• Self-service or live agent customer care? How to decide?

    August 27, 2014

    By Philippe Ougrinov

    agent customer care

    Few weeks ago I was asked by mycustomer.com to give my opinion on the topic how to decide which customer interactions should be self-service and which still require agent input? Even though at TELUS International Europe we don’t offer self-service solutions we try to keep up with the latest in customer care. You can read the full articles part 1 and part 2 on mycustomer.com.

    Why self-service?

    First, let’s take a step back. The key driver for the implementation of self-service in contact centers was cost efficiency or in other words deflecting customer calls away from more expensive live agents and eliminating repetitive and redundant calls from the live-agent queue. The idea is not bad at all because who doesn’t want to cut costs, right?

    Still, when it comes to customer service quality is more important than cost. We at TELUS International believe that customer service is an extension of the brand and in the time of decreasing customer loyalty and increasing customer sophistication brands need to seek ways to reach out, build and solidify customer relationships.

    Not so long ago the idea of interacting with an organization without speaking to a human being was strange. Now the concept of online self-service has become so deeply ingrained in the way companies operate, that, according to Forrester, 67% of consumers use web self-service knowledge to find answers to their questions and 45% of consumers will abandon their online purchase if they cannot find a quick answer to their questions.

    Which service is appropriate for each interaction?

    There are three questions to ask when deciding whether a customer interaction should be handled by self-service or an agent.

    – How complex is this interaction?

    Self-service is well suited to convey simple information such as balances, or to answer simple questions such as the cost of data roaming in a given country. Many customers would see it as a major benefit to be able to access this information online, and would find it an irritation to have to find the organization’s phone number, dial it, wait for an agent to be available, then ask the question, and note down the answer. If it involves a series of questions, as opposed to just a single question, or if the question itself and the answers it provokes can be complex then you almost certainly want an agent to be involved in the interaction.

    – Can you add value to the relationship with the interaction?

    If there is potential to take a query and use it to deepen a relationship or offer a new service or product then self-service is not the best route. Very few companies are selling merely a service or a product; most are selling an emotion. Divert a customer away from a human interaction and the opportunity to deepen that emotional attachment is lost.

    – What do customers really want?

    It is essential to consider which solution will give customers what they want. If your customers are predominantly Generation Y then they may be more willing to accept a self-service solution, but older consumers are likely to expect to speak a person and may feel alienated by the introduction of self-service.

    There are many other factors besides age to consider. So how can you be sure that you are giving your customers what they want? For many organizations the solution is to run a simple survey asking the question.  If nothing else, customers will be pleased that you took the trouble to consult them.

    Self-service can’t and shouldn’t be labeled as a “bad thing” in the customer service industry. However, to make it as effective as live customer service agent it would require a good amount of intelligence, in its design and in its operation. Self-service channels can’t do everything for the customer, we can’t agree more on that. Companies should be cautious that when poorly designed self-service can even have a detrimental effect on the customer-company relationship.

    philippe ougrinov

     Philippe Ougrinov is VP, Sales, Marketing & Solutions at TELUS International Europe


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