Self-Service Won’t Win You Customers – Customer Service Will

December 12, 2014

By Robert Killory

Robert Killory examines the pitfalls of customer empowerment..

In a world driven by the customer experience, businesses have quickly come to accept that they are outnumbered and out-gunned.

Despite the use of CRM software and other platforms to help facilitate the customer experience, consumers are simply more informed, less patient, and generally more technologically savvy than those attempting to service them.

So why not simply let them help themselves? It’s better for business, right? Wrong.

As businesses seek to facilitate the ability to resolve ongoing customer inquiries and needs, the increasing over-reliance on self-service tools and platforms has created a false sense of comfort. Granted, one cannot deny the financial benefits and operational efficiencies an advanced CRM, IVR, or website FAQ page provides, but one must consider at what cost. While 67% of customers have stated a preference for self-service as opposed to speaking to a live representative [Zendesk – Building A Thriving Help Center], only 58% of consumers rate such services as satisfactory [Forrester -Understand Communication Channel Needs To Craft Your Customer Service Strategy]. Why?

From an operational perspective, many companies willingly admit do-it-yourself technologies facilitate the processing of customer needs, but in many cases do so at the expense of any human interaction. And yet, 73% [Oracle – Why The Secret Of Customer Loyalty Is Customer Experience] of consumers willingly admit that brand loyalty is primarily driven by prior interactions with friendly company employees or customer service representatives – not just by speed of service. In fact, despite the growth in multichannel communications (phone, email, chat, text, and social media), direct contact with company representatives still ranks as the most popular and successful service channel at 73% and 69% respectively [Forrester - Understand Communication Channel Needs To Craft Your Customer Service Strategy].

The rise of self-service software, tools, and technology certainly has a role in the delivery of high quality customer service. However, these approaches alone do not win customers and definitely do not replace the importance of maintaining the human element. In fact, though removing the human aspect has its advantages, it also replaces what could be a company’s greatest asset and opportunity to shine in what is otherwise a very competitive world.

Where Self-Service Falls Short

Customer Relationships: By 2020, customers are expected to manage 85% of the relationship with an enterprise without interacting with a human [Gartner – Customer 360]. But as efficient as it may be to empower consumers to drive the customer experience, long lasting and loyal relationships are unlikely to be built based solely on a business’ self-service tools. In fact, consumers are likely to resort to the tried-and-true approach of contacting a live service representative when the urgency or complexity of their needs perceivably exceeds the convenient capabilities of any self-service options. In short, while future consumers may only defer to contacting a business directly 15% of the time, the proportional importance of such interactions will likely be significantly greater. In short, customer relationships still, and will likely continue to, depend firmly on those instances where self-service tools fall short and live interactions excel, regardless of the chosen channel (phone, email, chat, text, or social media).

Customer Feedback: While today’s multichannel platforms offer various opportunities for customer surveys, the reality remains that any over-reliance on self-service tools can be at the detriment of getting to know one’s consumer base on a more personal note. And while customer empowerment certainly serves an important role, the ability to receive valuable feedback from the field is equally valuable, if not more so. In addition, given most clients will refrain from complaining and instead silently seek alternative options, the opportunity to keep the live channels of communication open should never take a back seat to operational convenience.

Competitive Advantages: Customers have become accustomed to many self-service tools, but the act of offering them is not a competitive advantage – it’s simply a necessity. Case in point, two different cable companies will likely have similar IVR menus, advanced CRM platforms, website FAQs, etc., and yet consumers are likely to favor one over the other (the difference between two well-known U.S. cable firms comes to mind). Any competitive advantage, beyond the underlying product, is likely to come from the quality of those representatives supporting the business. So while the importance of customer empowerment cannot be ignored, it should never be at the expense of those resources which actually drive customer loyalty and long-term customer value.

Customer empowerment is an important part of the overall customer experience. But while consumers may enjoy the freedom of addressing their own needs, it is precisely when they are unable to do so that businesses are given the opportunity to excel and justify future customer loyalty. So while advanced self-service tools are fast becoming the standard, the need to continue to support and provide the much needed resources to those representatives manning the frontlines of customer care should continue to be a priority.

About the Author

Robert Killory is Chief Customer Officer of 3CLogic and brings more than 25 years of experience in developing and implementing Contact Center solutions. Before joining 3CLogic, he held a leading position at contact center technology firm, Leading Edge Technology Solutions, served as Director of Development and acting CTO for TouchStar Software, where he led the development efforts of both their flagship dialer and their other product offerings, and held the position of Vice President of Enterprise Architecture at JP Morgan Chase, contributing to the evolution of Chase's 3,100 call center seats.

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