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Self-services as the gold standard when managing relations with customers, employees and suppliers

What does good service look like in a company in the age of digitization? What forms of interaction do people nowadays perceive as positive when they need support? This article explores these questions.

Max. Reading time 15min

Digitalization not only opens up new technical possibilities, it also changes our behaviors, the ways in which we interact and our expectations of technology. Self-services are among the new, old acquaintances that had positive effects on customer, employee or supplier relationships in recent years. This creates a triple-win situation where all parties stand to ultimately benefit: happy customers, more satisfied employees and, ultimately, more profitable companies. So what lies at the heart of these so-called self-service technologies? What can they achieve in which areas?

What are self-services?

Basically, the word self-service describes the central moment. Self-service now occupies the spot where previously dedicated staff took care of the customer’s wishes. The customers solve their issues themselves, independent of time and location.

First examples for self-service

Options of this kind appeared quite early. Supermarkets – which did not exist before – are among the early examples in the world of things. Customers put together the right selection themselves, pay and go home happy. This is how the success story of the supermarkets started – the central idea here: Self-service. The rest is history, not unlike little corner shops are now. But what do digital self-service options mean for our time?

The Customer-Self-Service Guide

Customer self-services have become increasingly popular in recent years, whether in the B2C, B2B or B2G sectors. Consumer studies show that customer self-services are highly valued by consumers. In our white paper, we show you how to successfully implement customer self-services and give you five proven tips for setting up customer self-services.


Meaning of ‘self-service’ in today’s Internet

A lot has happened in the last 10 to 15 years. The highly sought-after network has gradually improved. More data throughput and coverage also in more rural regions (still a work in progress) are the key words. At the same time, new types of device were created during this period: Smartphones, tablets, digital watches, glasses, etc. Simultaneously, technology as well changed to also make the Internet available on more and more of these devices. At the same time, younger generations grew up – millennials and Zoomers. It is normal for these “digital natives” to use self-services to get things done. Seeing this background, we can understand the – by no means new – rise of self-service technologies that comes with new technologies and opportunities.

Definition of self-service

These types of services are part of the digital self-service range. They have four defining features: used independently by the customer, not restricted by time and location and not tied to personnel.

Everyone wants to use self-service

As a survey by the Harvard Business Review from 2017 shows, people are now preferring to take their destinies into their own hands. They expect good products from companies and not sympathy – and they demand results: Self-service becomes the be-all and end-all:  “In fact, our data shows an overwhelming preference for self-services: Across industries81% of customers try to do things themselves before they contact an employee.” This is an appealing and attractive opportunity for companies. Because self-service options not only contribute to a contemporary corporate image, they also help you make dramatic cost savings. As the Harvard Business Review found in the study cited above, companies can reduce the costs of processing queries by about 90% with self-services. This is the point at which you definitely should start paying attention.

But it’s not just the promise of hard cash savings. In fact, your very own employees benefit from using self-service tools. It is a way to free your employees from time-consuming routine tasks and allows them to be productive again, which is one of the added values of these services.

Self-service technologies vs. self-service

Self-service technologies (SST) is a generic term used to describe the technical means and media required. A self-service, on the other hand, is the actual service, the self-service option for customers. An example: The self-service ‘tracking’ is presented to the customer as an app – a self-service app; the self-service technologies used in this case would be, for example for iOS: Xcode (Apple’s SDK (Swift, Objective-C)) and certainly some others.

7 benefits of self-service and 2 results

Self-services offer the following advantages for external and internal target groups

  • Service request can be made irrespective of time and location: for example also at nighttime during the holidays, if necessary
  • Faster processing of service requests: Depending on how the self-service in question is implemented, there is the option of an ad hoc, automated response
  • Consistent quality: because self-services are software-based business processes with a clear sequence
  • Target groups are always kept informed of the progress of the service request

For the customer, this produces a decisive result

Customer satisfaction increases immensely. In turn, loyal customers bring stability to companies in times of volatile markets.
For the company itself, self-service has the following advantages:

  • Frees up staff for more productive tasks
  • Service inquiries can be standardized and, ultimately, automated
  • The quality and quantity of service inquiries can be measured and monitored: The results provide feedback for business improvement and optimization.

