Sheila McGee-Smith
Sheila McGee-Smith, who founded McGee-Smith Analytics in 2001, is a leading communications industry analyst and strategic consultant focused on the...
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Sheila McGee-Smith | April 13, 2015 |


Re-Examining Self-Service

Re-Examining Self-Service A pair of studies highlight the need for both companies and solution providers to revisit the breadth and quality of the self-service options they offer.

A pair of studies highlight the need for both companies and solution providers to revisit the breadth and quality of the self-service options they offer.

For several years I used a slide in presentations that showed that 1990's call centers worked at perfecting the routing of customer care calls to the right agent. In the 2000s, a lot of attention was paid to moving interactions to interactive voice response systems (IVR) as that would mean no expensive agent resource was required. As it turned out, customers were typically just as happy to work with a computer for simple requests, e.g., did my payment post? The decade we are half-way through was to bring multichannel interactions seamlessly into the now contact center. Along the way, however, that relatively straight-forward plan was side-tracked by the explosion of e-commerce and smartphones and by the generation raised in the midst of the blast, Millennials.

Two prominent providers of contact center solutions, Aspect Software and inContact, undertook research in early 2015 with consumers to shed light on what they are looking for in terms of customer care in light of available technology. They both specifically sought to understand what Millennials (those born between 1977 and 1995) want. Why? Because, as described in a Forbes article in December 2014, Millennial customers--80 million in the U.S. alone‚Äďare about to become the most important customers. They already represent the largest generation in the workforce.

At first blush, the two studies may seem to have come to different conclusions on the topic of self-service based on the press releases each issued. Aspect Software, whose research was done in conjunction with The Center for Generational Kinetics, titled their release Serve Thy Self: New Study Reveals Millennials' Desire for Self Service, Digital Interaction to Change Customer Service Forever. One of their key findings reported was: "Self-service customer service that leads to resolution can actually increase a customer's positive view of a company's overall customer service. In fact, over 65% of all Americans say that they feel good about themselves and the company when they can solve a problem without talking to customer service." For Millennials, the number is slightly higher at 69%.

inContact and Harris Interactive's press release proclaimed Self-Service Isn't Enough for Demanding Shoppers-Contact Center Agents are Critical Lynchpin in the Customer Journey. The graphic highlights that even when making online purchases, 43% of US adults will typically interact with a company representative. More significantly, 81% prefer to chat or talk on the phone with a live agent when they are dissatisfied.

So one study says customers want to complete interactions with self-service and the other says that live agents are important both when making online purchases and when issues arise. Clearly both are right, and highlight two sides of the same issue. Self-service options are often preferred but live agents continue to be required in a sizable portion of online activities, especially when a customer has problems.

The studies highlight the need for both companies and solution providers to revisit the breadth and quality of the self-service options they offer. The proportion of companies tying their company's mobile applications seamlessly to live contact center agent support is shockingly low. It is that connection that is important to providing support when self-service fails, for customers of all generations.

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