Control your self-service customer experience

Published August 23, 2012
Last modified August 23, 2012

Self-service can be an excellent option for your company and your consumers, but it’s important to first evaluate what benefit it brings, and for whom.

It is amazing to be able to use your iPhone as a boarding pass for air travel, walk through security, and get on a plane; or if new shoes arrive in the wrong size, fill out the online form, ship the package back for free and have the right size shoes returned in a few days. While many companies initially sought to save money through the introduction of self-service, customers have been empowered by the ease and control of the process. It can be a significant asset to your organization’s Customer Experience.

Just as often, the opposite can be true: self-service can easily be a curse for a high-quality customer experience. It can also lead the customer through a maze with no identifiable solution to the problem, send them through a frustrating twenty-minute call center menu, or stick them with an interactive voice response system that doesn’t understand their accent.

In an article, "Are Customers Just Plain Fickle?"” Barry Dalton makes the point that started it all: customer self-service is here to stay because high-tech costs much less than high-touch. I completely agree, but I also believe that companies, as always, need to take a proactive approach to self-service in order to ensure a great Customer Experience.

Without the right approach, self-service can severely hurt your organization and damage your customer relationships. Thus, I offer these three critical points for organizations that rely on self-service to help drive the business:

Let the customer choose.
Customers should be given a choice between self-service (e.g., the self-checkout line at the supermarket; placing product orders online) and traditional interactive service (e.g., the smiling duo of cashier and bagger; calling a friendly sales representative). Customers appreciate the control of self-service, the personal aspects of great person-to-person service, and the ability to choose which one they need – or want – at any given point.

Self-service should be easy.
It’s imperative that your organization’s self-service platform be simple and intuitive. Extremely detailed menu options may sound like a great, efficient idea to you, but the customer on the other end of the phone might find it more hassle than your product is worth. This example illustrates a company that falls on the naïve end of our Naïve to Natural orientation model, a model we developed to help identify how customer-centric a company is.

Don’t rely exclusively on self-service.
Be careful. When you put all your eggs in the self-service basket, you can easily lose too much interaction with customers and commoditize your offering. Giving customers the option of direct interaction when they want it – like the agents who are available to help at an airline’s self-check-in kiosks – adds value your customers will appreciate.

Colin Shaw is founder & CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s first organizations devoted to customer experience. Colin is an international author of four best-selling books. Beyond Philosophy provide consulting, specialized research & training from offices in Atlanta, Georgia and London, England. Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter

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