When automobiles first hit the scene, everyone who owned a car either had a dedicated employee to look after it, or they learned to maintain it themselves. Jump forward to the 1980s when Ford had a great value proposition: if you ever need a spare part we have the biggest parts supply chain in the world, and a network of garages with mechanics that know how to install these parts. You’re in safe hands.
Buying a car now contains an implicit understanding that you are also connecting to a service network. And that applies to everything, not only cars. Any product with poor service will get a bad reputation and people will stop buying it.
Even 20 years ago, the idea that you could go online, find a company that, for example, supplies specialist camping equipment, search all the options, compare offers, buy one, and have that delivered to you the next day, well frankly, it sounded a bit far-fetched.
But wait, where’s the customer service in this process, you may ask? Amazon famously coined the term “the best service is no service” because everything “just works”. There are no breakdowns, there is no confusion around the product characteristics and descriptions, there is no need to ring up and complain.
In truth, we know that Amazon is describing utopia, and you will always need customer service options, and online self-service provides a channel for people to take care of things themselves.
The service game has changed directly as a result of the technology available, and self-service is one of the biggest shifts. What do we mean by this?
In the 1980s, the giant photocopier machine started sending information about itself to the service representative. It was self-diagnosing. It then presented these error messages and fix instructions on a grey display screen with black writing.
Today, Amazon has Alexa and Echo in your living room. It listens to your vocal instructions and you can just speak aloud and it knows what you want it to do. It is you own personal self-service assistant.
Changes in customer expectations coupled with businesses becoming customer-centric have made self-service a ‘must have’ on company websites. Today, customers have gotten used to being able to contact businesses 24/7 through many channels at their convenience. If you’re not offering your customers this level of convenience, they may go somewhere else.
Self-service options can take many different forms, such as online chatbots, online payment portals and knowledge bases. These tools provide customers with quick and easy access to information and support, which saves them time and reduces frustration.
People no longer just buy a product; they buy the whole package which is product + service. It’s becoming personal and the customer now has more control.
The graphic below by Blake Morgan, Customer Experience Consultant, sums up the shift in customer service.
However, it is important to note that self-service should not replace human interaction entirely. Although customers appreciate all the benefits that self-service offers, they still like to have the option of talking to a person in some situations. The key is getting this mix right, and even better, bringing in conversational AI to make the interaction with the AI chatbot feel natural and more personal. (See: Self-Service in Debt Collections: Why Conversational AI is the Missing Link) Therefore, businesses should strive to strike a balance between self-service and traditional customer service methods to have both operational efficiency and good customer relationships.
The benefits of self-service extend beyond the convenience factor for customers. For businesses, self-service can be a cost-effective solution, as it allows them to reduce the number of customer service agents needed to handle queries and support requests.
Additionally, self-service tools can provide businesses with valuable data on customer behaviour and preferences, which is used to improve products and services.
As technology continues to advance, we can expect to see even more innovative self-service solutions that will further enhance the customer experience. We’ve come a long way from that photocopier in a corner of the room with its error messages. Now, the line between the product and the service is blurred.
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