There’s an Art to Good Self-Service


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Countless customers love the convenience and privacy of self-service. When it works well, it’s convenient and fast. When self-service doesn’t work, however, we tend to blame that lousy technology. For the most part, however, it’s not bad speech technology at all, it’s the people who ignore the basics of excellent customer service and implement badly designed self-service applications.

When contemplating a speech self-service solution, you should consider three key concepts to assure you create a superb solution: common sense about your customers, the science of the design and the art of the design.

Excellent customer service and convenience was the overriding factor when management at Pacific Gas and Electric Co., a California-based utility, decided to provide speech-enabled self-service to the company’s 14 million customers. California residents know that PG&E’s image had been tarnished by power brownouts in the late ’90s and early the next decade, along with the rising cost of home heating. And PG&E officials knew they had to do speech self-service the right way the first time to strengthen their customer service approach and build an enduring good impression with the public.

The PG&E contact center management team found the right combination of common sense, science and art to create an award-winning offering that includes billing, outage reports, service starts, service stops and general inquiries. So while they moved the utility from touch-tone to self-service, the team cleverly decided not to limit PG&E’s customer service experience by simply “speechifying” this application. Instead, recognizing that speech significantly expands the business’ ability to provide assistance to customers, they started from the beginning.

The PG&E team worked with Nortel and Nuance to analyze contact center operations to discover additional transactions that could be automated, and they rethought the utility’s customer service approach. For example, speech made it possible to automate activities like service starts and service stops that required collecting address information. A text-to-speech capability also allowed PG&E to provide dynamic information related to outages and the location of pay stations. These service enhancements gave PG&E an increased completion rate of between 15 percent and 25 percent, depending on the automated function—higher than the team expected.

Common sense
You can accomplish similar goals for your business if you pay attention to the key concepts of common sense about your customers, plus the science—and the art—of design. Common sense means you really understand your customers’ needs and expectations and build these into your application. Always remember: The main reason customers use self-service is because it’s easier and faster than talking to a person. Keep this guiding principle and you will significantly improve your self-service design.

Common sense also means that you always provide the option for a customer to speak to a person. This eliminates the main reason customers hate self-service! Additionally, organize application menus or options so that it all makes sense to your customers and is clear. A good example: Offer the most popular choice first so that most of your customers get help immediately.

The science of self-service design refers to the technology and its integration into your business. Although the technology isn’t perfect today, it’s very mature and capable of a high degree of accuracy. Assure the solution you use is open, scaleable, standards-based and reliable. You don’t want to spend lots of time and energy creating a very convenient and usable self-service solution and then have it be unavailable because the platform failed. An open and standards-based architecture also helps ensure simpler integration with your business applications and that your application will move into the future, safeguarding your investment.

The science also refers to the expertise it takes to assure you deliver the speed, accuracy and usability your customers demand. Consult with self-service application experts with the insight and practical experience to make your application exceed customer expectations. Also evaluate the range of professional services available from various suppliers so that you can choose an option that helps lower your risk and protect your investment.

The art of self-service design refers mostly to the convenience and usability of your application and the personality it projects. Consider a musical composition that has the notes and chords in an order but simply isn’t enjoyable to listen to. The art of self-service is the ability to fine-tune your self-service application for maximum ease of use so your customers adore it!

Whether you think about it or not, your customers form an opinion of your business when they use your self-service application. You should consider, therefore, how you project a personality that’s synergistic with your brand. Touch-tone applications provide only limited possibility to show your unique character. Speech-enabled applications, on the other hand, create tremendous opportunity to strengthen your brand.

Get it right, as PG&E and other leading-edge companies have. Take advantage of self-service applications to significantly expand convenient access to your company while reinforcing your brand personality. Consult with the experts who have the self-service experience to guide you and the insight to fine-tune your approach.

You’ll find the right combination of common sense about your customers and the science and art of design to develop a distinctive, fast and easy-to-use self-service application that exceeds your customers’ expectations.

Betsy Wood
Nortel Multimedia Applications
Betsy Wood, evangelist, Nortel Multimedia Applications, participates in a global team helping companies deliver definitive customer service. Wood's 2 years of international experience include marketing, sales and consulting with Nortel and AT&T.


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