Vintage photo of a Piggly Wiggly store parking lot, circa 1961, where the customer self-service concept was born.

In the previous posts in this series, we examined the many benefits that self-service scheduling brings to you as a business and to your customers. We also covered the risks of not implementing self-service solutions into your business processes.

In Part 5, we look into the history of self-service, how it’s currently being used, and what we can look for in the future. And most importantly, we’ll discuss how you can make sure your business benefits from the self-service movement.

Self-service has become so pervasive that you probably engage with it more often than you realize. In any given week, think about how often you might:

  • Hit the ATM to get cash or make a deposit
  • Send a package using the self-service kiosk at the Post Office
  • Use the self-checkout lane at the grocery store
  • Fill up your gas tank and air up your tires on the way to or from work.

If you ever shop or pay bills online, that’s self-service. When you can’t figure out how to complete an action in a particular software and you look for directions online, you’re self-serving. And when you’re not feeling well, you can look up your symptoms on a site like WebMD, and come up with a self-diagnosis (though most doctors will tell you that’s not always the best idea).

On the surface, it may appear that companies who offer self-service solutions are reducing the amount of customer service they provide. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. According to Zendesk, companies offering self-service solutions are enjoying higher customer satisfaction ratings.1

The simple reason: People want what they want, when they want it.

Call your dentist’s office to schedule an appointment, and whoever answers the phone sets the pace.

You have no control over:

  • how long it will take that person to answer your call,
  • how long you’ll sit on hold until they can help you,
  • or how painfully slow they will make the process of finding an available date and time for you to come in.

Contrast that with going to the dentist’s website, clicking a few buttons, and being done with the whole thing. You are in total control. And you got it done a lot faster. (I even wrote about this option in fewer words than it took me to explain the first!)

Self-service, back in the day

Self-service has pretty much been around since the beginning of time. Actually, back when the world was sparsely inhabited, I’m going to bet that doing things yourself was the only way things got done.

But, if you want to get technical, it was less than 100 years ago that self-service was introduced to America. In 1917, the U.S. Patent Office granted a patent for a “self-service store.” Grocery stores that licensed this business method could allow their customers collect their items themselves and present them to a cashier. Before then, customers would have to give their shopping list to a store clerk, who would gather the items from store shelves, wrap them up, and collect payment. (Fun fact: the first stores using this self-service method operated under the name “Piggly Wiggly.”)

Now, self-service is becoming the standard way of doing business. Forrester reports that web self-service usage increased from 67% in 2012 to 76% in 2014, surpassing phone support.2 And we can only expect that number to grow.

Photo of a woman in an airport using a mobile device to access an online self-service solution.

 

Where do we go from here?

Make no mistake: Self-service isn’t going anywhere. In fact, Gartner estimates that by 2020, the customer will manage 85% of their relationship with an enterprise without interacting with a human.3

Currently, self-service is primarily offered at a company’s website or their brick-and-mortar location. But the trend is shifting toward social media as a primary channel.

For example, Twitter users are able to use hashtags to handle many customer service issues, such as getting information on service downtime, or the latest release of a product.

“How-To” support is increasingly popular with today’s consumers. A robust knowledge base, complete with step-by-step instructions, videos, and tutorials, allows customers to educate themselves about your product or service without having to talk to a live agent. They are able obtain instructional information without the fuss of waiting on hold for tech support or playing email tag.

To be successful, your self-service solution has to have cross-channel availability. Some people prefer cloud software. Some want to use mobile apps, while others prefer chat. And most want to have their choice at any time. So be wise — invest in multiple channels.

The Numbers Game

Companies incorporate self-service options for one very obvious reason: they can’t afford not to. In study after study, the data shows that customer self-service options save money, improve efficiency, and convert prospects into customers.

Accenture estimates that by adding self-service, a typical utility will realize $1–3 million in annual savings.4

Consumer Demand

Forrester reports that customers expect personalized, proactive, and even preemptive service.5 While those demands may seem counterintuitive to self-service or automation, there’s no better or more cost-effective way to provide this level of customer service.

As labor costs rise, limited staffing will almost ensure that some facet of the customer experience will suffer without automation. Self-service options, particularly web service, ensure that immediate help is always available to your customers. Automation makes it easy to anticipate the customer’s needs and reach out to address them.

The results speak for themselves

Implementing self-service improves the bottom line, saves time for employees and customers, and enhances operational efficiency.

The message is clear. Self-service isn’t just the wave of the future. It’s already here.

In the next post, we’ll wrap up our self-service series with practical advice on implementing self-service options in your business, including how to choose the right technology. And we’ll show you how to make sure your company’s self-service experience creates loyal customers who sing your praises to the masses.

Catch up on previous posts in our blog series:

Part 1: Trends in Self-service
Part 2: The Benefits of Self-service Technology
Part 3: The Psychology of Self-service
Part 4: Why Self-service Technology Is the New Business Differentiator

Or, continue on to Part 6, “Ready to Launch a Self-service Solution? Read This First!”

1Brittany Davis, “Customer Satisfaction Increases with Customer Self-Service.” 1to1 Media, 2013.
2 “North American Consumer Technographics® Customer Life-Cycle Survey 1, 2014.” Forrester Research, Inc., March 2014.
3Yoav Vilner, “Here’s How Customer Service Is Going to Explode in 2015.” Inc., January 15, 2015.
4“Achieving High Performance with Accenture Utilities Business Process Outsourcing Services.” Accenture, 2011.
5Kate Leggett, “Trends 2015: The Future of Customer Service.” Forrester Research, Inc., December 16, 2014.

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About Kendall E. Matthews

Vice President of Global Marketing and user of "The Force." I've been a growth hacker since 1995, producing like a ZILLION inquiry leads (ok . . . a couple hundred thousand). Also good at taking 2 pm naps.

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