Web self service: Building a business case

Beyond the allure and seemingly straightforward benefits of self service lie a few "gotchas" that are critical to both leveraging and building a credible, sustainable business case for self service. Allen Bonde, Senior Vice President of Strategy & Marketing at eVergance and an authority on self-service and KM best practices, discusses these business drivers behind self service in the latest installment of SearchCRM.com's ROI series.


Q: "I'm the customer service and CRM director for a midsized business. I have to give a presentation for the front office next month, and I'd like to convince them that Web self service is the right choice for our organization. Can you help me design a business case for Web self service?"


Allen BondeAllen Bonde, Senior Vice President of Strategy & Marketing, eVergance
eVergance is a management consulting and systems integration firm focused on CRM optimization and Web self-service. Allen leads the company's Web self-service readiness engagements, which help organizations assess their current capabilities and user demand, align organizational priorities, and build a business case and actionable roadmap for Web self-service. Prior to joining eVergance, Allen was the founder of strategic advisory firm ABG, Inc., a practice expert at McKinsey, the director of management consulting at Extraprise, and an analyst at the Yankee Group. An authority on self service and knowledge management (KM) best practices, he started his career in corporate R&D at a leading telecommunications company.



A: With clear consumer demand across e-commerce, blogs, online billing and self-service kiosks, plus increasing evidence that Web self-service has some of the best return on investment (ROI) of any customer-facing technology, building a business case for Web self-service investments appears simple. Essentially, if you can get more users to help themselves and stop calling/visiting you, you can lower your overall cost of taking orders, answering questions or sending out bills. But beyond the allure and seemingly straightforward benefits of Web self service lie a few "gotchas" that are critical to both leveraging and building a credible, sustainable business case for Web self service.

These are three of the most common challenges when it comes to Web self service projects:


  • Aligning various business objectives and user needs, to manage what we have termed the "self-service paradox" – how to create online applications that provide value to both the business and their customers, while balancing top-line and bottom-line goals.
  • Having a plan to drive user adoption, including segmenting target customers.
  • Selecting the right metrics to measure success.

    Aligning the vision

    One of the first hurdles to clear in building your business case is to answer the question: "What are we trying to achieve with Web self-service?" Again, it sounds simple, right? Your senior management, call center team and end users likely all have differing opinions about what is most important, however. In general, corporate objectives typically revolve around selling more through lower cost channels and lowering the cost of service delivery, while operational objectives are typically more tactical, such as producing fewer support call and increasing first-contact resolution. Meanwhile most end-users want convenience, more accurate and timely information, and overall a better experience (e.g., I don't have to wait in line) compared to "traditional" channels.

    Balancing these potentially conflicting views and producing one set of unified goals is a big deal. In fact, I'd argue that you can't show ROI if you aren't clear on what constitutes a valuable return in the first place. How to do this is one part art and one part science, but typically involves these steps:


  • Creating a unified mission statement for self-service, which expresses your goals (objectives) and what is going to be done to achieve them (strategies).
  • Identifying a set of primary key performance indicators (KPIs) for initial activities or tactics.
  • Segmenting target users and mapping identified strategies to each segment, to determine what's in it for them (the value proposition).

    The last of these steps becomes the foundation for creating marketing programs to drive awareness and adoption, while the first two become key ingredients for developing a top-down strategy and action plan, as well as components for your ROI analysis.

    Selecting the right metrics

    At a high level, the most effective business case ties the top-down strategy to a bottom-up financial analysis, with identified expenditures and expected monetary benefits. As discussed, this is predicated on increasing the number of users who help themselves, and as a result reducing the number of calls or other contacts. If you know the cost per contact, and can achieve a measurable decrease over a period of time, the math is straightforward. However, the benefits of self service (obviously) go beyond call deflection.

    Our experience has shown that success metrics for self service generally span three categories: usage, experience and outcomes. Typically "usage" metrics like increased portal traffic or increased use of an online knowledge base are easy to measure, but less strategic from a business perspective. Meanwhile, "outcomes" metrics like reduction in cost to serve or increased up-sell opportunities are more strategic, but may be harder to measure.

    Picking metrics that are both measurable and meaningful in terms of the business goals and mission is critical. So is being precise in defining standard metrics like call deflection. For example, reports by service consultancy ServiceXRG have noted that when measuring or taking credit for call deflection you need to verify not only that the problem was solved, but there was prior intent to call, the user was entitled to call, and no call was in fact made.

    The bottom line

    While cost savings from a reduction in calls (or emails or visits) should only be one part of your business case for investing in self-service, it is almost always a core benefit and contributor to significant ROI, especially in service and support applications. And with good reason, since answering a question online costs four-40 times less than in the call center or help desk (depending on the source).

    At the same time, these benefits are only realized when users actually want to try these applications and continue to use them, so a focus on the customer experience and delivering value beyond that available on traditional channels is key to user adoption. Including these "softer" benefits and others like brand extension and greater customer insights in your analysis can also provide a more complete picture, and help establish both the short-term and longer term benefits of helping customers help themselves.




    Don't miss the other installments in this business case series
    * Remote call center agents: Building a business case by Donna Fluss
    * Outsourcing the call center: Building a business case by Richard Snow
    * SaaS and on-demand CRM: Building a business case by Dan Merriman
    * Customer satisfaction surveys: Building a business case by Richard Snow


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