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Why self-service still needs human support for success

11th Apr 2018

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the term “self-service”? You might picture the self-checkout lines at the grocery store, or the billing page on your utility company's website. Some people might think that self-service is a way for companies to “slack off”, but done correctly it is an important value-added option for customers. As long as businesses continue to offer good customer service, that is.

When I was in college, I worked at a gas station. This was at the time when petrol stations were in the process of converting from full-service to self-service. So my job was changing too. I went from pumping the gas for the customer, checking their oil, and washing their windows to just collecting their money and saying thank you.

I still interacted with the customers as our station hadn’t installed a kiosk where the employee would accept customers’ money through a window. I had a coin changer hanging on my belt and bills in my pocket to make change, and I had to manually reset the pumps between customers.

I remember one unbelievably cold, windy day, a frail-looking elderly woman pulled in to the station and began to get out of her car to pump her gas. Despite our new self-service system, I walked over to her car and told her I would be glad to pump her gas if she would like to sit in her car, out of the cold and wind. She was very appreciative.

When I went inside the station later, the manager questioned my decision to go against our new policy and pump gas for our elderly customer, but to me it just made sense. A similar, recent situation reinforced my belief that I did the right thing on that cold day many years ago.

Human input

I was at the airport and was having difficulty checking in at the self-service kiosk. For some reason, the machine wasn’t reading my credit card. Within a matter of seconds there was an airline employee there to help me. I didn’t have to ask for help. The person was there, looking for opportunities to help customers.

Self-service should be something that enhances the typical customer service experience. It should be about making it easier, faster, more efficient, and in some cases, even less expensive for the customer. A self-service solution doesn’t mean you don’t offer customer service. On the contrary, self-service is a way to enhance customer service.

There is another consideration when offering self-service choices for your customers, and that is the concept of self-service support. This is the idea of offering helpful information and guidance for customers who have questions about your product – especially during those times when traditional customer support is not available.

Last year I bought a ping-pong table and had the hardest time putting it together. After several frustrating hours, I tried calling the phone number included with the instructions. Bad news. They were only open during typical business hours: 9-5 Monday through Friday. When do most consumers purchase and build ping-pong tables? On evenings and weekends. So on a whim, I turned on my computer, went to YouTube and typed in the name and model number of the table, and lo and behold, there was a video showing how to put it together. An hour later, the project was done.

Self-service support is becoming more widely available all the time. And in many cases, it is consumers’ preferred option. A quick search on Google, YouTube or the company’s own website should enable customers to find quick answers to their questions.

Smart companies will take the time and effort to build a knowledge base that will not only build goodwill with their customers by having answers available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but also save the company money. According to McKinsey & Company, the average cost of a phone interaction is $6, email $5, and live chat $5. These dollars add up.

If you haven’t already done so, it’s time to add customer self-service as an option. No matter what type of business you’re in, your customers will have questions. Make it easy for them to find answers by including an FAQ section on your website. Post YouTube videos that answer questions in a visual format.

One final thought – the customer may access your self-service solution and still feel that his or her question has not been answered. Once again, it’s time to step in with more traditional customer support. Self-service is an option to make customers’ lives easier, not a substitute for good customer service.


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By PaulineAshenden
28th Apr 2016 17:24

As you say it is a balance Shep – there are many times when customers just want a fast, convenient answer and that’s when self-service absolutely meets their needs. However, they should also have the opportunity to escalate to other channels if they can’t find the answer they are looking for – there’s more on the subject in this Eptica blog post

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