Self-service is a simple concept: use technology to get people to help themselves. Its promises are twofold:
1. Getting customers to help themselves saves organisations a lot of money. For example, the single most expensive transaction for a bank is the face-to-face transaction that occurs when a customer speaks to a teller (apparently tellers spend 39% of their time waiting for customers to sort themselves out at the counter). It might cost $35 for a customer to interact with a teller, or $0.75 to do the same transaction online-a potential saving of 98% on just one transaction.
2. Self-service gives people the choice of how they want to interact with the organisation. Self-service can provide not just convenience but a sense of power and control.
Self-service works when there are benefits to the customer and the business. But it typically costs a lot of money to implement self-service technology, and if you are not careful, it can backfire. The key to ensuring that self-service is successful is to have a coherent strategy. Here are a few tips:
1. Create a quality experience
One objection to self-service is that while it saves companies money, it does not always save their customers time. As more and more tasks are unloaded on to customers, and they are forced to use poorly designed systems they may be put off for good. The key is to truly understand user goals. What information do they need? Why are they calling? Organisations need to think of themselves as purveyors of customer experiences, and they need to master cross-channel distribution. The experience has to be superlative, whether it takes place inside a retail store, on the phone, or on the web.
2. Focus on transactions that already exist
The key is to automate a task that already needs to be done, not to invent a task and then provide a computer to do it. Automate the routine tasks, and let exceptions be handled by people.
3. Bite off less than you can chew
Don’t try and create the ultimate experience first up. The Air New Zealand kiosks don’t allow customers to change flights or purchase an upgrade. Give customers a chance to learn the system, and to develop confidence in a new technology, before adding layers of complexity.
4. Create a robust measurement framework
The adage “you can’t manage what you can’t measure” is especially applicable to self-service applications. If you track how people are using your systems you can not only identify problems, but also better understand, target and service various user segments. You should track information about the automated transactions and use that data to improve future transactions.
5. Have a strategy regarding how to move people to different channels
One way to encourage people to use your self-service technologies, is to not give them a choice. A couple of years ago Telecom New Zealand released its Freedom plans, where customers could nominate a mobile phone and call it as much as they like from their home phone for $10. You could only sign up using self-service, either via an automated phone system or online. The New Zealand Companies Office has also taken this position. From 1 July 2008 it will become mandatory to file certain documents online.
You can penalise customers. Air New Zealand offer discounts to customers who book online. Buy your tickets the old-fashioned way and you must pay more. Organisations who do this are, in effect, introducing penalty charges to persuade customers to use self-service systems. Some customers might resent this. Self-service works best when customers decide to use a well designed system of their own volition; it infuriates most when they are forced to use a bad system.
You can create incentives for people. You can make it a better, higher quality experience (once you’ve received your balance via text message, why would you want to wait on hold?)
Finally, you should educate people on the best channel for their transaction. This is a no brainer really – you must make your customers aware of self-service tools before they can expect adoption. I rang my bank the other day to apply for a credit card for my wife. They told me I could do it online – great, that means that I can do it when it’s convenient to me, rather than having to talk to a person on the phone.
6. Accept that not everyone will self-serve
While self-service technologies offer convenience, they don’t offer personal service. No matter what, some people are going to want to wait in line and talk to a customer services representative. So there may need to be a balance between self-service and conventional forms of service.
Self-service is all around us, and in some ways has also become so pervasive that we forget what it was like to not serve ourselves. A generation ago, consumers expected a teller to help them with financial transactions, an attendant to pump the gas, and a clerk to ring up the groceries. These days convenience has become the mantra of today’s consumers and more and more people are going to prefer to serve themselves.