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Self-Service Is Not For You, It's For Your Customers

By Tracey E. Schelmetic, Editorial Director, Customer Interaction Solutions


Make a list of the reasons you're interested in implementing self-service technologies via telephone or your Web site. If 'save money' is No. 1 on your list and all other considerations are peripheral (or nonexistent), stop now and proceed no further. You're not going to save money. Your best-case scenario is you'll increase the demand for live agents. Your worst-case scenario is your customers will run screaming to your competition.

There is probably no technology more susceptible to "one-strike-you're-out" results than self-service. Your customers will give you one chance, and one chance only. A customer who logs onto your Web site, searches your FAQ list and then fails to find basic information on shipping, for example, will be forever dismissive of your Web site. A customer who interacts with your virtual agent by inquiring about product availabilities, only to be given a laughably incorrect response, will relay his or her experience to friends, all of whom will have a good howl about your self-service faux-pas. Shortcuts and a lack of testing with your speech functionalities ("I'm sorry. I didn't get that. Did you ask for today's daily specials on free-range tofu chops?") will put your customers forevermore into the habit of zeroing out to a live operator. It doesn't matter if you improve your systems down the road ' your customers who encountered your error-prone self-service will be preconditioned to reject all future self-service overtures.

The No. 1 item on the top of your list should be, "Because customers like self-service." They do. It's quicker, easier and more satisfying, and it eliminates the need for the social chit-chat and niceties demanded by live interaction. No company has ever implemented a virtual agent that goes into a three-hour sulk because an impatient customer hung up without saying 'good-bye' after discovering the desired information. FAQ lists don't react poorly to cranky customers.

Another excellent reason that ought to be at the top of your list: you'll allow your skilled agents to deal with only customers who actually need their help. You'll reduce the boring, repetitive nature of their jobs, lower their burnout rates, improve their attitudes and the quality of their work and, as a result, reduce your turnover.

Need another good reason? Self-service is more consistent than live agents. Once your automated customer service system knows the answer to a question, it can share that answer with all customers and all agents who require the knowledge in the future. A live agent may resolve a customer question and be unaware that at the same time, another agent is duplicating the effort searching for the same answer (which may differ from the answer arrived at by the first agent). Automated systems can "learn," "retain" and deliver the resulting knowledge repeatedly and consistently, across several channels. This helps you build your knowledge base (and build it well), and eliminates the damage done by inconsistent or conflicting answers offered by (unfortunately, imperfect) live agents.

Were these reasons on your list? Congratulations...It's time to pass "go" and collect your $200. If you've implemented self-service solutions for the right reasons, your reward will be in money saved. But saving money needs to be the ultimate destination ' not the starting point.

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