Company-side results of a self-service offering

For the company, a self-service option results in lower overheads, better planning for the services offered and a – hopefully – increasing customer loyalty. Last but not least, it gives the company a contemporary, modern vibe.

Relationship management is everything – self-services provide a tool for that

The main goal of managing relationships with customers, but also employees, is to generate a competitive advantage through lasting relationships. If today’s markets are characterized by volatility and products are resembling each other more than ever, then the “markets of the future (…) are markets of relationships,” E. Geoffroy. What is obvious for products is equally clear for the relationship between employees and companies in the “War for Talents.” Self-services provide one building block for a positive experience in employee-customer relations.

Real life examples of self-service

The range of areas suitable for self-services is wide and, unsurprisingly, depends on the industry sector. Companies, however, have similar structures: Human resources, procurement, facility, legal, accounting, fleet, etc. Just like the corporate divisions themselves, the tasks they need to accomplish are similar. In other words: the best conditions for self-services such as employee self-service. The following examples of self-services can be found across the different corporate departments:

Increasing customer satisfaction and customer loyalty through customer self-service

From transport service providers and online retailers to housing associations and energy suppliers: All these organizations have many customers who are pleased with the self-services already offered – which simultaneously reduces the workload of the in-house customer service teams.

Other sectors already offer a very wide range of self-services, even at a cursory glance.

Self-service – very popular

As already mentioned above, customers in the US are keen to resolve their issues on their own terms in regard to timing and location. The same trend is also evident in Germany. In 2021, for example, the opinion research institute YouGov found in a report commissioned by goCardless [DE] that 58% of the age group 18 to 34 years among the 1010 respondents (customers of electricity providers) understood good customer service to mean having options to manage your data and services yourself, including contract duration, terminations, plan changes, etc.

Typical examples for self-service in customer service are:

  • Placing orders: Self-service has been a common practice in online retail since times immemorial
  • Order tracking: Every forwarder and carrier offers this option in addition to their human customer service options
  • Self-service ticketing: Events, flights, train and bus tickets, etc.
  • Product configuration: Probably the most dazzling example of self-service is the company Tesla. The company gives its customers the possibility to “click-construct” their car, i.e. to select the desired additional features from lists and to place the order online. There are some other companies in the automotive industry that have followed Tesla on this path towards self-service.
  • Self-service customer support, for example in the telecommunications industry: The self-service mode of a User Help Desk can provide solutions for common issues – in the form of FAQs, as knowledge base, etc.

Customer self-services (CSS)

Customer self-services refers to the wide range of self-service options that the customer can use.

No matter how which way you look at it – it’s time to think about how you and your company as well as your customers can benefit from self-service. As soon as it becomes clear which part of your services are to be taken care of by the customers, the question arises: How and through which self-service technologies can this service be implemented – and what do you need to consider? Even if the questions cannot be answered immediately and easily: Ideally, the desired result of self-service options are more satisfied customers, increased customer loyalty and better predictability.

Self-service: Tools, solutions and options

One thing is certain – the times when the customer had to wait for a problem to be solved or a question to be answered by the customer service are over. There is no longer a lack of options for introducing self-service in the company. Quite the opposite. An important note first before the tools and options commonly used to introducing self-service are explained here.

Usability is key – especially for self-service options

The usability of a self-service system based on software is one of the essential factors that determine the success of the self-service option. Regardless of which service is turned into a self-service. if the customer cannot achieve their goal quickly and without issues, the self-service will be ill-fated. This makes the user experience a central element of the customer’s journey – which, needless to say, must work on all commonly found devices. It goes without saying that contemporary self-service systems come with integrated experience management features so that the user experience can be easily quantified. So what are the options for self-service?

FAQs & Knowledge Base – tried and tested veterans: Information provided to customers

Let’s start with two older methods, which have been a common sight on the Internet for more than two decades now: “Frequently asked questions” (FAQ) and the knowledge base (KB). These are self-service options that are comparatively easy to implement. Both the FAQ and the KB are based on the fact that customers often have recurring, identical questions regarding a product or service. Instead of calling on the customer service staff again and again, these two tools provide both answers and solutions to important customer questions.

A major difference between FAQs and a knowledge base is the level of detail of the answers provided. While the “frequently asked questions” present a brief, concisely solution to a problem, the knowledge base does the opposite.

