The pros and cons of self-service CX

A wider array of automation and AI-powered technologies is opening up more self-service customer experience capability. We explore whether this is a good or bad thing for brands

Picture a Venn diagram containing the words ‘fast’, ‘cheap’ and ‘good’ in three separate circles.

Conventional wisdom suggests the best any organisation can hope to achieve when designing a product or service is two out of three. If you want something fast and cheap, it won’t be good, or if you want something good and fast, it won’t be cheap, and so on.

Customers, however, don’t tend to adhere to conventional thinking and tend to want all three.

The desire to meet this expectation when providing customer service has led many organisations to investigate whether they can have customers perform some of the heavy lifting by servicing themselves.

It is trend that took off in Australia in the 1970s with the introduction of self-service petrol stations and picked up steam in the 1980s with the introduction of ATMs. But it was the 2000s when the introduction of ecommerce created a society of ‘want it now’ self-servers.

Unfortunately, in tune with the theoretical Venn diagram, while self-service has tended to meet the criteria of being fast and cheap, the experience has not always been good, as FAQ pages and IVR systems have tended to demonstrate. And while self-service might work most of the time, when it fails, it fails spectacularly.

For instance, while airport self-check-in might work for 95 per cent or more of customer use cases, the experience of when it fails is the one that remains resident in the mind of the user, especially if there is no human around to help them.

As the head of CX solutions and strategy for APJ at Qualtrics, Vicky Katsabaris has witnessed numerous implementations of self-service as her company helps its clients collect, analyse and action customer insights.

“For self-service to be successful it needs to be easy to use, relevant to the customer and engagement, and seamless,” she tells CMO. “But alongside the operational aspects of self-service, brands need to remember it is one part of their entire customer experience. That’s why businesses that excel in self-service understand it is about the entire customer journey and not a single interaction.”

Mapping out the complete customer journey and understanding consumer behaviour and preferences enables brands to pinpoint interactions where self-service adds to the experience, such as the airport check-in experience or uploading invoices for payment of claims.

“Importantly, it also shows where self-service could detract from the customer experience, such as resolving complex faults or interactions where consumers value human input,” Katsabaris says. “Throughout all self-service engagements, businesses benefit from having a human presence readily available to troubleshoot issues, while on digital platforms information and live support must be easily accessible.”

Human versus machine

That makes a strong departure from the thinking commonly seen last decade, where organisations would do everything possible to funnel customers away from expensive human agents.

According to Genesys vice-president for A/NZ, Gwilym Funnell, there has been a marked shift in the thinking of customers over the past decade away from just using self-service as a tool for cost reduction.

“Some organisations are still focused on getting cost out of the business and they don’t feel that they have automated enough,” the contact centre specialist leader says. “But equally, we are seeing a lot of organisations that absolutely are focused on first call resolution rather than average handle time.

“As soon as you step out from automation, your costs go up. So organisations are increasingly looking at how to use AI and chatbots as the second line of automation.”

It’s not surprising then to see many technology providers working to being solutions to market that finally cause all three Venn circles to overlap. Funnell says this is often involves using artificial intelligence (AI) to learn the next best step for each individual customer, and then servicing them appropriately using directed guidance, interaction via a chatbot, or through a direct call. This can also be influenced by understanding both the criticality of the interaction to customer experience, and through considering the value of the customer themselves.

Related: 7 businesses successfully implementing chatbots

“By using AI to manage that process what we are able to do is dramatically increase the completion of a process for a customer in that automated channel,” Funnell says. “It is about having a solution that doesn’t lock you into one model and allows you to adapt quickly but without significant cost.”

According to Verint Systems vice-president for A/NZ, Michael Stelzer, while early interpretations of self-service focused on telling the customer what to do (such as FAQs), best practice now leans towards guiding the customer through the process they are trying to achieve. It’s something Verint is providing through its conversational AI technology.

“A customer is after a solution to their problem in fastest, easiest and simplest way possible,” Stelzer says. “Conversational AI will walk you through the process, so rather than showing an answer, it will walk the customer through the answer. And it is shown to be engaging and have better results.”

Better yet, however, is to fully automate the help process by completing the task for the customer, possibly by anticipating a problem or requirement before the customer even realises it has arisen.

“It about anticipating and getting to the point where the problems are automatically identified, rectified and then notified to customers,” Stelzer says. “It is almost like you are removing the need for self-service.”

Companies that have successfully adopted self-service often witness another conundrum, as doing this can deny them the opportunity to interact with customers.

“As they start to invest in the tuning and understanding of the customer’s adoption and acceptance, they quickly discover the opportunity to upsell and cross-sell,” Stelzer says. “But some customers don’t necessarily want a relationship in the traditional sense with their bank, their telco and utility provider. What they want is for things to work.”

Breaking the norm

Even when organisations are getting self-service mostly right, one of the problems with automated solution is their tendency to fail when scenarios lie outside of the accepted norms. Katsabaris says organisations need to track behaviours and engagements and set trigger points for a human representative to step in.

“For instance, if it appears a customer is having trouble navigating your website you should be able to identify this and engage them accordingly in the moment, such as through an online intercept,” she says. “This process could also be used to serve up relevant promotions or offers based on the knowledge of the customer built up over multiple interactions.

“Alongside this, brands need to always close the loop on a customer engagement. It could be something as simple as a digital email, a thank you note for submitting feedback, or contacting the customer direct if they’ve had a poor experience to recover.”

These friction points can provide a treasure trove of insights into customer behaviour, such as identifying when a process is unclear because customers are deviating from expected behaviour. By analysing the failure points, organisations can then redesign processes to smooth the overall customer journey and alleviate the need for intervention.

“Brands must be able to systematically identify the points of friction and the causes of failure in the interaction,” Katsabaris says. “This approach involves removing the causes of the failure and is critically important to reducing the channel costs often incurred by forcing customers to use high cost channels to meet their needs.”






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