June 01, 2011
Are Consumers Fully Prepared to Accept Self-Service?
We already know that consumers, for the most part, look to self-service first before reaching out for help. It’s not like we just call the local bank branch, demand to speak to a teller, and then simply request our balance. We look for the easiest, quickest method first: a Google (News - Alert) search, a company website, and communicating with the IVR. We don’t want to waste our time and the time of the customer service agents when we can find the solution without outside intervention.
However, new reports from research firm Gartner (News - Alert) predict that by 2012, consumers will be willing to perform all possible customer service functions themselves. This has a large significance – this means that all people, even my stubborn technology-frozen grandmother who runs AOL (News - Alert) on her 2001 eMachines tower, would be willing to find her bank branch’s hours online instead of calling and asking a teller.
The market is clearly reacting to this willingness as well, whether it’s due to a consumer desire for less communication or whether it’s just the consumers “putting up” with the changing landscape. The easiest place to view this would be in the supermarket - self-service kiosks are more prevalent than ever and are preferred by many. Sure, when I’m feeling lazy and have a lot of groceries, I’ll wait just to have someone bag them for me, but in general, I prefer the lack of communication associated with the self-checkout. Perhaps it’s the isolationist in me.
Now, I don’t think Gartner’s prediction is groundbreaking, but there are many implications for companies that deal with customer service. Primarily, it should be apparent that the company should forecast every possible scenario a consumer may present and there should be a way to complete the question/request without customer service representative intervention. If customers are willing to perform self-service, you need to make it easy and obvious for them.
One major aspect of self-service pertains to the company website. Company websites need to have an extensive FAQ/help section that consumers can browse quickly to find the answers to every possible question. Perhaps, more likely, the consumer will just Google their customer service request and the company should be sure that an answer is available there as well.
Another aspect of self-service pertains to the IVR. Automated systems should be prepared to complete a plethora of self-service requests that are easy to access for the caller. It’s a shame to send a call to an expensive representative when there is no need. I consider customer service phone lines much like a game of chess – IVRs are the pawns and customer service representatives are the queens and kings. There’s no point in using your queens and kings before you’ve used most of your pawns.
Overall, the fact that consumers are willing to perform self-service for all possible customer service functions is good news for businesses. Self-service is a great way to reduce costs and save time for customer service representatives, freeing them up to deal with complicated situations that self-service doesn’t address.
Dan Fox is a Marketing Director at Interactions Corporation (@interactionsco)
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Edited by Jennifer Russell