Customer Self Service Priorities Should Focus on Service, not Cost Savings

I just read a great article by Josh Chapman at Cars.com about self-service.  The overall point is that when planning self service options, the goal to keep in mind is customer service, not cost savings.

He describes two extremes: one where companies are trapping customers in over engineered IVRs, and another where companies are not providing self service options at all and limiting customers to phone, email, or chat. Josh gives a great lesson about going to great lengths to build the user-IVR with every possible option in it, with the goal of keeping the customer away from the agent to save costs. But customers learned to avoid the system altogether, actually increasing costs and reducing customer satisfaction—the exact opposite of what was intended.

The concept of providing self-service options with the customer in mind is exactly right. By paying attention to processes that customers could either handle themselves or at participate in directly without having to go through an agent, and offering that option at just the right time, you increase customer satisfaction and lower costs. For example, when a customer calls a financial institution the system could recognize the caller, quickly scan through recent transactions and dynamically offer the caller information that seems relevant. So, if the caller just made a payment, the system could confirm the payment and state the new balance without requiring the caller to wade through another series of menus. Josh offers the example of giving self-service access to the claims process for an insurance company—what if the insurance company, when called, automatically accessed recent claims and provided status information to the caller before even presenting a menu? Perhaps the system could offer transfer to the appropriate agent handling if the caller identified missing information?

Systems should gently guide the customer to appropriate self service options, at the appropriate time during the interaction, without appearing like a wall of technology that the customer must outsmart or circumvent to get what they need.

At the same time, trying to provide every option a caller would need, or trying to offer every process a service rep could possibly help with—to the extent that customers are herded away from communicating with a warm body—is a strategy bound to cause frustration. Systems should gently guide the customer to appropriate self service options, at the appropriate time during the interaction, without appearing like a wall of technology that the customer must outsmart or circumvent to get what they need.

He also mentions the critical fault of not iteratively updating self-service systems. Customers’ needs change all the time, and sometimes allowing new self service options actually drives other changes that themselves require system updates. Regularly scheduled reviews of which options are used the most, which aren’t or are backed-out of, are essential to keeping up with customer needs. It’s also important to consistently consider how the system can be enhanced, expanded, or even simplified, .

So I applaud Josh’s perspective and advice: the focus should be on customer service, not keeping people away from agents—and the two are not mutually exclusive!

He ends the article with a brilliant but potentially unpopular sentiment: it ultimately doesn’t matter which technologies are specifically used. The idea is to provide the customer a better experience, not to “do social media” or “support multiple channels.”  Of course, trends are trends, but begin with the end in mind and don’t get caught up in buzzwords.