The knowledge base provides detailed and in-depth answers to urgent and common customer queries. Another feature of the KB are good internal links between the individual articles. Furthermore, the knowledge base has an efficient search function – or at least it should, being a self-service. With FAQs, on the other hand, information (answers and solutions) are usually presented to the customer as a website with a vertical structure. In this type of self-service, the user scrolls through the various questions. The customer gets to the solution by simply clicking on a question. Both methods are easy and simple ways to implement a first self-service. And the best part: Your customer service team already has the important and typical customer questions. All you need now is an expedient way to enter the necessary answers to typical customer questions into the FAQ or the knowledge base.

Presentation of the self-service software: as a service, on-premises or hybrid?

There isn’t just one way of doing it. The options for establishing a self-service with a software depends on what is required of it. Ideally, thought is given to the options for finding the best way to connect back-end and front-end systems bidirectionally before implementation, for example so that an ERP can contact the self-service system and vice versa. Modern solutions often rely on the “software as a service” model with its known advantages. This makes it only logical to offer this software as a self-service. It is easy to test online by clicking on it. Needless to say, there are still options to operate self-service software in-house (on-premises) or as a hybrid variant of cloud and on-premises services.

Live chats: A customer service and self-service hybrid

A chat solution is a hybrid for customer-business interactions. This is because service personnel are needed to reply to customer inquiries. It comes with a major drawback: Just as with a telephone hotline, the customer expects a live chat to promptly react and reply to their inquiries. You need to be aware of that. Accordingly, using a chat solution as a service assumes stable staffing levels in the customer service team. If this cannot be guaranteed, it is recommended to refrain from using a self-service taking the form of a live chat. Anything else will lead to a frustrating customer experience during the customer journey.

Slow response times lead to customer churn

The customer report of Zendesk found that around half of customers say they plan to switch to a competitor after just one negative customer service experience. After more than one bad experience, the numbers increase rapidly to 80%. Important: 28% of respondents expect a chat response in less than 5 minutes. Depending on the number of inquiries, this can quickly become a problem. Please think carefully before introducing a live chat.

AI chatbots as self-service tool

There have been significant advances in the development of artificial intelligence in the last ten years. Service bots are now used in a wide variety of areas. It is especially the sector of self-service technologies that hopes for major advantages that can compensate for the disadvantages of a chat solution. At the same time, AI chatbots come with new boundaries. Self-services relying on a chatbot reach their limits when complex products and individual service inquiries are concerned. On the other hand, AI chatbots are literally always there for the customer.

The big advantage is the option to use automated AI chatbot dialogs in self-service tools. Standard answers can be given to common standard questions. Multi-step dialogs have long since been the reality for chatbots – and there is the option to combine the bot with a forwarding to the customer service employee if the dialog with the AI chatbot has reached its limits.

But what do customers think of this self-service idea? In any case, customers seem to accept the interaction with an AI chatbot. In a survey among 900 Swiss women in 2018, PIDAS found that 70% of them had already interacted with a chatbot or could imagine doing so. As long as the relevant information is provided by the AI chatbot, there is no reason why this solution should not be used. These findings are supported by a second empirical report from 2020: “Conversational Business 2020 – status quo and trends.” 600 participants were asked about their acceptance of chatbots in self-service. The result – in brief: Consumers generally welcome AI chatbots, but only as long as they receive the correct answers to the service questions they asked. So far, however, it seems there is still work to do regarding response quality, so that many of the respondents prefer to avoid chatbots. It may feel strange to some to get help from a self-service bot – and yet: If the bot can offer the help that is needed, it has fulfilled its purpose.

Self-service portals – summarized on the next level

As mentioned above, relationship management is a key factor for customer-oriented companies. A self-service portal now enables you to measure the status of your customer/employee relationship in detail. Commonly used approaches allowing for such analysis fall under the heading Experience Management (XM).

For example, the relationship between the procurement department and suppliers can be easily tracked and measured in the self-service portal using XM. By asking smart questions, you collect and link the experience data (X-data) with the operational data (O-data) of your company effectively. From the perspective of procurement, you can largely record the supplier performance automatically with the self-service portal. At the same time, you allow your suppliers to evaluate the quality of the cooperation. Moreover, combined with other features, you can achieve a profitable supplier relationship management in a short time.

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