If you ever bought something from a website, asked for directions from your smartphone, scanned your own items at the local grocery store without using a regular cashier, or checked in at the airline using a kiosk and not via a desk agent, you’ve officially self-served, and used a self-service technology.

Generally, customers want, need, and expect some level of self-service to be available to them online and the feeling that it’s their choice as to whether they speak to a person or not. Some surveys claim 9 out of 10 customers will always check a website first before emailing or calling for information or help.

So lucrative is the promise of lower costs, self-service is a top strategy for many service businesses. But the rush to offer self-service technologies comes with major obstacles and risks. Let’s discuss some of the more common self-service myths, so you won’t fall into any traps.

The rush to offer self-service technologies comes with major obstacles and risks.
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Myth #1: Customers Will Flock to Self-Service

Convenience, accessibility, ease of use, saving time, and the feeling of choice are some of the compelling reasons any of us might succumb to, and then prefer, a self-serve option. We might even flock.

Fear of technology, looking incompetent in front of others, a desire for human interaction, a sense of “it’s someone else’s job, not mine,” not seeing any personal benefit, or requiring a significant change in habits or behavior are reasons why we might not succumb, or prefer, an alternative option.

Customers react negatively when they are forced to use self-service technology with no alternative on offer. The store checkout is the most obvious example of this, with an employee dedicated to provide personal help as backup. The increased use in website chat services is another example.

Self-service technologies should be designed for specific situations and customer scenarios. The more predictable and repeatable the process, the easier the design will be and the greater the likelihood of success. The more complex the situation is perceived to be by the customer, the more likely they’ll want and prefer personal assistance.

Myth #2: Self-Service Technologies Reduce Costs—It's All About Cutting Jobs

There’s no doubt self-service technologies can reduce operational costs, once they are successfully implemented and customer adoption proven. Unfortunately, however, there is often a steep investment curve to overcome when designing and deploying an acceptable self-service customer experience.

Also, it’s not all about cutting jobs. It’s more about improving customer satisfaction and eliminating unnecessary customer interactions that drive internal work effort. Again, research suggests more than half the calls to customer service staff are caused by poorly designed self-service technologies, especially websites. The objectives of a self-service strategy should include the freeing up of these human resources and reassignment onto value-added roles and tasks.

Myth #3: Self-Service Is Just Websites and Interactive Kiosks

In the 1990s it may just have been websites and kiosks such as ATMs and airline check-in screens. We now have web search engines, services such as YouTube, AnswerBag, AskVille from Amazon, and even Twitter.

Add to this the latest inclusion of voice recognition technologies offered as standard on many of our smartphones, acting as your own personal concierge and “electronic valet,” and the challenge is daunting. But customers still expect a unified, consistent experience across all touchpoints when they engage with an organization, including any self-service channels, backed up by the human touch.

Remember, customers essentially see themselves as channel-neutral, opting for whichever channel they feel comfortable with, or most convenient and relevant to them at the time. Organizations that adopt a prescriptive approach to self-service channels do so at their peril.

Myth #4: Self-Service Is a One-Time Investment

If only it were. Self-service is not a “set it and forget it” strategy. Organizations need to be constantly vigilant of the volume of use and whether it’s actually benefiting first the customer and then the organization.

The organization must also stay ahead of breaking technologies that change, enhance, or add to existing technologies, and cultivate any associated knowledge articles and knowledge management systems.

Myth #5: Self-Service Is Easy to Implement

Implementation doesn’t stop at installation. It includes adoption and adaptation by the customer into their normal social and working practices. Implementation also includes regularly soliciting, collecting, and analyzing feedback on the level of customer satisfaction in the self-service functionality and service experience.

Customer readiness and appetite is a major factor in determining whether customers will try and accept a new self-service option. Readiness results from a combination of personal motivation (“What’s in it for me?”), ability (“Is it easy for me to learn to use?”), and role clarity (“Do I understand what I am supposed to do?”). “I’m Sorry Dave, I’m Afraid I Can’t Do That.”

Self-service technology is here to stay, only the interface method will change and the degree to which the technology becomes intelligent. The more it saves us time, eliminates the human friction points, and remains squarely focused on the customer experience, the more likely it is to become an integral, must-have part of our digital lives.

But, self-service strategies should augment existing staff, not replace every part of a company involved in customer interaction, and should be designed to mimic the human response, minus the single, central glowing red eye of the infamous HAL9000:“I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that..."

Who is Joe the IT Guy? A native New Yorker. Loves everything IT-related (and hugs). Passionate blogger and Twitter addict. Oh...and resident IT Guy at SysAid Technologies (almost forgot the day job!).

Tag(s): customer experience, service management, IT service management, ITSM, self-service, supportworld


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