The beginner's guide to customer self-service solutions
Everyone knows that today’s customers are better connected, better informed and increasing customer service expectations are causing rapid changes. Call centres are now dealing with multiple channels including voice, SMS, web chat, social and email to meet customer service demand. However these channels are often not delivering the expected level of customer service that customers are now demanding, with 39% of modern consumers expecting a reply to their email within four hours and 55% of social media users want an answer in less than four hours.
When looking to implement self-service technology it is important to understand the requirements of the typical customer, including the nature of the information that they will request, the devices from which they most often search for information and the relative technical sophistication of the user. So what are the different types of self-service technologies available and what are the advantages and disadvantages of each technology from both a customer and business perspective?
Web portals - Hosted web portals are growing in popularity as a self-service channel and are continually improving in terms of integration, functionality and usability. Users benefit not only from access at a time to suit them without needing to call the contact centre but also being able to have greater visibility of their purchases or customer service requests without any human interaction. Businesses offering web portals are able to reduce the load on their contact centre agents whilst being able to provide accurate and personalised information to customers on demand. When implementing a web portal as a self-service channel, it is important for businesses to ensure they fully integrate the web portal with back office systems so customers are able to carry out all the tasks they want to through the one platform.
Web chat - Web chat is tipped to be the channel of choice for the customer of the future, indeed its usage has been growing at 18% per year and ContactBabel report it as being the top technology implementation in the next 12 months. Web chat can provide users with a real-time customer service channel for both standard and more complex answers, allowing them to chat with an agent without having to sit in long queues or spend money whilst on hold. Businesses are provided with a quick to integrate, simple to use facility and blend into the contact centre alongside calls, emails and social contact, significantly improving agent productivity. When implementing web chat make sure it has the functionality that allows agents to manage multiple chats at one time and provide template responses for standard questions. It is also important to allow an agent to escalate a web chat session to another channel if it is too complex for web chat or needs further assistance.
Telephony self-service (IVR) - Telephone self-service has been around since the 1970’s, when the first IVR units became widely-used. There has also been growth in the use of automated speech recognition, which allows customers to speak their requirements to the system, allowing greater flexibility and functionality. The economic benefits of the solution are clearer than most other channels, with 6 IVR calls costing around the same as a single person-to-person call (a live call is reported to cost an average of £3.75 with an IVR session costing 65p). However, despite the wide usage of IVR in contact centres and the significant cost savings, this technology has developed a somewhat negative connotation from a user perspective as a result of endless menu options, confusing navigation and on some occasion’s bad voice recognition. Therefore, if IVR is a self-service channel of choice, make sure that it is implemented properly, menus are clear and customers are able to easily navigate their way to the right person/department to answer their query.
Customer service apps (Visual IVR) - 50% of smartphone users chose apps over phoning a contact centre or browsing a website. Although apps are typically used for simple transactions, such as checking an account balance or making a transfer, they are getting smarter and increasingly being used for more complex customer service transactions. The rapid growth in smartphones means a visual representation of IVR menus can be provided allowing the customer to navigate a visual IVR menu between four and five times quicker than a traditional audio IVR menu. Building Visual IVR functionality into mobile customer service apps provides organisations with a fast, simple and cost-effective means of streamlining their customer service interactions – particularly when those apps are linked directly to core business processes and supported by integral features such as call back.
So as more and more organisations embark on adopting self-service technologies, where does this leave traditional channels and have we started bidding a farewell to the call centre? Mplsystems believe that although customers are demanding the use of self-service channels, the need for human interaction will never be replaced. Customers have high expectations when it comes to customer service and depending on the service they require, self-service technology cannot always meet these high expectations. To provide a competitive customer service, businesses should be offering customers a number of channels so they can choose the one that suits them.
Susannah Richardson is marketing director at mplsystems.