Most customers, despite the emergence and maturity of Web self-service technology, still prefer the phone as their method of communication because of the channel's immediacy, the complexity of an inquiry, or simply the desire to interact with a human agent. According to Esteban Kolsky, research director at Gartner, however, more customers are shifting to the Web primarily because the quality of information available is improving.
"It used to be that the Web was the stepchild of customer service--nobody wanted to deal with it, but we knew it was there," he says. But now "it's actually getting more respect and getting better results. Because of that customers are actually using it more."
Although the use of online self-service may be on the rise, a recent study by Jupiter Research contends that the cost-conscious channel is still falling short of meeting customer expectations. "Self-service Best Practices: Beyond Contact Deflection," reports that 90 percent of customers surveyed 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--but both channels' 2004 satisfaction percentages are just slightly over the halfway mark. Only 51 percent of consumers reported satisfaction with searchable self-service, and 53 percent were satisfied with static FAQs.
Consequently, Web self-service is experiencing a migration from static, informational Web self-service to functional Web self-service, according to Kolsky, which is helping to fulfill more of the customers' needs and move more customers over to the Web. "For the first few years Web self-service was mostly informational, where you just go and gather static information. Then we started seeing transactional self-service [with] things like online banking and account management--specific transactions that you perform through self-service." But what the industry is seeing, he says, is that neither fulfills all the inquiries or transactions that a customer needs to complete. "As a result, we start to see functional self-service emerge, where we have a specific function in mind and then we combine the components from transactional and informational self-service." But, "we're at the point where technology won't have much say-so going forward," Kolsky says. "We have what we need. It's going to be more of a question of fine-tuning what we already have."
ABG Scores Web Self-Service Vendors
RightNow Technologies and Knova Software play alone in the leaders category, while others fill the Top 10.
E-Service Providers Ride the Forrester Wave
Leaders include eGain, iPhrase, KANA, and KnowledgeBase, with RightNow and ServiceWare designated as strong performers.