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]