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Self service and the customer experience

This section of the Customer Self Service Learning Guide provides tips on putting customer self-service technology into practice.

Customers' experiences with a company and their loyalty are affected by the self-service system a company chooses. Tech-savvy consumers expect self service that will solve their problems easily. Businesses must be careful to extend a user-friendly experience to a customer through all channels, including online self service.

Tech-savvy consumers driving self-service efforts

There are two types of online customer service initiatives: efficiency-driven and customer-driven. The efficiency-driven initiatives are based on internal goals to save money and they can often damage the customer experience and loyalty. The customer-driven initiatives respond to certain market segments that prefer convenience and lack of human interruptions in their customer experience. In the case of customer-driven initiatives, customer loyalty can be increased as long as the Web experience is pleasant and customizable. The ROI in such an initiative is based on the ability to create repeat business by tailoring the customer experience. This means that each time the customer returns to the self-service site, the site remembers his or her preferences and purchasing history. However, there is value to the human touch that comes with a call center interaction and the ability to transmit passion and commitment between employees and customers. These abilities should not be underestimated.

Learn more in this expert response on online customer service driving customer loyalty.

At Oracle OpenWorld in 2006, presenters agreed that it's a good time to be in service and support. With reducing costs and improving efficiencies in the contact center now taking a back seat to priorities like improving customer loyalty, new technology and challenges are emerging. Key among these is the arrival of social networks, said Michael Maoz, research vice president at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. Organizations need to rethink their services processes from a customer perspective, Maoz said. A company perspective typically progresses from targeting customers, to inquiring, acquiring, to welcoming and eventually developing and managing them. Customers, on the other hand, see their relationships with companies evolving from awareness, to searching to selecting, ordering, paying and setup, to eventually using support and upgrading, Maoz said. Customers expect a seamless experience, one that reaches across channels, whether they contact a company first via the Web or online, they want to be able to continue that process in the other channel.

Read more on social networks forcing customer service change.

Customer self service and the call center

Customers are chronically frustrated by poor self-service systems and can't understand why companies don't even bother trying to "do it right." Given the potential benefits of well-designed and implemented self-service applications, it is counterproductive to offer self service to users without investing the effort and resources necessary to deliver a satisfying application. The biggest problem with subpar and annoying self-service applications is that no one took the time to ask customers what features and functionality they wanted. Enterprises continue to make the classic mistake of offering capabilities that the company wants to see automated. Customers avoid self-service environments that are challenging to use and lack timely and effective user feedback. Sophisticated Web self-service users do not have a lot of patience. Users want to get in quickly, find the information they need, possibly do a transaction, and get out. If the system fails at any point during this process, most users who are not captive will simply find a better site.

Find out more in this column: Self-service applications save money

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