Self-Service: A Bridge Too Far?


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There are over 20,000 dry cleaning facilities in the United States. Some people like ironing their own shirts, but others enjoy the convenience and quality of a professional service. Every year U.S. consumers spend over $10 billion on taxi services. Perhaps it’s because many find it faster, easier and more productive than driving their own car. Do you like the all-you-can-eat buffet? Or do you like being served? It’s true that consumers like to do stuff for themselves. But many others enjoy the comfort and convenience of being waited on. This begs the question: are we in danger of going too far with a self-service strategy that forces our customers to do more and more for themselves when interacting with the companies they do business with? According to the Genesys Consumer Survey of 2007 approximately 90% of people feel that companies are pushing them to use self-service systems instead of talking to live people. This staggering statistic presents both danger and opportunity.

Companies that have experienced self-service success with lower operating costs and increased customer satisfaction naturally want more of this magic elixir. As a result, companies begin automating more processes, including fairly complex ones like filing an insurance claim, so companies continue to build interfaces they hope will inspire more customers to self-serve. However, our microwave mentality and short attention spans might not be up to the challenge. There is a point where customers grow weary of these systems, lose patience and become extremely frustrated regardless of your efforts to design an excellent user interface. And since the interface rarely changes once it’s in place, the mundane process of answering the same initial questions for segmentation and pressing the same buttons time and again consequently becomes a loathed chore for your customers each and every time they interact with you. Are we adding to the list of chores with each new self-service option we present? Are we lengthening the self-service interaction to the point where customers mentally give up? And finally, why do we continue to think we know exactly what customers want when they call, when pressing “zero” for an agent remains their No. 1 selection?

Some of these interfaces include speech recognition technology with the goal of facilitating the interaction and encouraging advanced usage of the self-service system. However, many of these attempts fall flat and far short of the promise of interacting with an intelligent, sentient computer system that is capable of understanding, comprehending, interpreting and expressing emotions. Some of these systems hinder the interaction, as opposed to helping it. It’s true, good speech applications exist; however, the high cost of developing a quality voice user interface is proving to be an inhibitor to widespread adoption.

Unlike the voice channel, the web is more conducive to providing advanced self-service options. Consumers using the web are more relaxed, both mentally and physically; therefore they are more inclined to engage in a complex self-service process. For example, consumers are sitting down and comfortable when using the web rather than standing up and pacing around when using the phone. In addition, consumers can read their screens quickly, comprehend information and act more efficiently with their inputs. Over the phone, our brains are impatiently waiting for the next prompt. We are rarely satisfied with the pace and tempo of the interaction. When listening, we wish it were possible to take in all of the choices at once with a single glance, like we can on the web. Our anticipation of what options lie ahead is enough to drive some of us insane. We read and comprehend faster than we can listen. Therefore, when expanding the use of the voice self-service channel, we need to recognize where diminishing returns begin and stop short of the mark before frustrating our customers who will always be thinking two steps ahead of your IVR. Conversely, self-service hits the mark when your customer and your IVR system move together in lockstep. But this means you’ve provided a clear self-service pathway for each and every customer that calls you. Tricky indeed. Which is why I feel that “less is more.”

Everybody likes a good buffet at a party or wedding. But nobody will take the prime rib if they have to slice it themselves, which is why a chef is always present to slice it for you and place it nicely on your plate. Like any good caterer, you have to know the limits of self-service. Customer interactions must include choices that make sense, leave little to the imagination and are fast and easy for them to complete. There shouldn’t be any steps in the self-service process that create cognitive dissonance and upset your customer’s single stream of consciousness. Otherwise it becomes clear in the mind of your customer that this process is not about self-service, but rather self-serving…..for you and your business.

Don’t leave customers feeling like they are doing your job. Don’t give them the impression that speaking with a live person is a last resort option. Your customers contact you for specific purposes, therefore, do not disrupt their line of thought with too much noise that does not relate to them. Most importantly, don’t squander opportunities to show customers you care by eliminating the personalized service that exactly matches each customer’s needs. Customer Loyalty Professionals take note: taking the self-service initiative too far will run the short-term risk of customer frustration and the long-term risk of customer defections.

Eric Camulli
As Vice President for 7signal, Eric is focused on helping organizations bring high quality and highly productive experiences to people using Wi-Fi networks everywhere. In today's connected economy, our dependency on robust, reliable Wi-Fi is paramount. Eric is dedicated to ensuring that companies deliver peak wireless performance so that they can compete in a marketplace exploding with wireless devices.


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