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self service and the future of customer service

As an increasing number of customers choose to do it themselves, it appears as though the most crucial technology in the future contact center will be self-service.

It should be clear to anyone that the customer experience today is vastly different to what it was just a decade ago. This is mostly due to the wide range of new technologies that have come to the fore, but it is also, at least partly, due to changing attitudes within the customer base itself. One thing that is obvious is that customers are only going to be demanding more from your organization’s customer experience as we move forward.

One of the key issues that is changing the customer experience is the blurring of the boundary between work and home. In other words, more customers want to engage with businesses outside of the traditional office hours. This means finding new ways to enable them to receive such service, on a 24/7 basis. Since very few organizations have the resources to employ agents on a full-time basis to meet this demand, the answer is instead to enable your customers to serve themselves.

This is ideal for a large portion of the customer base too, since customer attitudes have also shifted significantly in the past decade. Where before, their first instinct was to call customer service for help, most now prefer to solve problems on their own. The goal of self-service is to do everything possible to help customers solve the issue on their own, by empowering them with the information they need and giving them the flexibility to access it at any time. Of course, you still need to ensure, as much as possible, that you still have agents available if they are required.

Self-service, of course, is not only about enabling the customer to do things for themselves – deploying such solutions will reduce waiting in queues (and thereby dissatisfied users) and minimize support costs for your contact center as well.

However, on the customer service front, self-service is rapidly becoming a must-have, as a growing number of Millennials join the customer base. This is a market segment that is increasing in size, spending power and influence. It is a segment that generally demands instant gratification – the nightmare scenario for most customer service centers - and most crucially of all, it is a segment that prefers to do things for itself.

Surveys of Millennials have indicated that around two-thirds of this market claim to feel good about themselves, and the company they are doing business with, when they resolve a problem without needing actually to contact customer service.

This is a generation that actually wants to do it themselves and prefers to have total control over its own support experience. With this in mind, it is no wonder that Gartner has suggested that the future of customer service will be self-service.

Of course, it is one thing to offer customers – particularly Millennials – the option of doing it themselves, but unless you provide them with tools that appeal to their sensibilities, you are just as likely to irritate them as if you left them holding on the line for an agent for ages. And the Millennial market, more than any other, is the one most likely to take their business elsewhere, the first time they are left unhappy by your service.

This would seem to rule out using the most common contact center self-service method, which is the standard interactive voice response (IVR) solution. These have many faults, including the fact that users sometimes fail to discern what the automated voice is saying, or that the menus provided offer too many options. By the time the consumer has listed to half a dozen options, they have probably forgotten what the first one was. Besides, we live in a visual world, where it is easy to tune out a droning, robotic voice and perhaps miss the option you were waiting for. Basically, standard IVRs are often simply not equipped to help users solve the kind of problems that they want to sort out for themselves.

On the other hand, one thing you can be sure of is that most customers – and all Millennials, if we’re being honest – will have is a smartphone. This is why implementing a visual IVR solution could conceivably be the answer to your self-service challenges. This is a solution that effectively offers all the benefits of a standard IVR, without any of the drawbacks.

Visual IVRs take advantage of the fact that the customer has a device with a large screen, by delivering a menu that is visible and easy to scroll through. Even long menus are easy to handle, and it is generally a simple task to scroll back a screen if the user feels they have missed some important information. Ultimately, providing the menu visually effectively increases the users’ ability to both absorb and enter complex data.

Furthermore, by visually involving the customer and giving them a tactile experience into the bargain, you give them a genuinely satisfying experience that leaves them feeling happy about the transaction, once they have sorted their issue out for themselves.

Moreover, unlike a standard IVR, where failure to solve the problem means transferring back to the queue and holding for an agent, visual IVR is able to seamlessly connect customers who fail to solve their problem to other self-service options and/or an agent support resource. And the solution can even provide said agent with context, meaning they already know what the customer's issue is by the time they answer the call. When you have failed to solve your own problem, nothing makes you feel better than immediately having a sympathetic and knowledgeable voice on the other end of the line.

Still, there is little doubt that fewer and fewer such transitions are going to occur in the future, as customers become more adept at solving their own challenges, and self-service technologies continue to improve.

The easier contact centers can make it for customers answer their questions and solve their problems, without having to actually speak to an agent, the more likely it is they will find themselves ranked highly by those selfsame customers, who are able to do it themselves at the first time of asking.

One thing we can be sure of: consumers expect companies to keep improving their levels of service, and self-service is the only long-term solution to meeting such customer expectations. Moreover, as more Millennials enter the market, so the demand to ‘do-it-yourself’ is only going to increase, and companies that wish to remain at the forefront of customer service are going to have to ensure they have the best self-service technologies available in their contact center.