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Self-service? Or self-destruct? Why customers dodge your self-service channels

Self-service should be a win-win. For customers, it provides faster access to the information they need or the actions they want to take. For organizations, it reduces service costs and improves service quality.  

But, despite the variety of self-service options available to customers at any given moment, these channels aren't always creating happier or more self-sufficient customers. 

Where’s self-service going wrong?

More channels, more churn 

Somewhere along the way, companies started looking at self-service as a box-checking activity. 


But more channels don’t add up to more customer satisfaction. In fact, the more channels a company operates, the more contacts customers make to the service center.1 In other words, by attempting to simplify the journey, many organizations are actually complicating it. 

While organizations are busy checking the boxes, customers are stumbling over them. Here are three of the biggest roadblocks.

1. Disconnected channels 

When channels are deployed individually without thinking about the holistic experience they deliver, the customer journey suffers. Nothing is more frustrating than having to relay the same details over and over again as you move from an online form to a chatbot to a customer service representative in the course of a single-self-service journey. 

Data needs to flow across systems and channels so that the customer journey captures the whole picture of their unique needs and context at every step, and uses it to customize the interaction at every touchpoint. 

2. Linear logic

When channels are structured linearly instead of mapping out all the different decision points, they force everyone to follow the same steps, regardless of their unique circumstances. For example, when new and existing customers are required to complete the same digital form, customers must waste time filling out information the organization already has on file. When self-service channels are designed dynamically, they can move people forward using decision trees that use the inputs to customize the journey and minimize the level of effort required to progress.  

An excellent example of this type of design is Turbotax, which dynamically tailors tax forms based on the person's unique financial and demographic details. 

3. Incomplete journeys

It's deeply frustrating when self-service journeys end before the customer can achieve resolution. Customers are no longer satisfied with options to update an address or check a bank balance independently. They expect to be able to complete more complex tasks, such as changing the beneficiary on an account or transferring funds into or out of a retirement fund, without human intervention. By extending self-service options, companies can differentiate in a competitive market while simultaneously reducing support and service costs. 

Measure effort, not channels 

How do we rehabilitate the self-service experience and reconnect with customers? By changing the mindset we bring to our channel-building initiatives. 

We need to stop measuring success based on the number of self-service channels we offer and start measuring success based on the levels of effort our self-service channels save our customers.   

After all, delivering low-effort experiences is the strongest driver of customer loyalty2. By creating streamlined, contextualized self-service experiences, we can measurably increase our brand value and customer lifetime value while reducing service costs.  

Here are four best practices that can help organizations create self-service channels that minimize the effort customers need to exert before achieving resolution on their own:

Map the logic and decision points

A dynamic, cross-channel flow requires the application of rules-based journey that is mapped out for each channel and for the system as a whole. This isn't a back-of-the-napkin activity. It requires specialized software to map the kind of rules- and logic-based flow that can capture the multiple starting points, pathways, and decision trees that reflect a truly effortless self-service journey. 

Build exit ramps 

Nothing frustrates customers more than being unable to get help after they have exhausted their self-service options. And their next step is to take that frustration to social media where they share it with the world at large.  

Opportunities to exit the self-service journey and interact with a human are crucial. At a minimum, make phone numbers and live chat options easy to find. Even better, create responsive journeys that trigger an offer to connect the customer to a human being after they have spent a certain amount of time seeking a resolution unsuccessfully. 

"We assumed everyone wanted to answer their own questions and that we only needed to provide them with the tools to do so. What we didn’t realize is the extent to which some customers prefer a human involved. By customizing our self-service offerings to each customer’s preferences, we’ve been able to provide a better experience that meets their specific needs." 

Matthew Ramirez, CEO, Rephrasely 

Tackle high-effort journeys 

Reducing levels of effort is the key to customer satisfaction and loyalty, yet some of our most complex processes—those that are most tedious and time-consuming for customers and employees—aren’t being supported with self-service options. Not incidentally, these are the hardest processes for IT to unravel and digitize.  

But empowering frontline employees to do it can suddenly make digitizing and automating these processes achievable. Business teams understand these processes inside and out, they interact with customers on a daily basis, and they know what customers want and where their needs are not being met.

The right rules-based solutions can enable non-technical staff to develop secure, compliant self-service options without IT. The result is not only a more complete and intuitive experience for customers, but a reduced burden on IT, who can then focus on larger projects that require a niche skill set.  

Collect feedback frequently 

Self-service is a fast-moving discipline. Customer needs and preferences can be hard to predict and they evolve rapidly, as do organizational processes. Even the channels themselves can fall in and out of favor with customers.  

Companies need to collect data and feedback that enables them to measure the success of each channel and the self-service experience as a whole. Simple feedback mechanisms, such as surveys and ratings, should be used to gather customer insights.  

"It's so important to get feedback from the people who will use the system daily to ensure that the process is efficient and user-friendly. It's essential to have a dedicated team to manage and monitor the self-service process once it's up and running to help troubleshoot any issues that may arise."  

Todd Jensen, Head of Marketing, Nursa 

Self-service as differentiator 

Self-service channels aren't just a way to relieve the pressure on your employees. Enhancing your self-service channels and empowering your customers differentiates your company from the competition and boosts customer conversions, loyalty, and retention. 

But it's not a numbers game: More channels don't equal more success. Instead, focus on delivering low-effort experiences with cohesive, cross-channel journeys that enable customers to complete complex tasks on their own.

Struggling to meet customers’ digital demands? It’s time to flip the script 

Sources and credits

1Does your digital customer service strategy deliver?, Gartner, 2021.  

2What’s Your Customer Effort Score?, Gartner, November 2019