Is customer self-service a good fit for your business?

Is self-service the cure-all solution for customer service? There is no doubt that there is a place for it in today’s world of business, especially with items that are difficult, inconvenient, or time consuming to buy in a typical retailer. ATMs and online or telephone banking make it easier to deal with the banks, (until one actually tries to speak to a real human being.) But what about when it comes to self-service on the internet? Global consumers are becoming more tech-savvy, and comfortable with using technology for service. Websites, like ATMs, do offer a 24/7/365 convenience, and can also save one time when you don’t have to wait for someone to answer the telephone.

More than 40% of customers surveyed (by Coleman-Parkes for AMDOC in the UK) said that they had to call a call centre to get answers to basic questions, and 91% said that it was only convenient if they could customise queries for their needs. The most common word used is “effortlessness.”  The topic about customer self-service is controversy-laden, and often polarises business people. On the one hand, it can be a splendid idea, and certainly helps companies save a bit of money through efficiencies; but there are also many customers that don’t care for it too much, and, in fact, it rather irritates them.

Will self-service work for you? 

Here are some questions/points to consider   before you embark on a self-service strategy for your customers, or you can use this as a checklist to see if your system works for them:

  • Does it truly add value for customers, and create specific benefits for them? Or did we do it just to save the company money or alleviate workloads on staff? If it doesn’t bring something useful to customers, don’t do it.
  • Is it simple to use and intuitive? It really doesn’t help if customers have to try and figure things out, no matter how intelligent or stupid they are. How many times have you tried to buy something on a website only to be confronted with a message that the transaction has “timed out” or the page has “expired” because you took too long?
  • Does your software and hardware work? Are the basic systems and processes able to handle all eventualities?
  • There is also a need for consistency and simplicity. Most tech-savvy customers and web users are exposed to many websites every day, and can easily compare those that they like with those that they will avoid. Those that are most avoided are those which appear to be complex, and give or ask for too much information.
  • What credible alternatives are there for customers who cannot or will not use self-service?
  • Is the system fool-proof? It’s all very well to have a list of FAQs, (frequently asked questions,) but what if my specific question isn’t there? One company has a set of digital recordings in its call centre that explain things to customers that are repetitive and time-consuming to agents.
  • Websites and FAQs (frequently asked questions,) need to be regularly reviewed and changed to reflect what customers actually want, and the words that they use. It is often true that the website remains static for years.
  • Another non-negotiable is to offer customers specific responses so that they are left in no uncertainty about communication. For example, how often does your company respond to “Contact Us” emails? Is there an option for someone to call back the customer immediately – or as soon as possible?
  • Are you building their trust? Depending on which survey one looks at, the drop-out rate for customers before checking out their trolley can be as high as 90%. The main reason? A sudden fear that maybe there will be some remorse with the purchase, and a fear that their money will “disappear” or they will be defrauded. Obviously, trust plays a vital role, and you will need to offer guarantees. How can you respond so that they know it’s all going to be okay? What guarantees can you offer them to ensure they feel safe with you?

So, while there are lots of companies that will not benefit from a customer self-service option, it must be remembered that it is a strategy that can help customers feel empowered even as they get the benefits of convenience, and of time and money saved.

This article was written by Aki Kalliatakis, founder of The Leadership LaunchPad, a consultancy dedicated to raising standards of customer care. It was submitted by Tale Spin Media.