Author, Speaker, Creative Catalyst
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Self-service 2.0: An engaging experience for the social customer?

30th Mar 2010
Author, Speaker, Creative Catalyst
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Online self-service is about more than merely migrating call centre activity to the web. In this extract from his upcoming book, Customer Experience Strategy: The Complete Guide from Innovation To Execution, Lior Arussy explains that self-service in the age of Web 2.0 is all about collaboration - and highlights the leading-edge organisations that are pursuing this.

Self-service sites treated the customer as someone who sought to conduct transactions as quickly as possible and then move on to other activities. Yet, when Strativity’s Customer Experience Consumer Study (2009) asked 1,994 consumers to identify the drivers of exceptional customer experiences, they pointed to human interactions with their favorite vendors. Self-service channels didn’t show strong correlation to loyalty and fu­ture purchases.
In Self-Service 1.0, the entire approach was to treat customers as utilitar­ian. A customer zips in, conducts business, and exits as quickly as possible: e-commerce as drive-through window. Nowadays, customers spend hour upon hour on the web, but how much of that time is devoted to your site? When companies created Self-Service 1.0, they simply migrated existing processes, layered on a bit of information, and set the customer off to do their work for them.
Treating the web as a channel to replace other, more expensive channels — for instance, migrating call centre activity to the web — misses what the web is all about. Self-service is more than researching troubleshooting tips for products that don’t work, submitting a purchase order, or getting a book of first-class stamps from the kiosk outside the post office. Self-service is now collaboration.
Self-service 2.0
Begin the journey to a virtual experience that attracts and serves the customer by allowing customers to self-segment and to introduce their own variation on your site — variation in language, colors, font sizes, content, and any other element that, when you put the control in their hands, makes them feel like a more integrated part of your company. The Bank Machine in East London once experimented with ATMs whose instructions were written in Cockney Rhyming slang. Need some cash? Select "Sausage and Mash".
Follow through by allowing them to co-create the total experience via that now-personalised platform, letting them select and design everything from how you communicate with them to how they communicate with other customers to the features and look of the product itself.
This is Self-Service 2.0. This is self-personalisation. Customers are still doing some of your job for themselves, but in this case they are taking over the personalization that you as a brand must instill into their experience.
To succeed, Self-Service 2.0 must design and execute:
  • Self-personalisation experiences, which give consumers control over the look, feel and personal elements of interactions with your brand.
  • Self-expressive experiences, which puts the consumers’ individual stamp on your services and your brand — in essence, co-creating the value proposition you deliver to your customers.
  • Lasting experiences, which both evoke and preserve memories that lay the foundation of all future customer interactions.
Self-personalisation experiences
"If you want it done right," goes the hoary old saying, "do it yourself". If you are to make self-service work for your customers and your company, you must return to the core concept of self-service: "Make it my way". Such personalisation creates happier, more engaged customers who have taken it upon themselves to differentiate your brand specifically for them.
Savvy companies are making progress in offering collaborative models where customers can determine what they want and how they want it deliv­ered, uniquely tailoring experiences to each individual. However, companies aren’t yet taking full advantage of the capabilities of personalisation. Let me give you an example in the banking world: keeping in mind the typical bank­ing Self-Service 1.0 features I described above, including checking account balances and making loan payments, I presented the next step to HSBC in Asia as part of a client engagement. HSBC wanted its customers to stay lon­ger on their website, but weren’t hopeful, claiming that customers had no reason to linger after they’d checked their balances. I nodded, then offered this scenario for deep personalization of the online banking experience:
The moment I as a customer sign in to my online banking account, the song "I Love Money" begins to play. It’s a song I’ve chosen myself. It might have been Pink Floyd’s "Money" or The Four Tops’ "Money Money Money" - or any other song I enjoy. When I navigate to the page display­ing my savings account details, I see the picture of my kids I’ve selected to appear next to the account balance. After all, I’m saving for my kids’ future. Over on the mortgage summary page is the picture I uploaded of my house, reminding me of why those mortgage numbers exist in the first place. Another goal-oriented reminder — a picture of a beach and palm trees — sits on the summary page of the account I’ve set up for vacation savings.
Such a scenario is easily achieved with today’s technology — even with yesterday’s technology, which has rarely been put to such use. Most com­panies don’t think to allow customers to even approach this customized approach. Consider it a transformation from banking statement to personal statement, from personal Checkbook to checking Facebook.
Some banks have taken steps in this direction with co-brand credit cards sporting the logos of their favourite sports teams and such, and some even allow customers to place a preferred picture on the face of their card. Before that capability, consumers could order personalised checks with designs they picked themselves, and before that, there was personalised money (well, George Washington was one of the few that could swing it, but still). But these are only a couple of steps in the potential of immersing the customers in their own worlds while interacting with your company.
