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4 Challenges of Customer Self-Service

A new age has dawned for customer self-service. Sustained multi-channel advances, coupled with the mass proliferation of mobile devices mean organizations can no longer get by with restricted service channels and availability. It’s time to get serious about self-service.

Take a look around any public space and count the number of people actively using a mobile device. Smartphones and tablets allow everyone – at work or at play – to be permanently connected. That very fact is driving consumer demand for 24/7 self-service options like never before.

And the industry is responding. A 2012 Global Contact Center Benchmarking Report, conducted by Merchants which surveyed 637 respondents in 72 countries, shows that over 91% of organizations have now implemented some form of self-service and the number of organizations that don’t offer self-service at all has halved. The challenge ahead is to integrate self-service into overall channel strategies; to meet customer expectations without creating isolated communications channels for customers to get trapped in. It’s clear from both past and current benchmarking results that self-service can significantly add to, or detract from, customer satisfaction. It’s therefore critical for organizations to implement self-service based on a focused, purposeful and achievable cross-channel service strategy.

Self-service channels currently in use
*Based on 637 respondents

Web self-service has increased globally by over 10% in the past year (63.3% in 2011), which means that almost three quarters of organizations now have an internet service capability. Social media has emerged from nowhere to establish a presence in almost a third of organizations. Already, 18% have developed smartphone apps. Despite web and social media growth, traditional IVR usage is again on the rise; up 8% from 2011.

There are four very real challenges here for today’s contact centers:

1. Manage evolution

Though new channels are absorbing management focus, traditional channels remain critical to success. Organizations must focus on both, and make integration their goal. Multi-channel usage patterns need to be analyzed and understood, so that solutions can be aligned to user expectations. Needless to say, usage patterns will vary from sector to sector and even from company to company, depending on, among other things, customer demographics – age, affluence and degree of mobility. Companies setting out on the self-service journey can begin by looking at the experiences of similar organizations, but will need to measure their own usage patterns carefully as new channels are introduced in order to understand when, why and for what tasks their customers will choose particular channels over others.

2. Count the cost

Elsewhere in our research we report that organizations are being extremely lax at measuring the cost and time associated with self-service channels. While a massive 78% do so for telephone interactions, less than 30% do so for IVR or Internet. When it comes to social media or mobile apps, the figures are smaller still, at 9.9% and 6.1% respectively. This amounts to massive neglect, excusable only on the grounds that, assumingly, organizations are in the early days of self-service deployment. Certainly it appears that the first objective for most is to establish a presence, and then determine the nature of the solution offering, before confirming what the actual cost to serve may be.

As organizations are compelled, by competition and customer demand, to spread service offerings across multiple channels, costs will increase, as will the degree of management that needs to be applied. Organizations may have to choose what level of presence they want to maintain in certain contact channels. An informed understanding of the cost to serve via each channel should be an important factor in those choices. Even aside from these strategic level decisions, there’s surely some tactical gain in implementing basic review mechanisms to understand what strings can be pulled in order to impact productivity for better tactical results.

3. Don’t frustrate the customer

If customer satisfaction is to be maintained, it’s vital that organizations develop a clear contact strategy that allows customers to move between channels easily and ensures that their information is shared across all.  In simple terms, customers should be able to cross from one channel to another without having to re-enter information.

It is evident that organizations have embraced new channels with enthusiasm, but many of their initial implementations have been relatively simple and have operated in isolation. As interaction volumes grow and become more complex, this can’t be allowed to continue. For example, although voice may no longer be the primary channel of choice, it remains the common supporting channel for all self-service options and is still much in demand by customers. Providing full customer context in the fall back to voice will not only make sure that the subsequent agent interaction is as efficient as possible, but will also encourage customers to continue using self-service options in the future, because they can see that their efforts have not been wasted.

As an organization’s self-service options proliferate, they need to have processes and technologies in place that allow customer satisfaction to be maintained. Efficient interaction routing, reporting, analytics, workforce and quality management are vitally important, of course. But the key thing is that they must be integrated across all channels.

4. Rethink the contact center

The ability to filter a high volume of contacts via self-service is, to some extent, relieving the contact center of some of its traditional and more mundane activity. At the same time, self- help is enabling a degree of real-time access for service and information. This is driving a change in the balance of call types handled by the contact center, resulting in agents receiving a proportionately higher split of more complex and emotive enquiries. These days, when customers call the contact center, it’s likely to be their second choice; an escalation of an issue or a follow up contact. Either way, their needs are likely to be more complex and their desire for resolution more urgent.

At this point, too, it isn’t just the customer’s needs that have to be considered. It’s important to realize that this interaction is likely to have a heightened importance for the organization. Having searched for some vital information via the web, perhaps unsuccessfully, the customer may now want to confirm a purchase or escalate an issue. From the perspective of the business, the need to make the most of that call has never been so crucial.

As customers’ needs become more refined, their perception of the agent experience will have a direct impact on the business outcome of the interaction. This year’s Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Report identifies, in more mature organizations at least, a healthier attitude to agent up-skilling and a move away from traditional activity-based measures. All of this signifies an increased recognition of the fact that – whatever transpires in the world of self-service – people remain the most critical differentiator in the customer’s experience.

This post originally appeared on Call Centre earlier this year.

Kevin Teasdale is Head of Business Development for Merchants UK and has over 15 years’ experience delivering IT and operational excellence within contact center and managed service environments. He specializes in maximizing customer experiences and realizing their commercial value.