Is Customer Self-Service No Longer Effective?

Customer service continues to be a regular topic of conversation within the leadership ranks of many companies.  As companies look for ways to keep customer satisfaction and loyalty at the highest levels possible, the service organisation continues to take on a lot of pressure to accomplish these tough goals.

At the core of customer service is the whole topic of self-service. In a recent article by John Ragsdale, VP of Research at the Technology Services Industry Associate (TSIA), he examines plummeting self-service satisfaction rates. The effectiveness of customer self-service has come under heavy scrutiny lately. Is it no-longer doing what it was intended to do? Help the customer whenever, wherever they might be?

Not to date myself, but I was around when customer self-service was the hot topic and a new innovation for companies; the concept of letting your customers service themselves was a significant opportunity to improve customer satisfaction while significantly reducing your costs through case deflection.   Over the past fifteen years, self-service has continued to advance, but it now seems that it has hit a plateau, at least in some industries.

Retail and consumer organisations, in my opinion, are still having the best success with their self-service; question-answer profiles come from a finite set of issues and usually are not highly complex.   However, in the technology industry, the complexity and diversity has sky rocketed over the past 10 years where the demands are intense on the amount of knowledge required to solve problems.  Technology based problems usually now require some form of multi-vendor knowledge or access to information, e.g “I am having trouble printing on my Brother printer, using Windows 7, on an HP Laptop over a Linksys wireless network, can you help me?”   Where do you start?

Looking at the industry of customer service and in particular self-service, I have to believe that there are other factors at play and there are.   Customers and customer expectations have changed significantly over the past few years, with the advent and open access to the internet. Consumers are now finding more and more information for themselves from a wider variety of sources.   Gas stations have not had to change their self-service model for years because the expectation of the consumer is set; we go when the service station is open, we abide by the rules, and we get our gas.   Today, with the explosion of information, and the immediate accessibility to it, our expectations are in a constant flux of change.

Many companies have not taken the time to make adjustments for these new customer expectations in self-service environments.   They continue to put single dimensional information into single dimensional storage mechanisms we call knowledge bases, and expect to deliver complex solutions.   Maybe that works for high volume-low complexity consumer environments, but it won’t work for highly diverse complex environments.

So what are customers looking for?

  1. Mashups of relevant information from a variety of trusted sources.
  2. Easy and quick navigation through the multiple channels of complexity with a single vendor, but also across multiple vendors.
  3. Real time access to the most relevant information.
  4. Recognition. Customers want the vendor to know who they are, what their past experience was, and what their current situation is today.
  5. Advanced notification of pending issues they might have, based on their buying history.
  6. Companies need to understand that today, their customers want unified access to the whole knowledge ecosystem both internal and external to the company.  Customers expect the vendor to do the hard work and bring together all the information in an easy to use interface for issues that potentially could affect the products they have purchased.   Customers want to have a relationship with your organisation even if that relationship is just a few seconds long as they use a powerful search solution on your self-service site, to find their answers.

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