Can Customer Self-Service Work? It Already Does

Thought Leadership for
IT Service Management Professionals

Can Customer Self-Service Work? It Already Does

Posted by Don Casson

Thu, Aug 02, 2018

Truly modern customer self-service experiences are so evolved that customers rarely call or email customer support anymore

It used to be that customer service at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) was so bad that comedians joked about it! But now, the DMV where I live in Virginia is a leading example of beautiful customer self-service tied to automation.

How did the DMV achieve this?

In a Newtonian moment, the apple hit me on the head four years ago. I was already enjoying the beautiful, self service experiences as a customer of Amazon, Apple and Google. It struck me – would it be possible for our customers to deliver the same kind of experience for their customers? If the DMV did it, why couldn’t we? So, we challenged our core thinking around customer service management at Evergreen, and here’s what we found out: it’s better to start by looking at service from the “customer in” rather than “Customer Support out.”

This is our Customer-Centric Service approach. In some ways it is embarrassingly obvious that the “customer in” approach is correct. Starting here is where customer service organizations can improve: always begin with the customer first and then see how the ways things are done change for the better.

Customers like GOOD web-based service

Today, most customers still interact with customer service via the phone or e mail. These are the traditional means. Self-service FIRST adoption is a term we use to talk about making portal based, self-service the preferred means of customer interaction, over phone or e mail. Otherwise, customers will generally default to their current habits, which is use of phone or email to get service.

Why is this? Are customers so old school that they refuse to use web based self service?

Not at all. Over 80% of them use Amazon regularly. What customers want is GOOD web-based self-service. They will default to phone or e mail, rather than deal with BAD web-based self-service.  So ultimately, to achieve this we must reach a tipping point, where we make it both easy enough AND bring enough value to flip the paradigm.

Do we want to call customer service?

Do we want to talk to a robot?

Do we want to talk to a really smart robot?

91% of customers would use a portal to answer their questions. That is, if the information is good.

A live person or machine?

Can Self-Service Work

Figure 1: Self-Service Paths

A chat bot is voice or chat driven, programmed knowledge in a branching tree manner. Chat bots are not intelligent; they don’t think. They are generally put in place to help customer service, not the customers. In other words, chat bots make the lives of customer support agents easier, but because they are neither intelligent or personable, they can sometimes frustrate customers.

Now, artificial intelligence (AI) is different and new. AI does think, and it learns over time. While it’s still early, AI promises to be a lot better than chat bots. Today, AI is applied in interactive voice and chat use.

But these applications are mostly single threaded – only using verbal / textual communication.

Web-based self-service enables customers to use their ears, eyes and brain, to see and relate. It allows customers to be fully immersed in the experience. Customers become interactive participants in seeking their own solutions. Done properly, web-based self-service provides a broad view, enables exploration and enables users to go fast – at the speed of thought.

How long would it take a chat bot to go through the Amazon help menu at the bottom of the screen?

How about omni-channel customer support?

We hear a lot about omnichannel customer support. Engage the customer in whatever manner they choose equally, with a preponderance of that being voice / chat and e mail. This is old school “call center” thinking, in place for the past 20+ years. It is inefficient, inconsistent, and scales up and down poorly. We don’t believe this is how customers want to interact with customer support.

At Evergreen, our preference is for an omni-channel, self-service first experience. Driven by an embracing, personal customer self-service experience, things like chatbots, AI and even human customer support representatives can become options and enablers to the self service first customer experience.

Who is the "mac daddy" of the customer-centric, self-service experience?

This company is BIG! It has a $700 billion market value. It passed the world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart, in 2015. This company is 3x as valuable as Walmart, even though Walmart has 2.5x more revenue.

Of course, we’re talking about Amazon.

Amazon ranks highest in retail customer satisfaction too, at 86 – pretty good company with Nordstrom and Costco rounding out the top 3, huh?

56% of people research products on Amazon – much more than on Google – which shows that people trust them.

You may not know this, but Amazon took a big gamble on Prime, offering free two-day shipping for $99 a year, because they believed customers hated paying shipping costs – even more than it was worth but they didn’t know by how much. They needed customers to buy more to make it pay. They never imagined the result would be 4x the volume of purchases!

On so many levels, Amazon is a great example of rethinking your business from the customer’s perspective. Sometimes, what is most important to your customers may not even be that hard to accomplish.

Today, there are 80 million Amazon PRIME customers – 64% of American Households pay $99 per year! But here is what is most interesting: they are the highest rated retail customer experience on earth, and you can’t talk to them! In fact, it is very hard to find an Amazon customer service phone number.

So, can self service work?

That may have been a legitimate question ten years ago, but not today. Self-service already works – in EVERY modern customer experience company.

Modern customer experience companies are built on the combination of beautiful and total self service plus automation. It makes them fast, accurate, consistent, scalable, high quality and very efficient. And companies offering good web-based self-service achieve the highest customer satisfaction ratings in their industries.

How is this possible?

Because they are focused on building beautiful, complete customer self-service experiences from the beginning. By design, these modern customer experience companies are so highly evolved, they are virtually self service only.

Self-Service Portal Demo


About the AuthorDon Casson is CEO of Evergreen Systems, an IT consulting firm helping medium to enterprise public and private sector organizations to dramatically transform their IT operations. Don is a frequent writer, blogger and presenter, and has delivered over 60 webinars on topics in Service Management, including IT and shared services. 

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Topics: Service Now, ServiceNow, Service Catalog Consultant, IT Service Catalog, ITSM, IT Service Management, IT Self Service, ITSM Strategy, Employee Self-Service Portal, Customer-Centric IT, ServiceNow Solutions, ServiceNow Partner, ITSM Consultants, Customer-Centric ITSM, Service Portal, Service Catalog Planning, ServiceNow Admin, ServiceNow Support, ServiceNow Service Portal, ITSM Platforms, Don Casson, servicenow project, customer self-service


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