience. Like it or not, customers’ expectations of support and customer service are rising. In terms of access and communication channels, customers now expect to see self-service capabilities from all of the companies they give their custom to.

The availability of support that can be accessed anytime, anyplace, from any device demonstrates real commitment to customer service.

Aim for a self-service capability that gets used rather than one that saves money

Logic says that if you aim for a benefit then you have more chance of realising it. It’s therefore worth aiming at far more than cost savings to increase the chances of self-service success. Just as importantly, consider and learn from how others have succeeded and failed. For instance, it is important to view self-service as a capability rather than a technology. Customers want to use a capability not a technology.

Beyond this, consider three key areas:

  • User experience (UX). It’s important to recognise the difference between a great User Interface (UI) and a great UX. A big part of self-service success is UX – if customers find self-service capabilities intuitive and easy to use, then they will most likely use them again. The reverse is also true – a poor UX leads to poor adoption levels that don’t ever go up. Every customer touch point should be optimised for the best possible customer experience, and this is equally applicable to mobile apps as it is to online self-service portals.
  • Automation. The real self-service financial benefits are tied into the use of automation. By avoiding the need for human activities with their associated costs, it’s possible to increase the speed of resolution and provisioning, which results in an improved customer experience. Self-service needs to be more than just a one-dimensional mechanism for capturing customer issues and requests; automation of activities can help ensure this is successful.
  • Choice. Customers will need and expect a choice of access and communication channels, not just self-service, as it isn’t going to be the best solution for all customers all of the time. Firstly, some customer issues require a response that’s more immediate than they can receive from self-service. Secondly, individual customers will always have personal preferences for how they access and use communication channels - these might vary based on factors such as the topic, time of day, or their location.

Self-service success is ultimately about customer experience

A good or great experience will help with self-service adoption, while a poor experience will alienate customers and most likely lead to them not using the channel again. Looking solely for cost savings will most likely fail to deliver an acceptable customer experience and thus diminish the available ROI; conversely, aiming for a better customer experience stands you in good stead to deliver this as well as significant cost savings.

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By Neha Gupta
14th Oct 2016 11:31

Excellent article, Simon. Self-service should be implemented selflessly. Companies should consider the customers, as the central part of their ecosystem. On that basis, self-service solutions should be designed so that they can lead to customer convenience, and can meet the customer requirements. Only then a company can receive good customer response and satisfaction. When the customer response is good, the companies automatically can get the loyalty and revenues. Self-service should be implemented and delivered to the customers, to enhance their experience. Today companies are focusing on customer requirements but aren't able to implement the solutions accordingly. Self-service solutions should be implemented in a manner that it provides the control, efficiency and convenience to the customers.

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