Self-service (i.e. enabling customer service through automation) is an essential part in any brand’s engagement with customers, and customers’ needs and expectations around self-service have changed over the years as technology (and customers’ use of technology) has advanced. As a company involved in the design and development of cross-channel self-service, VoxGen is keen to investigate opportunities for self-service channels beyond more traditional IVR, web and mobile channels.

Facebook is commonly used by major brands for help and chat forums, but is yet to be utilised as a common tool for completing more transaction based self-service tasks such as paying a bill, giving a meter reading, or changing a tariff. Therefore, we wanted to see whether Facebook offered any opportunities for self-service.

VoxGen did some early research evaluating the use of Facebook for self-service a couple of years ago, which raised some interesting initial insights.

These included:

  • How Facebook wasn’t ‘top of mind’ when people thought about self-service.
  • The perception of Facebook as being more about social interaction and communication than ‘transactions’. Hence the more common use of Facebook for knowledge-based self-service tasks and chat forums, than actual transaction based self-service.
  • Concerns about security and privacy could impact peoples’ willingness to use Facebook as a self-service tool, especially for payment related tasks.
  • How the usefulness and relevance of Facebook for self-service is dependent on context. The company, the brand, customer demographics and tasks – all play a huge part in determining whether companies should utilise Facebook for their business.
  • Since that research we’ve had the opportunity to work with a major international telecom company in the Caribbean to release basic self-service via Facebook for their mobile customers. Prepay customers are able to view their balance and top up their phones from Facebook, while pay monthly customers are able to view their balance and pay their bill. So what did we learn, and was Facebook right for self-service after all?

Below are some of the pros and cons we have found with developing self-service offerings using Facebook.

The pros:

  • Facebook presents opportunities for offering customers a personalised and customised experience. LIME operates across 13 Caribbean islands, and knowing which island a customer resides means that content and offers could be tailored to that particular user based on their customer type and location.
  • Customers reported the main benefit they saw from using Facebook for self-service is that they are always logged on. This means users often stay connected, receiving constant updates that keep Facebook and user engagement high. For LIME, this meant giving customers quick and constant access to key self-service tasks such as mobile balance, topping up their phone or paying a bill.
  • People are using Facebook and are confident with its features and functionality. With many hundreds of millions of users using Facebook, this gives companies an active tapped-in market - especially from the mobile/smartphone.
  • Customers want and expect a choice of channels when interacting with companies. Facebook isn’t a channel that would replace more mainstream self-service channels such as IVR, web or mobile, and it won’t be relevant to all tasks, brands or customers. But it does offer an alternative…

The cons:

  • Among the biggest challenges are the restrictions that Facebook place on app development. For example, Facebook restrictions for making payments via iOS can constrain payment tasks. Permissions are also a standard part of signing up for Facebook apps, but customers didn’t want to give LIME or Facebook access to their contact information.
  • From a user perspective, the biggest concern customers had about using Facebook for self-service was around privacy and security. While customers were happy to retrieve their balance information via Facebook, they are less comfortable about paying a bill where credit card details were needed.
  • The Facebook app (a downloadable app for mobile and tablet) requires a separate user interface to the Facebook web user interface. This means additional design and development work to ensure the app is tailored to the mobile/tablet interface. We had hoped to link Facebook app users to the mobile self-service interface if they tried to access LIME self-service interface from the app as an interim solution to avoid this additional development but Facebook has placed restrictions for linking to external URLs, meaning this wasn’t possible. Companies need to weigh up the cost of this additional development compared with the benefit gained.
  • We know that Facebook is primarily perceived as a social channel, so isn’t top of mind when it comes to self-service - leading some customers to question the use of Facebook for self-service. Offering the same self-service via a mobile interface rather than through Facebook was much more compelling to customers.
  • Despite the headline usage figures coming out of Facebook that the number of active Facebook users is increasing, people do seem to be showing more signs of Facebook fatigue. How much of an issue this is will be seen over the coming years. But it puts into question whether Facebook has long-term standing as a self-service channel.

There are definitely some advantages to using Facebook for self-service. But overall, the challenges and restrictions faced when developing for Facebook certainly hindered what we were able to offer.

Ultimately, the relevance of self-service is dependent on context and your brand. Research is key! Understand your customers, their needs and expectations and the tasks they need to do. Are they Facebook users? If so, how does Facebook fit within the overall customer journey and self-service tasks?

The future of Facebook for self-service…

Developers are seeing more and more restrictions when it comes to developing for Facebook, and this is starting to grate. There’s now talk of using Google and Google+, which has the same inherent benefits of customers being signed in, but not the restrictions they’re seeing with Facebook – yet!

What is clear is that while there is the demand and need for greater channel choice, and more innovative solutions for customers when it comes to self-service, the ultimate goal from a customer perspective is the ability to complete their self-service tasks quickly, efficiently and accurately. The automated voice/phone (IVR) service is still the main contact channel for a lot of companies and it’s important that in this multi-channel world that we don’t forget these traditional channels.

This article first appeared in Digital Marketing Magazine in May 2014.


Topics: IVR Design , featured