Five years ago, most companies that adopted Self-Service solutions did so in the hopes of achieving cost-savings on customer billing and support. Now that the market has matured, their emphasis has shifted towards using the technology to improve customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Says Kevin Meltzer, co-founder of online Self-Service specialist Consology: “A few years ago we saw an upswing in the adoption of Self-Service among companies who wanted to deflect calls from their contact centres, cut billing and postage costs, and automate business processes.
“We believe that the early adopters have ticked off all these boxes, with the result that they are achieving significant cost-savings. They are now starting to look at ways that they can use online and mobile Self-Service as a strategic business driver that helps them to grow revenues and profitability while increasing customer convenience and satisfaction.”
The recent Dimension Data 2011 Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Report found that customer satisfaction has replaced cost reduction as the primary driver for Self-Service solutions such as Interactive Voice Response. Meltzer believes that the same trend can be observed in the online Self-Service market as companies begin to understand how important this channel has become to their customers.
“Online Self-Service is the preferred destination for many customers,” says Meltzer. “They don’t want to hold for an agent, they don’t want to stand in a queue and they expect to be able to access services 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There is a real opportunity for companies to take advantage of customers enthusiasm for online convenience which has been fueled by the rapid growth of online access for South African consumers.”
Meltzer points to the banking industry as one example of the trend in action. Banks prefer their accountholders to use ATMs, online banking, cellphone banking and IVR services for as many of their banking needs as possible because the cost to the bank is far lower than call centre or branch services. But now that most of their customers with Internet access have embraced online banking, banks have started to look at ways of differentiating themselves from their competitors with value-added services, mobile applications and loyalty programs.
“They are beginning to see the Self-Service user experience as an important way of retaining customers and keeping their clients happy,” says Meltzer. “This marks a dramatic break from their earlier approach, which was often inwardly focused around business processes as opposed to customer centricity”.
“Banks, telcos and many other companies in consumer-facing businesses operate in saturated markets, which means that customer retention is of massive importance to them,” he adds. “With high customer acquisition costs, they want to keep customers and make them more profitable by selling them further products and services.”
Meltzer notes that companies will need to re-examine elements of their Self-Service strategies as the emphasis shifts to customer satisfaction and retention. One important opportunity lies in aligning Self-Service channels with loyalty programmes so that customers are engaged with the system through an incentive system. In addition, companies should start looking at building richer personalisation features into their Self-Service portals.
Meltzer concludes that: “Well thought out Self-Service solutions are a way of giving customers a better service experience by offering them more choice, convenience and simplicity. These benefits are perhaps even more important in the longer term than the cost-savings delivered.”