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Does self-service reduce or increase effort? Not just for customers but also for your business?

I wrote about technology and the customer experience a couple times last year; after all, that’s what self-service is all about: technology. ATMs, online flight check-in, self-checkout grocery lanes, IVRs, online FAQs and  knowledgebases, and more.

Technology is an experience enabler, a “supporting cast” of sorts. I think there are definitely times when customers need that human touch, that warm smile, the ability to reach out and touch someone, should they have a question or an immediate need, especially one not easily solvable with technology. I don’t think the need for relationships or the human experience will go away. Sometimes you just need to have a conversation. But self-service is definitely more widely accepted and used now than it’s ever been.

But what does it do for your company? How does self-service help the business?

To help answer that question, I turned to Software Advice, a customer support software comparison and reviews company, and some research they did recently; specifically, as part of their research, they addressed: How does implementation of effective self-service affect the performance of the customer service department as a whole?

The chart below, which is from their report, shows the impact. (I’ve added the black line so that we can more clearly gauge which items saw the greatest “considerable improvement.”) First-level resolution, call abandonment rate, speed to answer, and first call resolution are the metrics that seem to be most-positively impacted (“considerably improved”). These should translate to good news for the customer, too.

Some quotes from their survey participants add a bit of color commentary and show the efficiencies that self-service can introduce into an organization:

  • [Our department has] fewer customer contacts because more information is available online.
  • We have more time to spend one-on-one per contact.
  • [We’ve seen] reduced inbound contacts, which has allowed the business to scale.
  • Self-service channels have allowed us to focus our key support resources on the more difficult issues—thus enabling faster closure.

But it wasn’t all good…

When customers begin completing simpler tasks themselves, agents can face a higher incidence of more complicated issues. One participant explained:

“First-call resolution was negatively impacted because the easy calls started getting handled via the [online self-service] portal, and more difficult calls—ones needing research or engineering support—made up a higher proportion of calls coming directly to customer service technicians.”

Which means that some changes will need to be made as the incidence of self-service usage increases, and especially if self-service channels/options become more and more effective…

The lesson here is that implementing self-service channels will necessitate certain adjustments to service center operations. When departmental performance indicators are impacted in unexpected ways, a careful examination of all factors should be conducted to reveal the root cause and allow for necessary adjustments.

Self-service is here to stay. As a matter of fact, it’s likely only going to become more pervasive. I think about when I first wrote those posts last year and compare then to now, and I think we’ve already seen vast improvements in self-service offerings. If you want the business to scale, if you want to improve efficiencies and reduce call volume (to free up calls and agents for more-complex issues), if you want to reduce effort for customers (with non-complex issues), and if you want to offer customers a way to answer questions or resolve issues in their preferred methods, you’ll need to: (a)  evaluate if/where self-service makes sense for your business/customers or (b) update your current self-service offering to ensure that it meets the needs of your customers. At the same time, ramp up your staff (training, skill set) to prepare for handling the more-complex issues or tasks that won’t be handled through self-service tools.

Since my focus is the customer experience, back to the original question about the customer: Does self-service reduce or increase customer effort? I think the answer is, “It depends.” It depends on what type of self-service, the complexity of the transaction/job/issue, the ability/willingness of the customer to help himself (e.g., not a techno-phobe), and more. If self-service tools create frustration, don’t answer a question, or are too difficult and hinder task completion, then you’ve got a problem. Now you’ve gone from self-service to full service, you’ve increased customer effort, and you’ve damaged the customer experience.

Customer service is the experience we deliver to our customer. It’s the promise we keep to the customer. It’s how we follow through for the customer. It’s how we make them feel when they do business with us. -Shep Hyken