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Paul Hudson
Paul Hudson CEO of Intersperience
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Why self-service isn’t customer service

I’ve been meaning to write this blog for some time, ever since we posted our article ‘The Hidden Cost of Self-Service’ in our eJournal in February 2010. I’m sure there were many people that agreed with its sentiment and also many who didn’t; so I wanted to explain some more about the research that underpins that article.

Self-service offers many benefits to the customer – convenience, speed and control – and also great cost-saving benefits to organizations. In many ways, self-service is a ‘win-win’. Customers like to use self-service and it is true we are all more satisfied with a solution that helps us beat queues and crowds and allows us to transact from the comfort of our own homes.

However, a great mistake that I hear time and again from organizations and continuously repeated at conferences is how the words ‘self-service’ are inter-changed at will with ‘customer service’. Let me be clear; self-service is not the same thing as customer service. They are two terms with very different meanings.

We asked customers what words they associated with ‘self-service’ and also which they associated with ‘customer service’. The answers were very very different; customers do not perceive self service as being the same thing as customer service.

Customer perception is that self-service is associated with speed, convenience, simplicity……and technology – but not associated with offering support, being caring, or personalised. However, the words ‘customer service’ is associated with care, support, personalised, but less associated with being fast and convenient.

Companies need to ‘tune into’ the fact that these are two very different things – almost two channels, if you like. They therefore do not necessarily substitute. Both are needed. Self service does not replace customer service, it adds to it, complements it. Customer service – in the sense that it offers ‘support’ is still needed.

And here is the rub – when we buy a product or a service, we ‘implicitly’ expect that company to support us when we need – so if something goes wrong, we will still expect someone or something to care for us and support us. These expectations haven’t gone away and as our research shows, self service is not seen as meeting these needs.

Customers very much need both and any company that believes self-service is the same thing as customer service is mistaken. At the end of the day, customers cannot ‘support’ themselves in times of need. Yes, they can ‘serve’ themselves – but ‘serve’ and ‘support’ are not the same thing.

See also: ‘The Hidden Cost of Self-Service

2 Comments for "Why self-service isn’t customer service"

Justin

Paul I agree somewhat with this. But as you point out self service is apart of your customer service strategy. Some customers want to help themselves and some will feel embarrassed to ask. Forums, QnA sites and knowledge base articles are one channel of your multichannel support.

Paul Hudson

Justin,
Thanks for your comment. Indeed you are right all these things form part of an overall multi-channel strategy. An important point of clarification is that when we measured the perception of 'self service' customers were not referring to Forums, Q&A sites or knowledge bases as self-service; these were seen as being somewhere between self-service and customer service. I agree these definitely have a role in providing a level of support. Indeed I think 'community' style support has a big future.

The point is that customers do not see self-service as providing them the ‘support’ they expect to receive. In essence, their perception is that they cannot ‘support’ themselves. And that is where customer service comes in. Indeed, in the future I believe the forum, Q&A type things will increasingly fall into the bracket of customer service, not self-service.
Paul

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