Why is customer self-service critical for contact centers?

Contact centers have embraced and improved self-service options like conversational voice response systems and mobile websites -- but there are still some challenges with the tech.

Self-service is now a must-have for contact centers to provide as an enhanced service option to improve the customer experience.

While companies traditionally perceived customer self-service options as an opportunity to save costs associated with live-agent service, today's self-service channels give customers yet another communication channel that they may prefer over phone-based communications. These options have become critical parts of a multichannel strategy.

Here are some benefits to offering customer self-service options:

Customers are more comfortable with self-service. Older generations have lived through the growing pains of customer self-service technology and have become more accepting of its use, especially as it has become more user-friendly. Younger generations are comfortable with self-service technology because they have grown up with it.

Self-service applications are a way of life. Self-service applications are a way of life, especially with the growth of mobile technology. Whether an individual is using an application such as Shazam or purchasing a product through Amazon, these applications are based on a self-service model. Regardless of their age, customers have been forced to become more comfortable with the self-service model, if they want to be able to utilize these types of services.

Customers have expanded traditional self-service by using community forums and self-service company websites. Customers may find informative service through peer interactions with other customers or with community-designated subject matter experts. Customers can also access articles, video or other resources in knowledge management systems.

Conversational voice response has made self-service easier. Conversational voice allows customers to interact with automation through normal speech, rather than listening to a list of prompts and then trying to decide which number to press.

Organizations have focused on improving the self-service experience. Feedback regarding customer frustration with self-service has led to improvements such as limiting menu options and levels in voice-response systems.

Challenges with customer self-service

Yes, it is critical to provide self-service options to customers, but whenever new opportunities exist, there are a number of downside impacts that must also be addressed.

Agents regularly handle more complicated inquiries. Self-service is effective for handling simple inquiries such as providing the location of a retail store or the balance for a checking account. As a result of automating these simpler transactions, agents will receive a higher percentage of complex inquiries and have less time to "catch their breath" while handling simpler inquiries.

Opportunities to enhance customer engagement may be reduced. Self-service interactions usually start with a customer asking a straightforward question and end with a simple answer being found. These interactions reduce the opportunities to engage customers and enhance their relationship with the organization.

While customer self-service began as a cost-saving initiative, it has become a critical offering from the contact center to improve the customer experience. On the other side, as with any alternative offering, self-service can place additional stress on agents and may take away from increased customer engagement.

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