Self-Service opens doors to move closer to customers

Customer Self-Service can enable companies to move closer to their customers rather than distancing the two from each other.

November 24, 2009

Customer Self-Service can enable companies to move closer to their customers rather than distancing the two from each other.

Many customers and companies fear that automation of common customer processes and transactions will take the human element out of customer service, says Kevin Meltzer, Business Development Director at Self-Service specialist, Consology. But for companies that are trying to be customer-centric, online Self-Service can actually be a great opportunity to move closer to their customers.

Self-Service is on the rise in South Africa and the rest of the world. Self-Service applications allow consumers to interact and transact with the companies they do business with when it’s convenient for them.

These systems allow consumers to pay bills, research product and service offerings, apply for services, check and change account information, initiate and track support requests, and more, all from an Internet-connected PC, kiosk or mobile phone. Examples include ticketing kiosks at cinemas, online banking, and online flight check-ins.

The benefits of Self-Service for companies include cost savings from automating transactions and reduction of customer support costs, by deflecting calls from the contact centre. But many companies worry that automating transactions will undermine their efforts to build closer relationships with their customers, says Meltzer. “To the contrary, well-implemented Self-Service systems that leverage business applications and data properly, always result in higher levels of customer loyalty, satisfaction and intimacy,” says Meltzer. “Self-Service systems can be effective platforms for cross and up-selling, personalisation of services, and gathering of information to inform customer relationship management.”

Meltzer says that most customers don’t particularly want or need to talk directly to a human customer service representative for a routine transaction such as changing their postal address or updating their contact number.

The truth is that no one enjoys a long conversation with a call centre agent when they should be working, and no one likes standing in long queues to pay bills. They just want to carry out the process as quickly and conveniently as possible. Enabling customers to carry out transactions quickly and easily and in their own time, will give them a more favourable view of the company, Meltzer adds.

Customers also often feel that Self-Service gives them a more transparent view of their relationship with the company because they can see exactly what is going on in their accounts at all times – one way that technology can actually bring customers closer to the companies they do business with, Meltzer says.

In addition, automation of customer service makes it easier for companies to capture accurate and up-to-date customer data that allows them to manage their relationships with their customers better.

Direct human interaction is most necessary when a customer needs support on a service, product or account issue, or when he or she needs sales advice. By automating routine transactions, companies can free up more human and financial resources to focus on these high value interactions.

“Technology also provides for some interesting ways to handle these interactions,” says Meltzer. “For example, many companies are now using Web 2.0 applications and services like Twitter and Facebook to keep track of what their customers are saying about them.”

Many companies are even starting to build communities around their products where employees and customers can freely interact with each other, he adds. Global companies now allow their customers to share advice and help each other with any problems they are experiencing with a product or service. This form of customer collaboration is bringing about new service opportunities as well as allowing customers to help companies design better products through direct customer insight.

“What that means is that a consumer is no longer just a customer of a telecom operator or a bank, but part of a community built around its products and services,” Meltzer says. “That takes customer intimacy to a whole new level. Companies need to be thinking about electronic channels not just as way of reducing costs but also as an opportunity to build and manage relationships with their customers.”