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Using Self-service is the choice of the caller:

Self-service can be real valuable to the caller: In many instances, using self-service is more convenient for the caller than having to talk to a human.  The availability of telephone self-service on a 24x7 basis means that the caller  is are able to use it when it is convenient for the caller. Use is not restricted to the hours when customer service representatives (CSRs) are available.   Using self-service can be considerably quicker than having to wait in a queue for a CSR to become available.  If the caller knows exactly what they want, self-service can be a fast and effective tool.

More private than talking to a human: Telephone self-service is more private than talking to a CSR.  Providing account information (such as a credit card number) to an automated system offers less risk than providing this information to a CSR.  Sharing information such as medical information or late bill payment with a CSR is often something that a caller may wish to avoid.  

It saves the enterprise money: Aside from providing valuable services to their customers (callers), self-service can save the enterprise a good deal of money.  This, however, is only true if the quality of the self-service that is provided is high. 

Providing self-service makes good sense since it is an essential service that is valuable to the callers (customers) and also saves the enterprise money.  If done properly it is a win-win situation.

However, the decision as to when to use self-service vs. a human operator should be made by the consumer. For example, the self-service system:

Does not know if the consumer is...

  1. ...elderly and intimidated by interacting with a cold piece of steel vs. making actual human contact with an operator who can empathize.

  2. ...a stroke victim and who has a speech impediment which makes it difficult to be understood by a computer.

  3. ...hard of hearing and who can not understand the flat intonations of a computer.

  4. ...calling from a bad cell phone connection or a noisy environment.

  5. ...already aware of the menu system and already knows that the computer can not handle his/her type of request.

Some of the above situations are not only frustrating and rob the consumer of valuable time, they also steal dignity away from that consumer.

For routine tasks, such as checking an account balance, people are quite willing to use self-service as it is seen as faster and more convenient. But complicated problems, such as resolving a billing problem, will always require a human agent. Putting barriers between the caller and the agent only makes the situation that is trying to be resolved more frustrating.

Making it difficult to reach a human does not save money:  The only reason that enterprises make it difficult for a caller to reach a customer service representative (CSR) is that they believe that this is saving them money.  It turns out they are completely wrong on this.  Attempting to force a caller to use self-service actually ends up costing the call center more money.  Most callers know before they pick up the phone if they will need talk to a human or can use self-service.   Attempting to force these callers, that know that they need to talk to a human, to use self-service is a waste of time, since they will keep insisting until they finally are successful in reaching a human.  The only thing that putting barriers between the caller and the CSR accomplishes is to irritate and frustrate the caller and make the cost of providing service to these callers much higher.  The cost saving obtained from the few number of callers that could be served by self-service and are attempting to use a CSR, is totally swamped by attempting to force people to use self-service when it is not appropriate for what they are trying to do. 

Attempting to force callers to use self-service will cost the call center more money:  This seems counter-intuitive but a number of studies have shown that this is true.  What is causing the cost to actually increase if the call center makes it difficult to reach a CSR?

  1. Callers hang-up and keep calling back: Some of the callers that know that they need to talk to a CSR will hang up and keep calling back until they finally get to a CSR.  When they finally do talk with a CSR the conversation with the CSR is now longer since the caller is upset and feels the need to vent to the CSR. 

  2. Callers insist on talking to a CSR:  Some of callers will patiently attempt to argue with the self-service and figure out how to reach a CSR.  In some instances they will be able to use the gethuman database information.  In other instances, they will need to experiment until they finally find a way to outwit the self-service and bypass it.  When they finally do talk with a CSR the conversation with the CSR is now longer since the caller is upset and feels the need to vent to the CSR.

  3. Callers will quit completely:  Some of the callers that know that they need to talk to a CSR will hang up and never return.   They will simply seek out an alternate supplier that they feel values their patronage more. These customers and the revenue that would have been obtained from them, if they were satisfied customers, is lost by the enterprise.  In addition the enterprise will now need to incur the cost of obtaining a new customer to replace the lost customer.

  4. Enterprise will need to spend more to acquire replacement customer:  The cost of obtaining a new customer will be significantly higher for an enterprise that makes it difficult for a caller to reach a CSR.

  5. Enterprise advertising expense will need to be significantly higher: The basic message that the enterprise is communicating to the caller is: I dont want to talk to you, even though you are asking to talk to me.  This is ironic when you consider that enterprises spend huge sums of money attempting to talk to consumers.  This is called advertising.  A significant reduction in the amount that enterprises spend on advertising each year could be accomplished by simply talking to callers when they request it.

  6. The Enterprise will need to spend more to hire and train new CSRs: Working with people that are unhappy and often venting at you is not a pleasant working environment.  This, coupled with the often repetitive and boring work, causes a relatively high CSR churn rate.  Working with more satisfied callers will reduce the churn rate of the call center.  

What should the Enterprise do to increase the utilization of self-service?

Educate the consumers about the benefits of self-service:  The few customers that will decide to use self-service when you make it difficult to reach a CSR, is the only aspect of making it difficult to get to a CSR that yields a positive cost saving.   This typically occurs because the caller is not aware that the self-service can handle the request that he/she is making.  An investment in educating the customer re the benefits of using self-service when it is appropriate is typically a cost-effective thing to do.

A free gethuman ROI Calculator is available that shows the ROI improvement when a call center makes it easier for a caller to reach a CSR.  (please enter your name in the text of the email message when clicking on the link).

Telephone self-service is able to provide real value to consumers. It makes access to information available 24/7. It is available without waiting in line.  Consumers can purchase things. They can check availability. They can check the status of an order. They can obtain directions. In addition to making customers happy, telephone self-service is also able to save money for the enterprise that is providing it.

 

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