Do Customers Really Prefer Self-Service?

Self-service has been a huge talking point in the customer service world for several years now — and yet, the conversation around it hasn’t slowed. The ability to reduce wait times and lessen customer support workloads are some of the main value-adds of self service. But many businesses are still sceptical about incorporating it into their customer service strategies, because of fears like: 

  • The risk of escalating tech/maintenance costs
  • The potential loss of customer satisfaction
  • Harm to brand loyalty

The fact that 61% of consumers still prefer phone calls also highlights a gap between imagined service expectations and genuine customer desires. Overlooking this could lead to inefficient customer service that fails to meet modern expectations — and even requirements.

Here, we’ll address these concerns by asking (and answering) the question: do customers prefer self-service? And what does a switch towards self-service-led solutions look like?

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The ‘self-service boom’

Customer self-service was an inevitable result of consumers and businesses both going online. Website FAQs are a long-standing online essential. Forums have also been around since the early days of the internet. 

Yet, as we enter a so-called ‘self-service boom’ that sees 67% of customers preferring self-service solutions, the role of these long-standing technologies is changing. 

It would be easy to blame globally impactful events like hybrid working and resulting changes in customer behaviour for the current self-service focus. Certainly, the cutbacks of bricks-and-mortar shopping played a large part in bringing self-service solutions to the forefront. But let’s look at some of the more specific factors that contributed to the rise of self-service:

  • Online shopping: Online sales (which now make up as many as 26.5% of overall retail sales) can increase the distance between brands and their consumers. But self-service has helped solve a lot of common customer service issues in eCommerce, making seamless deliveries and support possible.
  • Speed and efficiency: Customers are constantly looking for efficiency when buying from businesses. By removing wait times, self-service solutions provide much-needed speed and smooth service delivery.
  • Hyper-connectivity: The hyper-connectivity of the modern world means consumers expect immediate answers to their questions. Self-service options like live chat support have been key in seeing that through.
  • Budgetary restrictions: Global online sales have sent service demand soaring. Using physical support agents alone to address that means stretching budgets. Self-service offers an affordable, scalable alternative to the problem. 

Self-service is always going to be used to some extent. However, businesses need to be wary of changing entire models based on a boom that could still just be a passing trend in customer service

With that said, should you make the shift? And if so, how much should self-service inform your service strategy?

Should you make the shift to self-service?

The solutions and savings possible with self-service vary depending on company size, capacity, sector, and forecasted demand. Deciding whether or not to make this shift requires an in-depth understanding of what self-service offers. 

A good starting point would be to consider the broader pros and cons of self-service… let’s dive in.

The pros of self-service

The ease that self-service brings to buyers in short time frames is undeniable. 63% of customers under 35 now seek online self-service solutions rather than picking up the phone. 

Investing into the extensive knowledge bases necessary for self-service is far more cost-effective than development and training across help centres that no one ends up using. By focusing on self-service efficiency, brands can easily meet consumers on their preferred channels, at a time and speed that suits them. 

With self-serving as a habit, it’s far easier to harness brand loyalty and increased satisfaction from even simple service offerings. 

Last year alone, brands focused on expanding across digital avenues that included:

  • Chat (47%)
  • Website access (44%)
  • Search options (42%) 

These broad-reaching self-service focuses make simplified solutions accessible across platforms. And, with a well-formed knowledge base to build from, they couldn’t be easier to get right.

The cons of self-service

Some businesses’ resistance to self-service isn’t without cause. Gaps between the appetite for self-service and satisfaction with current offerings are a particular cause for concern. According to a recent report from CXMToday: 

  • 81% of consumers want more self-service options, however…
  • Only 15% of consumers said they were highly satisfied with the tools provided to them today.
  • And businesses believe 53% of consumers are very satisfied with their self-service.

Bridging this gap is the main obstacle to self-service’s viability. Brands that don’t realise such a gap exists are perpetually unable to meet the full scope of customer expectations. This causes untold damage to the user experience, especially in light of key problems with self-service as it stands, including: 

  • Struggling to solve queries: When self-serve knowledge bases are lacking, customers may struggle to answer even simple queries themselves. Even quality self-service solutions often struggle with complex queries, leading to customers feeling unheard.
  • Downgrading human support: By spending on self-service, businesses inevitably downgrade human support. When support teams are difficult to reach, brands fail to cater to customers who still prefer to speak to someone directly.
  • Making more work for customers: Consumers seeking service solutions have likely already been inconvenienced. Self-service that requires them to take more steps to solve a problem can increase that inconvenience, downgrading their overall customer experience.
  • Update requirements: Unlike adaptable human agents, self-service requires regular upgrades and attention. As well as being costly, the time that this takes could lead to inefficient solutions that let customers down in the interim.

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What do customers really prefer?

As we’ve covered, a lot of customers want self-service solutions. But they specifically want solutions that are personalised, optimised, and flexible to their needs. Addressing this requires finding a balance between self-service and high-quality support by human agents. Outsourcing is the perfect compromise. 

Without requiring the upfront spending that’s driving companies to self-service in the first place, high-quality outsourcing partners can provide the best of both worlds. That’s because the benefits of outsourcing often overlap with the benefits of self-service, including:

  • Affordability: Pay-as-you-go outsourcing of onshore service support agents is every bit as affordable as self-service.
  • Faster service: Scalable outsourced service solutions can limit wait call times and simplify customer journeys in ways self-service aims to do but can’t always achieve.
  • On-demand availability: Providing on-demand service makes it possible for you to address the needs of your customers regardless of where they are, and when they have a problem. Otherwise, customers who live overseas/tend to shop late in the day may settle for self-service options.

The experienced handling of service focuses like live chat and automated ticketing also enables outsourced agents to seamlessly oversee transitions from self-service to human-led solutions. This side-by-side approach would be difficult to achieve seamlessly in-house. Yet, it could be the best way to meet consumers where they are.

Suggested reading: Outsourcing is regularly misunderstood. But it’s evolved to become a true mainstay in customer service. Read our guide on Customer Service Outsourcing to learn more.

Develop your customer service capabilities today

Customers want self-service. But modern consumers who still favour personalisation and ease of use require more than fully self-service solutions currently offer. Outsourcing that provides many of the same benefits is the perfect compromise.

Odondo’s agile onshore customer service solutions offer a full range of service benefits, including:

  • Affordable, pay-as-you-go pricing
  • On-demand customer support
  • Expertly trained agents that can adapt to your business
  • Seamlessly scalable, flexible solutions

Our high-quality agents are also well-versed in working with in-house teams. And they can work alongside any existing self-service solutions to meet consumer expectations, while still keeping service simple. 

To see how we can supercharge your self-service offerings, get in touch for a no-obligation quote today. 

1  Research suggests phone calls preferred for customer service

2 14 stats that make the case for self-service in 2022

3 E-commerce in the UK: statistics & facts

4 How self-service can revolutionise customer satisfaction

5 81% of consumers say they want more self-service options

6 81% of consumers say they want more self-service options

Bobby Devins

Bobby spent 11 years as an Investment Banker before going on to co-found his own e-commerce start-up, where Customer Service was one of the core functions that fell under his remit.

He has spent the past 9 years in and around the start-up space, most recently co-founding Odondo with the aim of reimagining the delivery of Customer Service. Bobby has pursued a very traditional career path for someone who ultimately aspires to be a hardcore gangsta rapper.

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