Self Service Technologies: Paving the road to frictionless & effortless experience
"I went to a massage parlor, it was self service!" Rodney Dangerfield - American Comedian
Last week, I was doing my weekly shopping in the supermarket, and when it was time to checkout, I remember my girlfriend was going straight to the checkout counter line, which was very busy, and I instinctively told her "Let's go to the self checkout counters, they aren't that busy". That's when I realized how much I enjoy the effortless experience the supermarket self-checkout counters provide.
It is true, self-service makes my experience as a customer/consumer very easy and effortless, which is something I truly enjoy. And as I was thinking more about it, I realized that Self Service Technologies (SSTs) have been part of our journeys as customers for a very long time. Our society has evolved and we are now all expecting to be able to order items in our own time and place. We buy our sodas from vending machines, train tickets from tickets machines, some of us use self service laundromat to wash our clothes or even go for self check-in machines to avoid long queues at the airport check-in counters.
Self Service Technologies have been part of our journeys as customers for a very long time.
Self service technologies have always been part of our lives, and they have been evolving, as industries recognize the benefits for both customer loyalty as well as cost reduction when implementing self service technologies.
The evolution of Self Service Technologies
From retail, to travel, to hospitality, self service technologies are everywhere. But do you know that self service technologies exist for almost 200 years?! Yes, they do. Let me take you to a quick journey to the past to show you the evolution of self service technologies.
Vending machines, the seed of self service technologies
Let's start the journey in Roman Egypt, back in the 1st century, where the earliest reference to a vending machine was in the work of Hero of Alexandria, the Greek mathematician and engineer, who invented the 1st coin-operated vending machine to dispense holy water. 18 Centuries later, in 1883, Percival Everett introduced the 1st modern coin-operated vending machine, which was introduced in London, England, which dispensed postcards. His vending machine became very popular and was soon after installed at railway stations and post offices. Percival Everett's vending machines were able to offer customers notepaper, envelopes and postcards.
In 1888, Thomas Adams was the first person to build a vending machine that dispensed chewing gum. The gum, named Tutti-Frutti, was available around New York City subway stations. And in 1893, a German chocolate manufacturer called Stollwerck sold their chocolate via 15,000 vending machines. Besides chocolate, their other vending machines sold chewing gum, cigarettes, matches and soap products.
Nowadays, we have a wide range of vending machines which are able to dispense many different things, including snacks, fresh food, hot and cold beverages, electrical items and more. Vending machines are found all across the world in various commercial and non-commercial environments.
In 1947, Frank Urich decided to open the 1st modern self-serve gas station at the corner of Jilson and Atlantic in Los Angeles, California. With the slogan "Save 5 cents, serve yourself, why pay more?" Urich's station sold more than 500,000 gallons in its first month. Then came the forefather of the modern convenience store, John Roscoe, who changed the way people pay for gas & created the modern concept of self service as we know it today. On June 10, 1964, Roscoe began offering self-service gasoline at his Big Top convenience store in Westminster, Colorado, outside Denver, from a 2,400-square-foot building that sold grocery staples such as milk, bread and soda.
It was a radical idea at the time, when the vast majority of gas stations were full-service and convenience stores were unknown to many people. Now fuel is an integral part of many convenience stores around the world.
As I started this article, standing in long queues in the supermarket can be annoying, and the change that happened started with the automated teller machine, which was first invented in London in 1967. A few decades later, the self-service till was invented by David R Humble, inspired by standing in a long grocery checkout line in south Florida in 1984. The tills became popular in the 1990s.
And even bigger transformation in the retail self-checkout is happening; recently the Retail giant, Amazon, opened its first cashier-less store 'Amazon Go' to the public, which allows customers to walk in, pick up their items and leave without paying - or so it seems. In reality, the store uses cameras and pressure pad technology to track customer's movements in-store and deducts the cost when they leave via the Amazon Go app. A similar concept recently launched in China. 'BingoBox' asks customers to scan a QR code on entry then uses facial recognition linked to WeChat and Alipay at the point of sale.
