How to Serve the New Self-Serve Customer

Once upon a time, pulling into a gas station meant that a uniformed attendant would dash out to pump your gas, wash your windows, and give a quick check under the hood. After your tank was full and payment rendered, a wave and smile sent you away. In the 1970’s, things changed. Self-service stations started appearing across the country.

Maybe it was the gas shortage that created long lines and short tempers that made station owners reconsider the full service approach. Maybe it was the realization that less service meant more profits. Whatever started the trend, it was the beginning of our self-serve society.

The pioneers of this movement knew that their customers would rebel if they were required to go cold turkey from full to self-service. Their solution was to provide both options with a self-serve discount to encourage people to make the shift.

They also provided lessons on how to use the equipment until their customers were comfortable with the process. The full service option slowly faded into history with only a few stations left offering it.

Now, thirty years later, self-serve is the norm across industries.

Not only have people accepted it, they prefer it. According to a survey of 75,000 plus conducted by Customer Contact Council, consumers value self-service as much or more than direct contact for service interactions.

The people surveyed included B2B and B2C customers. They were asked about recent service interactions in major non-face-to-face channels. This included live phone calls, voice prompts, web, chat, and e-mail.

Two-thirds of the customers surveyed said that three to five years ago, they primarily used the phone for service interactions. Now, it’s less than one-third. The rest prefer self-serve options.

This is good news for companies with quality self-serve tools available for their customers.

They’ll have higher satisfaction ratings and lower service costs. Unfortunately, it appears that these organizations are in the minority. The survey found that 57% of the inbound calls were from customers who had tried to resolve the issue online before calling. More than 30% were on the company’s website while talking to the service representative.

There’s more:

– 56% reported having to explain the issue more than once
– 59% rated the effort required to resolve the issue as moderate to high
– 59% were transferred before resolution occurred
– 62% reported having to contact the company repeatedly to resolve an issue

It’s little wonder that consumers lack confidence.

All of this is good news for companies willing to modify their view of service. Self-serve customers are the easiest to please. They want to do-it-themselves, so all you need to do is provide the tools:

  • Improve your online FAQ’s (frequently asked questions) to reduce the number of calls. Making them easier to search and more comprehensive helps your customers find the right answers quickly. Encourage your customer service representatives to keep a list of questions so that you can update them on a regular basis.
  • Sending your customers transactional emails and updates minimizes the “where is my order” calls. Adding the option for them to look up their orders online is even better. This isn’t an either one works scenario. Your individual customers have different preferences. Providing the tools for both reduces your costs.
  • If you sell products that require manuals, post PDF versions online for easy access. Invariably, your customers will lose their manual and want a new copy. You can treat this as an added value service or require a minimal charge for the download.
  • Provide step-by-step instructions on how to use your self-service tools. The easier you make it for people to do-it-themselves, the less likely they’ll make a customer service call.
  • Improve your customer service training so that the first person that answers the phone can resolve the issue. It improves satisfaction and reduces costs.
  • Answer emails within a few hours so customers don’t get impatient and call. Email responses are less expensive than telephone calls and fast responses improve customer satisfaction.

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