When Self-Service is the Best Customer Service


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Customer expectations are constantly changing, not only in how they purchase and spend but also the way they engage with brands and the expectations that come along with those interactions. For brands this means they can’t afford to deliver sub-par customer service or their customers will go somewhere else. No business wants that, especially during an economic downturn. So how can businesses meet customer expectations for stellar service? Perhaps the answer is by making it so customers don’t need service at all.

Inflated customer expectations

One of the biggest drivers of today’s soaring customer expectations is inflation. Experts expected inflation to drastically slow down spending. And while it has impacted the purchasing power of some buyers, not all shied away from snagging great deals on Black Friday this year. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), this Black Friday season clocked in nearly 17 million more shoppers than last year. So, while rising costs may not have affected holiday spending, it has certainly affected customer expectations.

A recent survey of 2,000 Americans found that over half (58%) of consumers said they expect better customer service since they’re paying more for everything due to inflation. Over a third also said they are more likely to be loyal to companies with quick customer service if a recession hits. While we are seeing inflation slowly decrease, we’re not out of the woods yet. Businesses need to be extra mindful of these new soaring expectations to withstand economic uncertainty in 2023.

Minutes don’t cut it anymore

For consumers, minutes are no longer the expectation. Today’s response time standards for live chat are extremely high, whether your customer is booking a ticket, checking in on a return or trying to book an appointment. Customers think in seconds, not minutes.

But better customer service doesn’t always mean better human support. In the future, we’ll see less human support for the more mundane requests, as more consumers adopt more self-service techniques. The good news is we’re seeing this shift in mindset and a broader acceptance of self-service support –one example being the success of self checkout at grocery stories. While consumers were slow to adopt self checkout when it was first introduced in 1986, it’s hard to imagine going into a grocery store today and not having the option to use one.

The company I work at, Freshworks, analyzed 1.1 billion unique support tickets and found that when a business offers both automated and agent-powered chatbots, customers have a better and faster experience. The data shows that when businesses offer a combination of automation and agent customer support, they save over 37 hours in average resolution time.

Seconds matter to live agents just as much as customers. According to Gartner, chatbots will become a primary customer service channel by 2027. With automated chatbots ‘on the team’, live agents have more time to focus on the more complex issues, which may take a little more time .

Speed’s not always tied to customer satisfaction, but for e-commerce it is

While e-commerce consumers expect speed, this is not true for all industries. Data showed that e-commerce businesses are the quickest to respond and resolve customer tickets, but overall customer satisfaction is lower than the global benchmark. Why? E-commerce customers are historically hard to please.

As brands heat up the competition to attract and keep customers, providing what they want and need quickly will keep them in the lead.

On the other hand, industries known for tedious and bureaucratic processes like education, government and nonprofit organizations have high CSAT (customer satisfaction score) scores at 86.36%. We also found that Software & IT is the slowest to resolve customer tickets, with the longest average resolution time (51 hours). Yet its customers are slightly more satisfied than the global benchmark.

So why the discrepancy between industries? Because expectations differ. For example, IT is most likely solving complex back-office challenges that take longer to resolve rather than a simple ecommerce request like tracking an order, so expectations for speedy resolution are lower.

A year marred by inflation, recession worries, supply-chain delays and staffing shortages has decreased consumers’ perceptions of the future of customer service. And as Forrester predicts a grim scene for CX organizations in 2023, creating a great customer experience with little or less support will become even more crucial.

Colin Crowley
I am a CX thought leader with past experience scaling world-class (and global) customer support teams. I currently serve as VP of Customer Support at Maven Clinic, a virtual healthcare organization for women and families.


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