Are self-service and social support our silver bullets?

17th May 2012

"Customer service agent - I don't need you!" says Andrea Incalza, as he sets out a manifesto to help the customer service organisation.

"Customer service agent, I don't need you!"

Ok, it's a provocation. We'll always need human intervention with complex problems but the aim of this article is to argue about social and self services.

I don't know about you, but I've always thought and seen that 90% of the time people have a problem, they just give huge relevance to resolution time. That's because 90% of the time people believe that, following detailed instructions (few or many is not important), are able to fix autonomously issues. And that's also because most of the time issues are not so difficult and/or complex to fix.

Nowadays, not considering this customer attitude entails different bad service experiences like long waiting time, high abandonment rate, very low customer satisfaction and, consequently, bad financial results. There are lots of parameters and costs to look after (training, incentive policy, communication infrastructures, free-toll numbers, etc.) in order to be aligned to customer needs, but we can always take advantage of concurrent utilization of a traditional and a new service approach to help the customer service organization: self-service and social support.

Social support

Customers are more and more used to finding information thanks to the web. For lots of people it's the first step before even trying to approach a customer Service department through traditional channel like phone. Probably you first search in Google and magically you find a list of sites where people like you asked the same questions or expressed the same problems and someone else had spent his time to give one or more alternative answers. Sometimes the answer is formal cause the solver is someone from the company that sold you the "troublesome" product/service, but it's surely increasing the number of communities trying to help members (and not members) to find solutions (based on their adoption experiences) by themselves.

Many times you find these communities well structured, with hundred or thousand of members spending important shares of their time to help each others. What can you do to take advantage of this golden bulk of knowledge? You can try to "migrate it inside your firewalls" providing them with all necessary tools useful for their purpose. But pay attention. Your main goal is not to apply a "corporatization" of this social knowledge; it's mandatory to understand that your role is to nurture and support the community, mainly to satisfy their (and not your) primary objective: sharing knowledge to help people with the same interests. You have not to sell anything nor playing with them without a transparent beahviour otherwise your punishment will be an empty or valueless community. Applying a correct behaviour toward the community will give you:

  • great awareness with customers and potential ones
  • fresh informal knowledge about your business to be integrated with the internal one
  • brand perception benefits
  • customer problems resolution (also potentially complex ones)
  • complaints' volume decrease
  • lots of good ideas to improve your offering and to innovate according to your customer needs
  • reduction of direct costs for customer service infrastructure


The good old self-service paradigm seems a little bit obsolete in these "social" times but believe me that using an IVR or FAQ or kiosks can be still useful. The current problem is that typical self-service solutions are designed not thinking to your customers. You normally believe that is easy to create a taxonomy of services did it! Yes you did it but unfortunately your customers or prospects can reason differently. In the case of an IVR, a serious review based on direct feedbacks from your customers (survey, questionnaires, etc.) and behaviour (navigation) analysis could dramatically change the structure of the menu patterns cause the truth is that you have to design an IVR putting yourself in your customer's shoes.

So if you find high abandonment rate during recorded ads please cut them off, if you find out an upward trend for a new issue, please let the IVR be dynamic and the solution be as more reachable as possible, and so on. Everything is also applicable for an interactive kiosk and all the others self-service solutions available. Moreover, remember that a typical advantage for customers using this solutions is to "converse" with operational systems setting up real actions (remote device set-up, card activation, etc.) so, more than ever, the experience must be thought from a customer perspective. Applying a correct framework to design your self-service offering will give you:

  • increasing customer and prospect satisfaction
  • brand perception benefits
  • customer problems resolution (also potentially complex ones)
  • complaints' volume decrease
  • reduction of direct costs for customer service infrastructure

These particular propositions will allow companies to reach important business objectives (first of all cost cutting and high csat) providing at the same time excellent service level and a remarkable user experience.

But what about the poor customer service agent?

As I told you, human intervention is fundamental, especially when handling complex problems for your customer base. But in a world wishing to be more and more social and self-sufficient you have to rethink your organization. You add real value investing on smaller groups of skilled and specialized agents that will cope with specific topics and/or customer segments. Talent scouting and in-depth training will be the key factors that will differentiate your service strategy and approach.

Andrea Incalza is a social CRM and CRM blogger at

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