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Will Self-Service Survive in a Post-AI World?

Fueled by Large Language Models, AI hype has reached levels we have never seen before. While it will bring a wide range of benefits to customer service, some known and some still undiscovered, what does service look like when that’s the standard? After all, CRMs, CCaaS, ticketing and other now basic technologies once shook up contact centers and today, we use them without thinking twice.

In the race towards efficiency, automation, and cost reduction, I’m reminded of the famous quote from Jurassic Park that people “were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” And that question, my friends, could also be applied to self-service. I recently spoke with Dave Michels from TalkingPointz who gave a stunningly simple example: self-checkout. Once praised as being faster, easier, cheaper and everything in between, they are now being removed from stores. While they do occasionally provide a better experience, they often end up creating crowds of disgruntled customers standing around while several machines are out of order, one is beeping an error (with no one coming to help) and the rest are occupied. That is a customer experience, but is it the one you want?

With the meteoric rise in ChatGPT adoption, customers are more willing than ever before to interact with a chatbot (virtual agent, AI agent, whatever you want to call them). But that does not mean they never want to interact with a person? Digital self-service adoption is no longer merely a wish of young digital natives. Anyone with an iPhone possesses the digital skills to successfully navigate most well-designed self-service processes whether they are 15 or 55.

So, let’s assume that instant, contextual, conversational service is available on any channel. Let’s also assume you’ve got the technology, internal buy-in and budget in place to implement your dream Customer Access Strategy. I can’t tell you whether this is your reality, but here are some of the questions to ask when thinking about how much self-service to offer: 

  • What kind of brand are you? (e.g. luxury vs. budget) 
  • What expectations have you set for customers? 
  • What expectations has the market and competitors set for customers?  
  • Are you offering self-service for the customer’s benefit or for yours?  
  • What processes should definitely be automated, never be automated or both options offered? 

Your answers will define the ideal balance between automated and human-assisted service in your customer experience strategy. For instance, a luxury brand might prioritize personalized human interaction more than a budget brand, which may lean towards more efficient, automated solutions.

It’s also crucial to consider the complexity and sensitivity of the service process. Routine tasks like activating a credit card or checking an account balance are prime candidates for full automation. But what about more complex scenarios, like disputing a transaction or reporting fraud? Both can be automated relatively easily but both automated and human options would be the best approach, offering customers the flexibility to decide based on their comfort level and the urgency of the situation.

Ultimately, in a post-AI world, self-service isn’t inherently good or bad. Its success and value depend on how well it's integrated into your customer service strategy. AI and automation are tools to create the customer experience you’ve decided on, not an excuse to cut costs, staff or offer something because a competitor does.

Balancing self-service with human interaction is about understanding and meeting the evolving needs of your customers and self-service is not automatically the correct answer. After all, the best customer experience is one that feels both effortlessly efficient and genuinely personal. That is the goal, how you get there is simply a means to that end.