Self-service not satisfying customers – or businesses

Published on the 01/10/2019 | Written by Heather Wright

Customer self-service

Just nine percent of issues are resolved via self-service alone…

More and better automated, digital, self-service channels for customers might have been the mantra in recent years, but it’s just not living up to the promises of improving service.

While the pressure is on for companies to provide customers with more digital and self-service offerings in an effort to reduce the load on contact centres, divert calls from live agents and deliver better customer service without significantly deflating the bottom line, a new Gartner report suggests the ‘add and integrate’ strategy deployed by most companies isn’t working. In fact, Gartner says it rarely reduces live volumes and is instead leading to increasingly complex network of channels to manage – without improving customer experience.

The analyst firm says just nine percent of the nearly 8,400 customers surveyed have managed to resolve their issues completely via self-service, with customers instead resorting to customer service calls. And that, Gartner says, is driving up operating costs for companies.

“The attempt to offer more choice has unintentionally made things worse for customers.”

“There is a direct relationship between the number of channels a company offers and the average number of contacts a customer makes during a single resolution journey. In other words, more choice begets more use.

“Additionally, more choice is difficult for companies to support, as resources become stretched to support a multitude of channels. This trend is reflected by first contact resolution rates which steadily decline with each additional channel a company offers.”

The report also shows that despite the convenience of digital channels and the potential reduction in wait times for those going digital, phone calls remain the top choice for issue resolution, at 44 percent. Chat followed at 17 percent with email at 15 percent; company website, 12 percent; and search engine, four percent.

The proliferation of channels available is at the heart of the problem, says Rick DeLisi, vice president in Gartner’s customer service and support practice says.

“The idea behind providing customers with more channels in order to give them what they ‘want’ and in an attempt to offer more choice in their service experience sounds like a great idea, but in fact, it has unintentionally made things worse for customers,” DeLisi says.

“This approach of ‘more and better’ channels isn’t living up to the promise of reduced live call volume and is only leading to more complex and costly customer interactions to manage.”

For both companies and the customers, it’s a lose-lose situation.

But there’s no doubt self-service can be a winner.

Kate Leggett, Forrester vice president and principal analyst, says when done well, customer self-service can provide much more than just call deflection, offering personalised engagement and increased issue resolution and customer satisfaction.

“If done properly, it allows you to digitally engage with your customers to empower them with answers and advice that deepen their engagement with the brand, positively influencing their satisfaction, retention and advocacy,” Leggett says.

DeLisi says most people have become used to the idea of using more than one channel, such as chat, phone, text, online video, review sites and in-store visits during the resolution of one problem or issue.

“The bad news is that it is definitely forcing a higher cost-to-serve for companies with no significant increase in the overall quality of the customer experience,” he says.

So, with 97 percent of service leaders currently reporting they’re pursuing some type of self-service initiative, and self-service channel management consistently rating a top priority for service functions, how can a company hit the right notes with self-service and create a win-win for customers and business alike?

With resolution, not channel choice, paramount to delivering a high-quality service experience, Gartner says the answer lies in prioritising self-service in both their channel strategy and resource allocation – and in prioritising resolution over channel choice.

“Customers are flexible, resilient and ready to adopt any customer service channel offered to them. Thus, rather than aiming to provide customers with choice and responding to perceived customer preferences, service leaders should prioritise resolution.”

And, where possible, that resolution should be in self-service channels, Gartner says.

Gartner has served up four ‘imperatives’ to moving to a more self-service dominant approach:

Establish a self-service strategy that prioritises resolution, not channel choice: Ensure that dedicated leadership capacity is allocated to self-service channels to oversee each channel’s purpose and performance.

Manage self-service capabilities like a product, not an IT project: Service organisations should manage self-service channels and capabilities like products with measurable ROI goals tied to volume reduction and customer experience.

Prevent self-service abandonment through confidence-building design: Channels that provide clear and actionable information, confirmation that resolution steps are underway, and indications that information is credible foster a sense of confidence in the customer, which in turn empowers them to continue utilising self-service channels rather than reaching out to a live rep.

Evolve talent management practices for a self-service dominant strategy: Service leaders should manage live talent as a precious resource, skewing focus to the retention of top talent and training them to take control of customer interactions.

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