Self services technologies are many, they include ATM machines, Self service desks at the airports, self parking, online ordering of food & goods, online booking of flights, hotels, transportation & more. As you can see, Self Service as a concept has been there for centuries & has been evolving ever since. And with all this happening around us, I believe more and more now that frictionless self service technologies support the efforts that we, the customer engagement and experience professionals, are working towards; to create an effortless experience and increase customer loyalty towards our brands.
"Frictionless self service technologies are integral to create an effortless experience."
Paving the road to effortless experience
As a Customer Engagement & Experience professional & leader, I always try to deploy technologies and strategies to enable frictionless & effortless experience in how fans, prospects & customers engage and interact with the engagement centers we deploy. As I always say, " be where your customers are and create remarkable experiences in every interaction". And I firmly believe that one of the ways to achieve the creation of remarkable experiences is through frictionless self service technologies.
"be where your customers are and create remarkable experiences in every interaction"
And if you notice in the developments in technologies these days, you will notice how technologies are aligning towards enabling self service functionalities. And in this part, I want to focus more on Self Service Technologies (SSTs) in the Customer Engagement & Contact Center world, and shed the light on how SSTs truly pave the road to creating remarkable & effortless experience.
Why adopt self service technology?
The reality is that customers want their questions answered & their problems solved quickly. Fast response and action is the most important attribute of Customer Engagement & Experience. And to avoid customer sharing their complaints with their community, whether online or offline, or even risk losing your customers, brands need to ensure fast response across all channels and touchpoints. And one of the most effective ways to do that is by enabling Customer Self Services.
I think the following reasons will sum-up why brands need to adopt self service technologies:
1. Customer are expecting it
According to a study, 70% of customers expect their brands' website to include a self service functionality. In other words, Self Service technologies (SSTs) are not "nice-to-have" anymore.
2. Empowering customers
In fact, 40% of customers prefer self service over human contact. Customers want to solve their own problems with a product or a service, they want to go to the website and find answers on their own.
3. Eliminate repetitive tasks
By providing customers with the ability to obtain their own answers or even use chatbots to support, a brand can eliminate repetitive tasks. Chatbots can guide customers in different scenarios ranging from login issues and payment problems to address changes, delivery dates, order status, booking instructions & many more of such tasks that can be easily automated. Chatbots can deliver 24/7 support, support to 80% of repetitive questions & reduce customer support costs by a third.
4. Increase employee satisfaction
Once a brand enables self services & automate repetitive activities, support agents won't be dealing with repetitive tasks anymore, and they will start focusing more on meaningful & value-adding tasks. This means that they feel like they're really helping people while also building on their own skills & knowledge through more meaningful work.
Another effect is that their workload gets reduced too because self-service technologies are reducing the number of tickets, complaints, interactions and phone calls to the Contact Center. This leaves your agents more in control of incoming queries and existing tickets, and the more in control they are, the less stressed they're going to feel.
5. Manage costs more efficiently
While some brands and organizations believe that implementing self service technologies are costly, especially in terms of design & delivery. However, on the long run, saving can be definitely realized.
As self service technologies support in providing customers with faster access to answers, how-to guides and ability to report problems and issues in an easier and faster way, the costs to resolve issues and manage contacts will be reduced, as less work by support agents will be needed to resolve problems, as the customer will solve them on their own, and chance of errors will be lower.
6. Increase customer loyalty by reducing customer effort
Once an effective self service technology is deployed & customers start using it more and more, they will feel that their efforts to solve problems and issues with a brand's product or services are low. Once you achieve the reduction of the customer efforts to solve problems, these customers will realize how they enjoy their experience with a brand and majority will remain loyal.
According to Gartner Research, 96% of customers with a high-effort service interaction become more disloyal, compared to just 9% who have a low-effort experience.
To sum it up, when customers are empowered to solve their own issues with self-service technologies & agents can focus on higher value relationship building tasks & cases, Customer loyalty will be increased and a brand's website as an information source and authority will be strongly established. This also increases a brand's credibility for current and future customers.
So, pave the road to frictionless & effortless experience for your customers by enabling more self service technologies that benefits your customers as well as your brand.
Remember... The key to mitigating disloyalty is reducing customer effort.