Self-service has enabled many of us to get the experiences, information, and customer service we want faster and more conveniently. But how should businesses react to the negative things some commentators have to say about our automated service revolution?

After years of pining for smarter ways to serve themselves instead of waiting in long, agonising queues, some critics have recently started to take exception to the technology that’s now available to make their lives easier.

Citing experiences of “unexpected items in the bagging area” and impersonal, robotic call automation systems, they’ve taken to painting self-service technology in a ruthlessly bad light.

A recent article in Which? Magazine makes a great deal of the fact that 95% of customers want their service calls to be answered within five minutes by a human being. That’s all well and good; sometimes you need to speak to a human. But what if a smart, personalised, automated system could have solved your issue straightaway, with no wait at all?

The public is being peddled a dangerous myth—that self-service means bad service—and I’m here to debunk it once and for all.

Overcoming resistance to change

In his recent Times article, Self-service is the future: we should all stop moaning and check it out (it’s a great read, I recommend taking a look), Sathnam Sanghera likens the emergence of mainstream self-service technology to the emergence of the UK’s first supermarkets in the 1970s.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, people’s concerns then were very similar to those expressed about self-service tech today. They feared that the experiences delivered by supermarkets would be impersonal and that they would never be able to replace what was offered by small, local shops.

Today, we know that’s simply not true. Supermarkets are just as capable of delivering personal, friendly experiences. It just depends on the amount of effort they’re willing to put into it.

The same is true for self-service technologies. While some may leave a lot to be desired, others are fully capable of delivering the kind of smart, personalised service that customers have come to expect from human interactions.

There is no “one-size fits all” self-service model

One of the main reasons people have bad experiences with self-service tills in shops is that they don’t work well for every transaction. While they’re perfect for small baskets, you wouldn’t want to try and process a £100 shop through one.

They’re very similar to IVRs in that respect—they’re ideal for streamlining simple queries, but agents need to be in place to help handle more complex or specific requests.

On the phone, self-service systems have a distinct advantage on their side—they’ve been refined and improved for decades. Best practices for delivering great automated call experiences are already in place and accepted, the most prominent being that there is no “one size fits all” service automation model.

In a recent LinkedIn Pulse article (another great read, especially if you’re looking to improve the service you deliver over the phone), Alex Monaghan of PSS explains exactly why off-the shelf call automation systems can’t deliver positive self-service experiences—they’re simply not tailored to your customers’ individual needs.

It’s like Steve Jobs said; “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back towards the technology”.

Remembering the principles of great customer service

As Monaghan points out, the customer is king—but many companies providing self-service seem to have forgotten that. Yes, customers are willing to use self-service when given the option, but it still falls to the business to push them in the right direction and ensure they get the results they want, as quickly as possible.

Self-service absolutely has the power to deliver exceptional, personalised experiences that customers love engaging with—VoxGen makes it happen for our clients every day. But to get those results, companies need systems that have been built and designed with their customers’ needs in mind.

Instead of being dissuaded by self-service horror stories, companies should see them as an opportunity. By adopting self-service, monitoring its use, learning from their observations and refining it with iterative deployments, businesses can start delivering superior customer experiences before the rest of the market catches up.

That will mean finding the right solutions and partners to help them get ahead of the curve and start delivering fast, helpful, and natural experiences wherever and whenever their customers serve themselves.

As Sanghera notes in his Times article, self-service is the future. Think about the people that spoke out against the supermarkets—where do you suppose they go for their bread and milk today?

 


Topics: IVR Design