Self-service is on the rise. And with the mobility revolution started by Apple’s (News - Alert) introduction of the iPhone, consumers around the world have realized the potential of finding answers to customer service questions themselves, by asking peers, on the go, or whenever they want, instead of relying on call center staff operating during business hours only. While self-help has the advantage of quick and convenient access to information when needed for the customer, it also shows quick ROI for businesses that can have their contact center staff focus on more elaborate inquiries or for customer retention efforts. This is a win-win for both company and customer, but not a be-all and end-all. The need for live assistance from knowledgeable staff will not go away, as only certain types of inquiries are self-serviceable. Complex account inquiries or the desire to understand a company's business processes will continue to have customers reach out for human help. For simple inquiries, however, self-service is now usually preferred. In fact, a newly-released consumer survey conducted by GfK for Aspect (News - Alert) found that 82 percent of consumers prefer to use self-service to address easy/simple customer service issues.
With the explosion of customer care channels available in the age of pervasive mobile computing, a smooth handover from self to live service is more crucial than ever to provide exceptional support. A continuity of consumer experience is needed when moving from self to live service and switching between channels and/or between proactive outbound communication and inbound service inquiries. When it comes to self-service, the question for companies becomes: What is your exit strategy?
The following considerations should be the foundation of self-service planning as it relates to handover to live service:
1. Ubiquitous Accessibility
Older implementations of IVR systems, often by design, hide agent access for reasons of cost savings, and customers tend to respond with an increased willingness to take their business elsewhere when they feel locked in or poorly served. To address this, businesses should open up and allow access to live service anywhere in self-service portals, be it on the voice (IVR) channel, on the web, in mobile apps, SMS services, or even social networks. At the same time, quality functionality and an excellent user experience should always be a priority to keep users engaged in self-service as much as possible.
2. Channel Stickiness
As new service communication channels emerge, such as mobile apps, SMS, or via the web, access to live service typically lags behind. This shows human inertia at work: new channels are easier to optimize for self-service versus only software systems and are usually easier for consumers to understand. And consumers will quickly embrace new channels with ease, using their mobile devices more often for customer support. According to Gartner’s (News - Alert) Six Best Practices to Deliver Powerful Mobile Consumer-Facing Applications report released in June, by 2017, 35 percent of all customer support interaction will take place on a mobile device, an increase of 300 percent. Driving this change is a desire for convenient access to live assistance when needed, whether the customer journey started with a self-service attempt or not. Businesses should therefore strive to offer live assistance on the same channel that the customer used for self-service. For example, an agent conversation should stay on SMS if this is where the customer started asking questions, and not force the user to switch to a phone call. After all, there is a reason why the customer selected SMS as his or her preferred channel for the inquiry to begin with.
3. Context Preservation
Once access to live assistance is offered, it is important to preserve any context and data collected during a self-service interaction to deliver continuity of experience. This means having the ability to seamlessly continue a customer service conversation when switching between channels, or from self-service to live service. An Aspect study from late 2013 showed that 89 percent of consumers say they are annoyed when they have to repeat themselves about the same issue.
To implement a concept like experience continuity, companies need an easily accessible data store that can memorize past transactions on any channel to store so-called context cookies –small traces of information about the journey of a customer. Examples would be:
- drop out points in IVR interactions, i.e. incomplete business tasks;
- last transaction performed in a mobile app;
- last time the customer talked to an agent;
- last issue discussed with an agent; and
- most recent page of your website the customer visited.
While some of this information might already be stored in a traditional CRM system, the data might not always be easily accessible cross-channel. The beauty of embracing the idea of context cookies, similar in function to web cookies, is that you do not have to introduce them on a grand scale. Adding cookies here and there to a customer interaction trail and leveraging them to provide select continuity experiences will create those little wow moments companies are looking to deliver while engaging their customers.
Edited by Maurice Nagle