Other businesses that provide good examples of providing customer-generated personalisation include:
  •’s "Your Personal Shop" asks questions about customers’ shapes, styles and fit preferences and measurements, then picks among seven body shapes to consumers can shop according to their shapes.
  • Steve Madden’s "Design Your Own" feature allows footwear customers to, yes, design their own (a privilege that costs about 25-30% more than a similar non-customised shoe, according to USA Today.
  • The Capital One Card Lab experimented with allowing cardholders to select the card features and attributes important to them — for instance, opting for a slightly higher interest rate to increase the rewards earn rate.
  • Jones Soda allows its customers have a personal photograph featured on to one of its soda bottles.
The check-in self-service option provided virtually by all airlines today is a great example of a successful self-service channel. Customers who selected this option benefited from greater freedom. They were now able to see the complete seating arrangement on the plane and selected their preferred seat. This option was not available through airport check-in or the call center. The airlines were willing to trade off more power to customers in exchange for cost reduction and greater satisfaction.
The self-service customer experience on the web truly is about self. Though you want the customers to run the experience their way, it doesn’t mean that customers suddenly become call centre agents for you. It means they’re going to shape the experience to their preferences, so that they can serve themselves completely differently.
Self-Service 2.0 changes the whole foundation of what self-service is all about. The website is no longer a destination. It is a platform that allows the customer to co-create with you. Customers are saying, "We won’t sim­ply be visitors — we’ll join in creating our own web experience."
The change to Self-Service 2.0 requires a fundamental shift in corporate thinking about customer relationships. Again, the sea change I mentioned earlier is not in the customer. The change is not in the medium. The change is in corporate understanding of the customer and corporate willingness to leverage innate but until now unsatisfied customer interest in collaborating with each other and, yes, even with brands.
That’s why you can’t treat the web as a channel. Channels imply that the brand controls the medium and customers just come to visit, do your work for you, and go away.
Self-expressive experiences
People express themselves and their uniqueness through the products and services that they use — witness the huge popularity of Izod Lacoste sports shirts (hint: think alligator) in the ‘70s. Now, imagine the power of enhanc­ing that self-expression by enabling customers to co-create the product or service they receive.
Footwear companies are at the leading edge of offering collaborative product experiences, including customized brandname shoes from NIKEiD, Converse One, Vans and Timberland; painted shoes from PunkYourChucks; custom and personalized baby shoes from Darling Baby Shoes, and Soft Star Shoes and Moccasins; and custom high heels from Shoes USA. Let’s look a little more closely at NIKEiD:
Nike noticed that third-party designers advertised shoe-personalisation services. Send your Nikes to these designers, choose your favorite colors, and the designers would ink the shoes and return to you one-of-a-kind foot­wear. Instead of clinging to absolute control over their brand, Nike decided to operationalise this fringe behavior into a co-creation platform called NIKEiD. Co-creation is a concept critical to maximising the potential of the web and to securing the loyalty of the tribal customer.
The web-based NIKEiD service allows customers to design shoes to their own specifications. The customer selects the colours from the toe to the laces to the heel and sole and down to the Swoosh itself, producing the look that best expresses their identity. The customised shoes are, of course, more expensive than the Nike shoes anyone can buy in-store. However, customers consider the additional expense a small price for the personal expression it delivers. And important from Nike’s standpoint is the delight and emotional engagement that they bring to their customers, from the fun and challenge of designing their own look to showing off that look once the shoes arrive.
NIKEiD customers create shoes that are very personal and, in fact, part of their identity. The NIKEiD shoes are becoming more than just an external product they share with millions of others around the world. The shoes are as unique as the designer (a.k.a. the customer) and reflect each person’s individual taste, preferences, values and personality. This level of intimacy between products and customers achieves the highest level of customer experience.
Consider the numerous benefits to Nike:
  • They capture what would have otherwise been third-party business.
  • They command higher margins with the increased price of the service.
  • They reduce returns — customers are less apt to return their shoes than they are your one-design-fits-all shoes.
  • They personalise their customers’ experience with a co-creation platform.
  • They appealed to the tribal customerby allowing customers to share their designs with their friends — via the website.
  • They potentially opened up a test laboratory to watch for other fringe behaviors and fuel further innovation.
Perhaps most important of all, Nike lets the consumers take control over a product that in and of itself is a personal statement. This is now more than a matter of personal expression via the brand someone wears, and broad­ens to an instance of self-expression that tribal customers can talk about personally. "Look at my cool Nikes. I built them myself. You can, too."
