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24th April 2023

Empowering customers with better self-service options

A customer in control is a happy one

Cover self service
Cursor Curated Issue 15
Daniel Westlake

Picture your morning commute to work. You clock in through the ticket barriers with your debit card. You pour yourself a latte on the coffee machine. You pick up a bagel and pay on a self-service checkout.

Despite 5.1 billion passenger journeys in the UK every year, you could do this every day without speaking to a single soul. Self-service technology has revolutionised the way we interact with business, and it’s giving us more power.

Rather than rolling our eyes and celebrating the ‘newness’ of IoT or AI, we need to look at the brass tacks. For smaller businesses, this customer empowerment is a great chance to reduce customer service costs and resources.

Larger businesses, meanwhile, might benefit from exploring other avenues, like customer support portals. If we look at things from the user’s perspective, we can find the value in giving our customers this agency over their own decisions.

How self-service technology is currently being used

We see self-service technology every day. As customers, we’re now doing many companies’ jobs for them, whether it’s making a coffee or booking a holiday – often without realising. For example:

  • Online shopping and banking – these negate the need for cash, and when we do use it, we choose a self-service ATM rather than a bank
  • Browsing and returns – we no longer rely on sales representatives to help us compare products, and we print our own returns labels
  • Booking travel – we arrange our own flights and accommodation, and use digital means for check-in
  • Eating out – we order from self-service kiosks and use mobile apps to browse menus.

While these make life easier for customers, they also cut costs. Customer web portals no longer need a human at the other end answering questions. Waiting or check-out staff numbers can be reduced, or better still, their skills can be used elsewhere – saving costs and upping productivity.

Beyond higher margins, we also have the added benefit of giving our customers more freedom.


Why you need to care about customer empowerment

Customer empowerment helps our users feel more valued and in control – even when the process is automated, such as subscription renewals. The internet has a crucial role to play here, and it starts with the customer experience.

For example, let’s say a user has a question and heads straight to an FAQ page. A long, verbose page full of incomprehensible copy is inaccessible and unhelpful. Instead, we should focus on using clear, simple language to help these people get the answers they need, quickly – without taking up customer service teams’ time.

Travelocity learned this the hard way. They found that many customers had been put off by complicated jargon and turned to the phone instead. Once they’d simplified the layout and improved readability, they reduced their call volumes.

This is just one example of how improving the customer experience can reduce costs. According to Gartner, the number of businesses with customer experience officers has leapt up in recent years, from 65% to 90%. Their role? To offer a diverse range of channels, including:

  • Website FAQs
  • Live chat
  • Better search functions

Not only do they diversify the customers’ choice, but they optimise it – just like Travelocity.

Empowered users are happy users

It’s important to note the difference between offering customers choice and overwhelming them. Yes, we want them to have the freedom to find answers via various channels. But we don’t want to make these channels complicated. Concise text and simple calls to action are just two ways of assuring this.

Ultimately, it comes down to respecting our customers. We don’t want to baffle them or make the journey overcomplicated. By offering a simple user experience, we can lighten our workloads and work with customers who feel:

  • Free to make their own choices with the help of reviews and ratings
  • Confident that the brand they’re buying from offers genuine service and quality
  • Satisfied that their questions will be answered quickly thanks to channels like social media
  • Comfortable to make transactions at their own pace with the autonomy they need
  • Capable of getting through the day without spending hours speaking to support teams

Self-service is a two-way street. Treat customers well and they will reward you with positive reviews, bigger transactions and repeat custom. After all, empowered users are happy users.

The takeaway: self-service is the key to better margins

Self-service technology is so ubiquitous we may not even be aware we’re using it. But for business owners, it’s an essential tool to keep operational costs down, without risking customer service. A customer in control is a happy one.

Our users feel empowered when they can make their own decisions, but they also need choice. We should offer a diverse range of channels that have been optimised to answer their questions – putting users and accessibility first. When off-the-shelf solutions aren’t available, we should consider custom development or integrating different software systems for one solution.

The tools are at our disposal to achieve this. It’s just a case of how we use them.

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