The self-service economy: Welcome to the customer relationship revolution

21st Jun 2013

Research concludes that consumers favour self-service. So how do you map out self-service in the customer journey?

15 years ago, companies forced consumers to perform certain tasks themselves. When banks started charging customers for not executing their own transfers this led to widespread protest. Today the world looks very different: a company that doesn’t offer a self-service solution has to suffer the consequences. In order to create an accurate picture of this trend, I conducted a global survey in collaboration with SSI, who conducted the actual study, and translation agency No Problem!

The conclusion is inescapable: the majority of consumers favour a self-service solution, including the safety net of personal contact if the consumer so chooses. This trend is even more apparent in countries like China, Brazil and Singapore than is the case in Europe or the US. The following presentation contains full details of the survey. As usual, downloading the study is free of charge:

As service expectations keep growing, self-service is the only answer

Consumers expect companies to keep improving their level of service. They want their questions answered and problems solved in a timely, friendly and efficient manner. Consumers have a strong aversion to having to contact a company several times or sharing the same information more than once.

 service expectations

The days are long gone when it was OK to answer an email inside 24 hours. 39% of modern consumers expect a reply within 4 hours. Twitter and Facebook users have even less patience. 55% of social media users want an answer in less than 4 hours.

 Reaction time expectation

Self-service is the only long-term solution to meeting customer expectations. Already, 70% of consumers expect a self-service option for handling commercial questions and complaints. Still, this doesn’t preclude the need for a personal solution: if self-service falls short, personal contact as a safety net is an absolute necessity.

 70% expects self service

Self-service in every step of the customer relationship

When mapping out a self-service strategy it’s useful to consider every single step in the customer relationship. Self-service relates to the pre-purchase phase as well as to the purchase as such and any questions that may arise following the purchase.  

  • Pre-sales: consumers make their own enquiries regarding a purchase. Quite often, 70% of the decision has already been made before a consumer contacts a company. 27% prefer to ask commercial questions over the phone whereas 56% opt for the self-service approach.
  • Sales: the exponential growth of ecommerce shows that more and more people want to stay in control of the purchase process.
  • Post sales: 35% prefer to ask questions over the phone, 48% choose the self-service option.

self service in each phase of the buying cycle

Strengthening the self-service economy through the use of data

The self-service economy can cement itself through the intelligent use of data. Data can improve the quality of the customer relationship in every phase of that relationship. As long as it’s to their own advantage, consumers are generally open-minded when it comes to giving companies access to their data.

  • Pre-sales: 48% would like to receive personalised offers. 43% would like to receive bespoke promotions. 33% are interested in personalised advertising.
  • Sales: 62% want faster and improved purchase possibilities through the use of client data.
  • Post sales: 48% want companies to be able to track data through various channels so they don’t have to repeat themselves. 81% are quite willing to grant access to data to help cut waiting times.

The self-service economy is a win-win

When the self-service principle first started to take root, the underlying motivation for companies was often a search for efficiency. In their desire to create a super-efficient organisation, it seemed only logical to have the client perform certain tasks. Today, the self-service principle can be much further-reaching. Self-service has the biggest impact when based on a win-win philosophy. The primary goal should always be an improved customer relationship. The advantages for the organisation are efficiency as well as higher profits.

 The Real Self Serving Economy

Steven Van Belleghem is Professor at Vlerick Business School and runs his own inspiration and coaching company, B-Conversational. Steven is also an award-winning author of “The Conversation Manager” and “The Conversation Company”.

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By Peter McKean
24th Jun 2013 13:17

An interesting article and stat's that reflect the findings we also found from our own recent research into multi-channel customer service - Consumers do indeed want and expect to self-serve online, with our survey showing that 67% prefer online channels to voice for after sales customer service and that 90% of consumers will always check a website before calling or e-mailing an organisation. Crucially, 7 out of 10 respondents also thought that online customer service would dominate over traditional call centres within a decade. Consistency is a key element of online customer service however - the number of channels by which a customer can contact an organisation over are increasing constantly and having a multi-channel customer service strategy in place to ensure you offer the same experience across all of these channels is critical to ensuring brand loyalty and customer satisfaction.

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