Done well, customer self-service offers a very attractive, low cost, low friction option for those many customers who prefer to engage in this way. It can be a great experience for a customer, getting what they need at a time that suits them, potentially outside the operational hours of a call centre. Self-service is deployed most successfully to serve simple processes and transactions that a customer understands intuitively and doesn’t need much if any guidance to fulfill. Typically, self-service isn’t capacity constrained in the way personal service is, complexity doesn’t drive the need for more people in the front-line operation.
Self-service does however come with challenges. The cost of the technology, the design and the user testing required to ensure complexity is hidden from a customer is not insignificant and is usually incurred repeatedly for every self-service channel deployed. Given self-service best suits simple transactions there can be gaps in the ability for customers to self-serve, either filled in by passing the problem to the customer with FAQs and alternative contact channels, or worse, left to the back office to resolve, potentially introducing failure demand and repeat contact.
Websites tend to be an organisations primary self-service channel and website design is complicated by the fact that you can’t explicitly train your customers in your processes and journeys. This has led to an increase in demand for User Experience (UX) design capability to make interactions on a website (or app, or any other channel) a great user experience and more likely to be successful. UX best practice is a moving target as customer expectations of what an experience should be changes in line with the evolving consumer experience more widely. Website design remains essentially an ongoing activity, remaining contemporary is a constant endeavor requiring design, development and user field testing for all enhancements. As usability issues emerge (if analytics are good enough) they need to be fixed in code. Experience across the variety of consuming devices adds complexity here too.
Alternative channels to the website are emerging as opportunities for a customer to interact with organisations and to self-serve. In particular, messaging services like WhatsApp and Facebook messenger allow customers to interact with organisations from channels that they practically live in. The pattern of these interactions: mobile, asynchronous, and always accessible make them particularly convenient for customers but a further capacity headache for organisations to support with personal service and a technical challenge for meaningful self-service. However, these emerging channels come with great potential for enhanced service, the support for richer media: photos, video, and audio open many new possibilities for the customer experience. These could be differentiating for the organisations that can find the use cases and execute well.