After a number of false starts, self-service is here to stay. But sticking a chatbot on the home page and messing with the IVR can do more harm than good. Here are some simple tips to help customers help themselves.
In 1964, John Roscoe opened the first self-service petrol station in Denver, Colorado. He sold just 500 litres to a dozen bemused customers but changed his industry forever.
Three years later the first ATM was opened at a branch of Barclays bank in Enfield, London. The machine allowed customers to withdraw the princely sum of £10.
Nowadays we’d laugh at the idea of someone filling up our car for us, or waiting in line for a teller to count out some cash. So why don’t all companies offer self-service as an option for customers?
Ask a business leader and they’d list three main reasons, all inter-related.
1. Investment should be reserved for revenue generating activity.
2. Any change to the contact centre is complex, disruptive and risky.
3. Automation might worsen the customer experience (CX) and impact the brand.
These are valid concerns. The truth is that for a long time self-service customer support systems were prohibitively expensive. The risks did outweigh the benefits. Customer loyalty was definitely tested by inept chatbots and shoddy IVR.
But times change. Pay-as-you go systems like Amazon Connect have democratized self-service customer support. No longer is it just for deep-pocketed corporations. Shifting strategy on customer support is still risky, but not if you approach it with common sense and sound business logic.
Any big change needs to have a good reason behind it. Luckily, self-service has several.
Most interactions are high volume, repetitive and straightforward – think account balance enquiries, bill payments and booking amendments. Why make a busy customer wait when a bot could provide the same service in milliseconds?
The customer gets what they want when they want it. And customer service operatives are left to focus on more complicated enquiries that need a human touch.
Turn customer support into a profit centre
Motorbike insurance provider MCE launched a self-service model at the end of 2020. The intention was to make buying insurance as simple and transparent as possible. By letting the customer lead the process they avoided industry dark arts like pre-selecting products or hiding their inclusion.
The result? A 400% uptick in add-on product sales and a 24% increase in the average premium price. Not bad for an initiative looking to put the customer’s interests first.
Improve experience, build loyalty
If anyone knows about disruption it’s travel giant TUI. In 2020 their systems creaked under the pressure of having to refund or amend Covid-impacted bookings. That was before they invested in a self-service model.
This is UK MD Andrew Flintham: “Now we say if you’re worried and want to move your holiday, just go ahead and move it. We’re giving people power to manage their own destiny.”
He says because of self-service “…we are much better able to manage that uncertain environment. And because we’ve got automated systems, we can do it much quicker and much easier.”
So the question isn’t whether self-service can improve customer experience (it can). Nor is it whether it’s viable for a company of your size (it is). The question is how to get it right. Here are four pointers to avoid pitfalls and shortcut success.
Pick apart your process
Do you know your customer’s journey when they’re buying something; returning an item; looking for support; checking their status? If not, now’s the time to find out.
One of our clients is an accountancy firm which had invested in a great PAYE calculator tool to help customers self-serve. But it still found itself fielding hundreds of enquiries from people who either didn’t know about the tool or couldn’t find it.
By diving into its web analytics we were able to suggest a much easier customer journey which cut the volume of unnecessary calls by 10%.
Decide what should be automated, and what shouldn’t
Some companies get carried away and redirect customers to self-service for every enquiry. Bad idea. It’s one thing to programme AI to read out an account balance. Quite another to placate an irate customer whose six digit bank transfer has gone missing.
Self-service tools should focus on routine, basic, high volume tasks. Complicated queries – especially those requiring emotional intelligence to defuse or delight – must always be routed to well-trained humans.
One client is a law firm that regularly litigates class action suits. It came to us because its call centre was getting swamped after the media reported an update in a case. We implemented automated SMS workflows that preempted client enquiries, slashing the volume of inbound calls.
Put the CRM at the heart of the contact centre
Ever go through security with a voice automation system only to be asked the same questions by the call centre operative? There’s nothing more irritating than a clever system that acts dumb.
It’s therefore essential to connect every element of your contact centre to the Customer Relationship Management tool (CRM). When a call is put through to an operative, attribute-based routing can then make sure they see every step of the customer’s journey.
And this isn’t just to make their experience better. The data can help create revenue opportunities too. It’s a good sign, for example, if the customer just checked their balance before calling a sales line.
There are useful bots. And there are ones which seem to have been sent from the future to terminate the customer relationship. Which will you have on your website?
A chatbot that pops up on the home page and says ‘hi, how can I help?’ is useless. An open question like that offers too much choice for the visitor.
Chatbots should discern the visitor’s intent by asking simple, closed questions. ‘Are you looking for a holiday in Spain?’ would be a good start on a booking website, for example.
And they should offer dynamic content based on the customer’s journey. If they bounce from a checkout cart without paying for example, maybe the chatbot could offer a promotion to close the sale.
There’s no longer any excuse not to let your customers self-serve. The technology exists, it’s simple to use and cost isn’t a barrier. That’s not to say it’s easy to get right. Start by understanding the customer’s journey and work out which processes to automate. Integrate your CRM so there’s a 360 degree view of interactions.
And if you get stuck, call us!