In a recent study, an astounding 67% of customers have stated a preference for self-service as opposed to speaking to a live representative (ZenDesk). Previously viewed as a burden imposed on consumers, the self-service arena has today become an essential part of the average consumer experience. And as one considers each major industry, the rapid adoption of self-service solutions is readily apparent everywhere. Grocery stores have self-check out lines, airlines offer Kiosks (have yet to figure out how to apply it to Homeland Security lines, though), restaurants use self-service reservations – the list goes on. Each of these initiatives involves one person, and one person only: the customer.
The importance of self-service in the contact center space is no exception. Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technologies are leading the charge, providing customers the ability to quickly and easily access any information by selecting options from a simple menu. What was at first an effort for contact centers to improve operational efficiencies and reduce costs, has since become an industry standard. And with 69% of customers equating a good customer experience to how quickly an inquiry is resolved, the need to adopt the latest technology facilitating their ability to do so has never been more important.
However, while self-servicing technologies excel in some areas, they do fall short in others. If we think back to our previous examples, it is not uncommon for a customer to have difficulty scanning an item at the grocery store, or for a consumer to still need to check a bag, or for a restaurant’s online system to suffer an outage – each requiring the need for assistance. In fact, if we consider a recent Forrester Research study, showing 57% of online customers in the U.S. are likely to abandon a purchase if they can’t reach customer service, the sudden appeal of self-service wavers. So is self-service really the silver bullet solution to better customer service?
Yes and no.
From an operational perspective, many companies willingly admit do-it-yourself technologies facilitate the processing of customer needs. Yet, the act of removing the human element also eliminates the opportunity for human interaction, which still remains the primary basis upon which businesses are judged (good or bad) by their consumers. The issue is such, that some enterprises are choosing to re-evaluate their self-serving strategies according to a Booz & Company report, “A Strategic Approach to Self-Service”. Some have even completely retraced their steps, as was the case for Albertons, a grocery chain operating 217 stores in the U.S., which chose to eliminate all self-check out lines citing it was hampering customer loyalty.
While there is certainly a time and place for do-it-yourself tools, the clear opportunity for differentiation lies in those instances where self-servicing platforms lack the ability to deliver on customer expectations. It is during those moments a multichannel solution can help complement (not replace) the efforts of any self-service technology, with the clear intent to build (and sometimes improve) upon the customer experience at that point in time. And while self-service IVR features do help to mitigate the burden on contact centers, the fact remains consumers will likely remember and base their future loyalty on their last interaction with a representative, not the last kiosk they used.
Customer demands and expectations are likely to continue to emphasize the complete customer experience, rather than one facet. In the end, no single solution or channel is qualified to address every interaction or complication on its own, but the combination of each can (voice, email, text, chat, IVR, etc). So while self-service IVRs have certainly advanced the ability to assist some customers, the ability to solve every customer need can only be achieved with a holistic approach to customer service and communication.