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Alphabet Soup: CSS= Customer Self-Service

This month as I continue my “alphabet soup” contact center acronym blog series the focus will be on “self-service.” 

CSS = Customer Self-Service:  A phrase that describes methods and processes a business uses to allow its customers to complete most steps in purchasing products or services on their own -- such as shopping in a retail store or making a call to arrange a service. Self-service also extends to Web-based transactions and CRM (customer relationship management) whereby customers manage account information primarily on their own.  Source: www.webopedia.com

I have been in the contact center industry for many years and honestly, don’t like to call them unless I absolutely have to.  In fact, I actually LOVE self-service options…when they are user-friendly, work properly and allow me access to a live person if/when my need (perceived or real) requires one. 

Which implies that when I (or I would guess, no empirical evidence here) do reach out to talk to a live person, it means I have exhausted all of the applicable self-service options.  Or they those options were so poorly designed, confusing or frustrating that I just gave up and opted for a live person.  Which by the way often results in me should I be trying to serve in the IVR with me saying every potential title that might me “live person” i.e. agent, representative, CSR, customer service, “HELP!” etc.  I am confident I have amused a number of people in airports over the years.

Sadly, IVRs are typically my least favorite (and according to many surveys, many other people feel the same way), least user-friendly self-service tools out there.  While speech recognition software has helped somewhat, I am going to take a wild guess here and say that 80% of you reading this have at some point raised your voice and/or yelled at one of these mechanical systems.   I will openly admit I have, again to the amusement I am sure of many…”I SAID…” and then realized that it was fruitless and by the way, I recently read that raising your voice actually causes the tool to once again repeat that it couldn’t understand you.  I admit, I do try to keep all this in perspective and find the humor in it all, but I often think about WHY we haven’t figured all this out yet.  Most people I talk to know what annoys them on these tools, know what they’d like to see etc. and yet frustration abounds.  In fact, entire websites dedicated to instructing us on how to get a live person and/or navigate complex IVRs have been developed.  Check out GetHuman.com and PleasePress1.com for two examples.

The bottom line is that I know the folks we design these menus have great intentions (yes, I am a glass half full kind of person) i.e. they try to provide ALL the potential needs a customer may have on the menu.  That is a good thing, right?  Not if it results in 10 menu options that are each 5 sub-menus deep.  And worse, when there are so many options and there isn’t one that meets your need or you aren’t sure what you need, the prompts are in company jargon and so on. 

I am not saying it is easy and in fact, it is downright difficult but I believe the starting point needs to be deciding what is appropriate for your IVR and what is not.  And that goes for all the channels you offer.  Not everything is best handled by an email or a chat etc.  Customers need guidance and I believe one aspect of effective self -service is to provide “channels of choice” for the customer and at the same tine provide guidance as to which channel may be best for their particular situation.  Fool-proof, hardly, appreciated by the customer who is trying to save time (one of the most precious commodities there is) and get their problem/issue/question resolved upon first contact (when possible) well, that would be in my humble opinion, priceless.

ICMI offers some resources and tools to help guide you on the best practices in IVR design and is dedicating this entire month to self-service.  We hope this helps you improve your “channels of choice” for your customers and results in both improved customer and employee satisfaction and at the same time increases your efficiency and effectiveness!