With self-service on the rise, the human factor should not be ignored.  

2 weeks ago, I went on a well-deserved (at least I think so) holiday. The itinerary was set: 10 days driving around Sicily in a rental car while stopping to see ancient structures and fantastic beaches with a belly full of wine and delicious pizza.

Before we left I booked a rental car. I used the self-service option to order and pick up the car. Before we boarded the plane, when I checked in, I once again used the self-service option to check in my bags, choose my seat and print my boarding pass (to avoid the pesky extra charges that Ryanair is so fond of). We did the same when booking our hotels and ordering tickets for activities. Whether we like it or not, services are increasingly devoid of human contact.

How about you? Do you prefer to wait in line to talk to a human being?

People usually only contact help centers as a last resort. But nonetheless, it’s an increasingly important one for companies. If people perceive a gap between their expectations and the actual experience, they turn to social media to express their disappointment. This could have an enormous influence on how other existing or potential clients view the company.

Self-service is all around us and integrated in most customer service departments. There are plenty of channels to figure out what you should or could do and find assistance without any human contact. This ranges from FAQs and chat to tutorials and demo’s. Indeed, data shows an overwhelming preference for self-service. A survey concluded that 81% of all customers across different industries want to fix the problem themselves before reaching out to a live company representative[1].

This is a positive evolution for the consumer. You can now solve your issue 24 hours a day and not be deterred by office hours. You might also think that this is a positive evolution for customer service departments as they are unburdened by trivial questions. This is true in part but also misleading. Company representatives now face the issue of increasingly difficult questions. Questions the user tried to solve on his own but couldn’t, combined with the frustration of the amount of time they’ve had to invest and the inconsistent information they found online on various websites and fora. Also, the shear fact that they must contact a helpdesk as they dread the ‘press 1’-monotone voice combined with endless elevator music.

The human touch in customer care will not be obsolete any time soon. Service reps need to be problem solvers instead of good listeners. The focus should be less on asking what the customers wants to do and more on telling them what to do. The aim being to customize the fastest and easiest solution and present it clearly, taking the customer’s personality and the context of the call into account.

Customers don’t just want a great customer-service experience; they want a product or service that works. The only way to get that is through incremental continuous improvement based on frontline feedback. Customer support in all forms shouldn’t be treated as a cost center but rather as a valuable source of product feedback. When a customer has exhausted all options, he or she wants clear guidance instead of excessive choice. They want solution and not an apology.

William De Vos
Product @ Parcify

[1] http://www.pewresearch.org/