The number of consumers who use online self-service is high, but satisfaction continues to lag.
Posted Jan 5, 2005
The use of online self-service may be on the rise, but the cost-conscious channel is still falling short of meeting customer expectations, according to a recent study published by Jupiter Research.
"Self-service Best Practices: Beyond Contact Deflection," reports that nearly all customers--90 percent--who contacted customer service during the six-month span of July through December 2004, did so via online self-service, including static FAQs and search boxes, at least once. Both channels are experiencing upticks in adoption rates--compared to 2003 figures, the number of online consumers who used searchable self-service is up 6 percent, while 9 percent more used FAQs--2004's satisfaction percentages are just slightly over the halfway mark. Fifty-one percent of consumers reported satisfaction with searchable self-service, and 53 percent were satisfied with static FAQs.
As companies strive to increase satisfaction levels, data indicates dissatisfied consumers may be some of the most valuable ones. According to the survey, dissatisfied self-service consumers spend 35 percent more online than their satisfied counterparts, and they account for 41 percent of total revenue from all consumers who contact customer service. "Consumers who spend more online are coming into contact with customer service more frequently and actually increasing the risk of a potential service slip-up," says Zachary McGeary, research associate and lead analyst of the report. "Their high level of spending and their high level of customer contact, added to the fact that they expressed dissatisfaction with self-service, increases the likelihood that they are either going to try self-service again and probably be dissatisfied, or it increases the likelihood that they'll contact via email or phone, which essentially raises the cost of providing them service."
Satisfaction is not the only factor driving customer behavior. There are elements that determine the methods that consumers have to use, according to McGeary. For instance, 35 percent of unsatisfied online-service seekers say that self-service was the only available option the last time they tried to contact customer service. "Often times [choosing to use self-service online is] just simply out of necessity."
Companies are, however, evolving their online self-service tools. "[They are] moving from simply putting up static information on their sites to determining the types of inquiries that are coming to the Web site and are most appropriate for online self-service, and answering them that way," McGeary says. What remains unclear is whether or not consumers are turning to online self-service first, finding it unsatisfactory, and then moving to other channels. "We know that there is some behavior along those lines, but consumers are also going to other channels, finding lack of resolution there, and then moving to self-service, as well. It goes both ways," he says.
There are customers who prefer online self-service, but there is also a demographic that still enjoys using the phone. In fact, of the 2,535 online users who responded to the survey, 76 percent were satisfied with the phone, 67 percent were satisfied with email, and 59 percent were satisfied with online text-chat. "A lot of consumers believe that the live channels, phone for example, and even email, are going to provide a more accurate response [and] better resolution, simply because there's the human interaction element," McGeary says.
Self-service is really about the availability and immediacy of the channel, he says: "Companies may need to reassess the types of contact channels that they are providing to their consumers.... [C]ompanies may need to come up with a more strategic plan for getting consumers to the channel that's not necessarily the one that the [consumer] prefers, but the one that's the most important for their type of inquiry."
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