Self-service is a dynamically developing trend related to the changing needs and expectations of users. The basic assumption is to provide the client with the possibility of solving a problem or settling a matter without the help of a representative of the company, of which the service or product is used. The efficient use of the concept usually leads to a significant reduction in operating costs, but also to greater customer satisfaction resulting from a more accurate response to their needs. This article describes selected examples of implementing self-service and the benefits it brings to business owners.
Self-service – how customer service has changed over the years
In 1916, in Memphis, an entrepreneur called Clarence Saunders implemented a brilliant yet simple idea that enabled him to sell more, faster and at a lower cost. The key was to stop handing in the goods from behind the counter and to let the customer find the produce themselves. The success was immediate. That led to the appearance of shopping baskets, a shopping alley (in the first stores there was only one alley leading to the cashier) and the notion of shopping under the influence of an impulse. Brands and product packaging gained great importance. Today, a century later, self-service is as successful as ever. Self-service cash registers are becoming more and more common in physical stores as well as the self-order kiosks in many fast-food restaurants. More and more attention is paid to the importance of self-service also in the virtual world.
Self-service in practice – the most common applications
Currently, the most typical examples of self-service for businesses offering services are:
- FAQ and Knowledge Base – collections of answers to the most common problems, tutorials, video instructions and forums for users serving as support, help or immediate advice.
- IVR (interactive voice response) systems – known for a long time, although not always well-liked, automatic hotlines “leading” the user through various steps to get the desired result, such as reporting failure or changing a subscription.
- Mobile applications – gaining popularity, especially used by e.g. hotels, airlines or the banking industry, where after authentication the client is able to perform desired actions and order services without contacting the business consultant.
- Chatbots and virtual assistants – according to market analysts, these were meant to be the most successful, but so far, this form of support only applies for specific tasks and solving simpler matters.
From the practical point of view, we can see that there are two closely interrelated concepts, namely self-service, and self-help. Although both are gaining on importance due to technological advances and the aforementioned change of customers habits, it is still important to assure access to quick an easy support from a physical person at every stage of the purchasing process.
Self-service – benefits for business
One thing hasn’t changed throughout the years – self-service is not only about making customers’ lives easier but also about benefiting the companies. The reduction of costs or maintaining them at the same level despite the increase in the scale of business operations are one of the basic benefits (customers rarely require support from a consultant), but not the only ones.
Consultants can focus on more complex tasks and devote more attention to them. That helps to avoid burnout and discouragement among employees resulting from repeated questions that never seem to end. As a result, the quality of service or communication with the client increases, as does the productivity and qualifications of employees dealing only with more demanding issues.
Enabling self-service results in greater availability. The possibility of being helped and answered in case a problem occurs, even in the middle of the night, boosts customer satisfaction. This, later on, leads to greater loyalty, with all the positive consequences thereof.
A possible by-product of offering self-service is building the entire knowledge base of the business industry, what in turn can lead to a significant increase in traffic on such a portal. This may not only result in an inflow of new customers, but it will also bring greater recognition and trust in the brand. That’s a great foundation for creating a community that will additionally enrich resources or indicate what needs to be further improved or developed.
An additional benefit for companies is the ability to collect information about users’ behavior. These data, after obtaining the necessary consents, can be used for marketing purposes. Of course, analytical tools should also be used to examine how clients use self-service. This will allow you to eliminate errors and meet your clients’ needs in a more effective manner.
Self-service – benefits for the customer
The basic benefit is 24-hour support and constant access to services. The client gains full freedom to choose the most convenient moment of contact. They also have as much time as they need to understand and use the information obtained. And nobody will show them impatience.
The development of self-service is enforced not only by the pressure to reduce costs but also by real changes in customer preferences and behavior. More and more users are accustomed to self-searching of information on the web and they transfer these preferences to getting in contacts with companies. “Digital natives” do not want to order food delivery or make a money transfer by phone. Instead of asking how to mix paint with the ground, they prefer to watch a video and then apply it, what gives them a sense of pride in their resourcefulness and self-sufficiency. Research has shown that in case an error or problem occurs, many customers prefer to give up an unfinished transaction, rather than rely on customer service agents.
It is also worth mentioning that online self-service is often more effective than traditional telephone support because in many areas the instructional videos or user-led screenshots work much better than conversations with a consultant. The phrase “a picture is worth more than a thousand words” did not come out of nowhere.
From a company’s perspective, a proper implementation of the self-service trend most often translates into financial benefits, relieves the CSS, marketing or sales team, provides valuable data about customers and increases their loyalty and satisfaction. On the other hand, customers gain constant access to services and new, convenient forms of support as per their expectations. In the next part of this article, we will describe good practices and new trends in the field of customer self-service.