Rethinking self-service to improve the customer experience

The “self-service” concept is nothing new. In fact, consumer-world self-service is older than many of us, whether you want to look to the introduction of self-service supermarkets circa 1930 or, from a technology self-service perspective, automated teller machines (ATMs) in 1967.

With the introduction of self-service, companies have always talked themselves through the aims of achieving both cost savings and customer experience improvements. This kind of implementation was the proverbial win-win for both service providers and customers.

In the world of corporate IT, however, many companies sadly still struggle with low employee-adoption levels for their self-service projects. This lack of uptake leads to the inability to realise the anticipated benefits – after all, if self-service isn’t being used then how can it deliver the projected return on investment?

So what is going wrong with corporate IT self-service?

With hindsight it’s easy to see how the early adopters looked at the technology they were able to bring in and followed the maxim of Field of Dreams – “build it and they will come.” However, this initial approach for implementing self-service hasn’t worked for the wider end-user populations within enterprises. Today, many IT departments are now revisiting self-service with an emphasis on consumer-like usability and improved service delivery.

Rethinking self-service makes sense given the advancement of consumer-world online shopping, support and service capabilities that have been developed and honed over time. What the B2C e-commerce companies have proven is that human interactions can be replaced by cheaper and better technology interactions if approached from a human-need perspective rather than a technology-capability approach. By concentrating on user experience first, it’s possible to deliver those much-needed cost savings as a by-product of better customer experience.

Isaac Newton is said to have written, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” His point is very true for self-service success. For teams looking at their existing self-service implementations, or at bringing new self-service capabilities into being, it’s important to learn from others. No new IT self-service initiative should be making the same mistakes as those that have come before.

The self-service benefits are still there to be reaped – cost savings, reducing service desk workloads, better prioritisation and quicker resolution of issues and requests, and keeping up with consumer-world capabilities and the resulting employee expectations. However, these can only be delivered if the self-service capability is actually used. You don’t need to be an organisational change expert to realise that the self-service capability needs to deliver benefits for end users as much as the IT organisation in order to be a success.

5 tips for self-service success

  • View and deliver self-service as a capability, not a technology. While the corporate IT organisation might see self-service as a mix of self-service applications, compute, storage, and networking, those who use it want the service itself. Through this service they can access help, information, or more in-depth support, regardless of the device they are using or where they are requesting help from.
  • Ensure that any self-help knowledge base is sufficiently and correctly populated. If the right knowledge articles can’t be found, understood, and then used for self-help then there might as well be no knowledge articles. It’s therefore important to keep updating this knowledge base so that end users can help themselves.
  • Recognise the difference between a great UI and a great UX. A big part of self-service success is user experience (UX). If end users find self-service capabilities intuitive and easy to use then they will most likely use them again. UX builds on a pleasant UI to ensure that every user touch point is optimised for the best possible experience. This is equally applicable to mobile apps as it is to online self-service portals.
  • Exploit existing corporate automation capabilities. Many of the big-ticket financial benefits from self-service are tied into the use of workflow and automation. Thus self-service initiatives should piggyback on any wider corporate IT automation strategy, seeking out existing technologies and IT skills that could be reapplied to self-service scenarios.
  • Offer a choice of access and communication channels. Self-service isn’t going to be the best solution for end users all of the time. Firstly, some IT issues require a response that’s more immediate than end users can receive from self-service. Secondly, individuals have personal preferences for support access and communication channels. Thirdly, self-service might not be suitable for some business roles.

Self-service success is ultimately about customer experience. A good or great experience will help the project be successful, while a poor experience will alienate end users and prevent their return, thus making any projected self-service ROI a pipedream.

It is therefore worth rethinking your approach to self-service. Aiming for cost savings will most likely fail to deliver an acceptable customer experience and thus diminish the available ROI, but aiming for a better customer experience stands you in good stead to deliver on this goal as well as achieving significant cost savings.

Simon Johnson, Director of Operations EMEA at Freshdesk

Image source: Shutterstock/michaeljung