What Is Customer Self-Service?

Businesses have been increasingly employing self-service customer experiences, a win-win for both companies and customers: customers can access information anytime, anywhere through multiple channels while contact centers can keep their costs down. The concept has proved popular. According to a 2012 Aberdeen Research report, self-service has been deployed by 51 percent of contact centers that were surveyed. Additionally, Aberdeen found that self-service users are more than twice (34 percent versus 14 percent) as likely to improve the average cost per customer interaction year-over-year, compared to non-users.

Self-service’s roots can be traced back to Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems, which enable users to call into a customer service center without having to speak to a live agent. Voice prompts guide customers through a series of menu options, such as bill payment or account status.

However, dealing with IVRs has become the bane of many customer experiences. Misdirected calls and lack of speech understanding can ultimately lead customers back to interacting with a live agent, negating call center savings. Even worse, customer frustration can spark customer disloyalty. According to a 2012 survey by Interactions Corp., more than eight in 10 consumers (83 percent) said that they would avoid a company or stop doing business with it if they had a poor IVR experience. Additionally, over 70 percent said that they would share their negative IVR experiences not just with the company itself, but also with friends and family through word of mouth, and more increasingly, social media.

Dissatisfied with IVRs, customers have turned to other self-services, such as speech-enabled personal digital assistants, such as Nuance’s virtual assistant, Nina, and Angel’s Lexee offering. These products use natural language understanding (NLU) and speech recognition and text-to-speech (TTS) technologies to allow customers to interact across multiple channels, such as the Internet or SMS, without having to contact a live agent. Nina also offers voice biometrics for user verification, while Lexee provides analytics so that companies can determine how well their mobile apps work, as well as uncover trends in customer behavior, and identify how design can be improved to offer better customer experiences.     

Another area of growth in the self-service arena is the use of chatbots which offer customer service in an online format. By using a combination of natural language understanding and artificial intelligence, these virtual agents interact with users and can dissuade customers from calling live agents as they handle routine functions, such as payments, shipping information and general queries.

Outside the virtual world, customers seeking self-service options are also turning to brick and mortar kiosks. Examples include airport and hotel check ins, movie rentals, and picture printing. Kiosks can greatly improve customer satisfaction by offering convenience and immediacy in addition to increased upsell and cross sell opportunities through targeted messaging. Indeed, according to ABI Research, the market is seeing growth, with roughly 1.6 million kiosks deployed in 2011 to an estimated three million being by 2016.

With all of the benefits self-service customer experiences provide, it’s a no brainer that it will see future proliferation. As these services are updated and become more refined, expect positive customer experiences to grow exponentially.