The mechanics of self-service
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.
Unlike human-operated systems, they aren’t constrained by the number of customer service agents available. However, this comes at a cost—both financial and operational. The expenses related to technology, design, and user testing can be hefty, and are incurred each time a new self-service channel is introduced.
Bridging the gap of self-service
Self-service does however come with challenges. Despite that apparent efficiency of self-service, it’s not a one size fits all solution. 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, solutions vary from redirecting the customer through FAQs and other contact channels to back-office resolutions, each with its set of pros and cons.
The imperative of UX design
Websites tend to be an organisations primary self-service channel. The customer experience on websites, a primary channel for self-service, hinges on effective User Experience (UX) design. As you can’t train customers to navigate your specific processes, UX design becomes crucial.
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 endeavour 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.
The dawn of alternative channels
Emerging platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger offer new vistas for customer self-service. These channels are attractive due to their asynchronous, mobile, and ever-accessible nature. The pattern of these interactions: mobile, asynchronous, and always accessible make them particularly convenient for customers.
However, they also bring about new challenges in capacity planning and meaningful self-service integration, especially considering the diversity of devices customers use to interact with these platforms.
The newer channels also offer the possibility of richer media interactions, including photos, videos, and audio. These avenues could serve as differentiators for organisations savvy enough to find suitable use-cases and implement them effectively. These could be differentiating for the organisations that can find the use cases and execute well.