Look for opportunities to follow a similar path in your web efforts — because at the level of co-creation, the product becomes the platform for expression. Companies relinquish the dictatorial position of "we know better" and em­brace the position of "let’s share ideas" and "you participate in the process".
Co-creation is a strong element in the iPod phenomenon. What made iPod successful, in my opinion, is not the cool device but rather the unique play list created by each customer. In fact, the device lacked a clear outlet for a social element, and was merely a platform for each person to create a unique song playlist that reflects their individual taste and personality. In this case again, the product becomes a platform. Apple allowed customers to create and reflect their identity by enabling them to create their own one-of-a-kind playlist. Compare this to the predefined song lists contained in CDs sold worldwide and you can clearly see the difference in approach. The record/CD labels determine the product for customers and force them to purchase 10-12 pre-selected songs versus the ability of customers to select only the songs they like. Trends such as eBay successfully reinforce products as platforms by allowing customers to obtain the oddest products they wish to buy and not settle for products preselected by buyers of large store chains.
Some other examples point to how co-creation can enrich the customer experience and the brand relationship. Take Stony Creek Wine Press, which allows its customers to co-create their wine labels. In the arena of durable goods, a growing number of car manufacturers allow customers to go to the web to choose design features such as colors and leather interior and a variety of products such as OnStar. And on an everyday personal level, consider a refrigerator offered by an Israeli company, which allows custom­ers to create the external design of their refrigerator to complement their overall kitchen design. The refrigerator arrives painted with art match the overall kitchen look. This new service is, of course, offered at a premium price and is distinguished from the regular refrigerators offered in the stores. The more customers become involved in the design and creation process, the more intimate their commitment will be to the product and the company. The products become a natural part of the customer’s identity and are woven into their lives. This is another example of how co-creation can increase prices and create greater margins.
Lasting experiences
As we’ve established, customer experience is founded and built upon memo­ry. Customers want to preserve their personal memories in ways that reflect their individual and unique experiences. Web 2.0 allows you to go beyond designing customer memory by bringing them into the co-creation model to create the memory in the first place, and then to preserve that memory.
For example, SharedBook has created a publishing platform that allows us­ers to extract, create and manipulate data and content, then distribute their unique "MemoryBook" online or offline. In the tourism business, Regent Seven Seas Cruises employs this technology to enrich customer memories while at the same time generating extra revenue. When we travel, we tend to take a lot of pictures, and we’ve all found ourselves with a lot of shots that clip subjects’ heads off, that are blurry or dark, or that missed the Eiffel Tower because of the large construction worker who stepped into the shot as you took it. Regent offers its passengers The Regent Commemorative Album, which weaves the best of your tour pictures with striking standard shots of your destination in a professional layout. Using a web interface, you create your individual title, write your own dedication or select from a range of standard dedications, and choose the cover photo and you’re your own vacation shots that you want included. You can even select which ports-of-call from your trip that you do and don’t want included.
The result is a very personalized and very specially presented memory. Of course, you’ll want to show the book to your friends, in doing so share not only your memories but also the Regent Seven Seas brand. When customers consider the next vacation while paging through this striking album, they remember not only the fun and glamour of the cruise, but also the brand that delivered that fun and glamour. This deepens the customer experience and strengthens the brand relationship.
Would all self-service channels be candidates for co-creation? Probably not — in the same way that not all self-service channels are differentiators. Many of these channels can be and should be differentiators if you rethink them from the perspective of customers and co-creation.
It is time to rethink self-service with a target of not just easy and intuitive experience, but as a delightful, differentiating experience. That will require placing customers at the center of the design, allowing them to contrib­ute to the design and individualize the outcome. You must measure and determine the success of the self-service channel in the context of creating future loyalty and not just in the context of reducing complaints. And in some cases, you may have to accept the fact that self-service might not be the answer. In some cases, you may discover that human interaction is the right way to go to create differentiation and future loyalty.


Lior Arussy is the founder and president of Strativity Group, a global customer experience research and consulting firm specialising in design, innovation and deployment of differentiating, profitable customer experiences. His books include Excellence Every Day: Make the Daily Choice and Passionate & Profitable: Why Customer Strategies Fail and 10 Steps To Do Them Right!

His latest book - Customer Experience Strategy: The Complete Guide From Innovation To Execution - will be released shortly.

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