Consistency is Key in Web Self-Service

In the ongoing battle to provide a better customer experience, consumers are demanding to define on their own terms the interactions they choose to have with companies. Believing that Web self-service is a large part of this move, global consulting and research firm Frost & Sullivan attempted to wrap its arms around the current state and future direction of this interaction channel in its latest survey.

Customer interaction is a heavy point of emphasis in Frost & Sullivan's analyses these days, says Dan Colquhoun, the firm's vice president of customer research. “We’re finding an increasingly more fickle and demanding consumer,” he says. “They're looking for opportunities to consume content in different, interactive ways...as well as be provided with services meeting ever-changing needs.”

Colquhoun goes on to explain that there are two main themes when discussing customer interaction:

  • customization of products and services, and
  • selling opportunities for operators and content providers.

“This also extends to the service environment," he says, "in which consumers want to customize their own…interactions with service providers in a way that will meet their needs any time, anywhere.”

Frost & Sullivan's report also reveals that the top driver of customer interaction is the spate of cost-cutting measures in contact centers that have resulted in a move to automated self-service channels such as the Web. The telephone survey -- commissioned by St. Louis-based customer experience systems provider Amdocs -- polled 182 respondents spread throughout Germany, United Kingdom, and the United States to answer three basic questions regarding:

  • interaction (agent-assisted or self-directed),
  • adoption (the importance of Web self-service now and in the future), and
  • best practices.

According to the survey results, 35 percent of all customer interactions are self-directed, meaning consumers are initiating the touchpoint themselves. Additionally, 71 percent of respondents reported experiencing an increase in this form of interaction in the last two years, while 73 percent of those surveyed expected this to continue moving forward. “The question is, ‘Will self-directed interactions take over from agent-assisted [ones]?” posited Stephen Krajewski, director of product marketing for Amdocs. “Probably not, but looking at the results, the momentum [toward]…self-service is growing.”

Digging deeper among B2C and B2B companies, the survey found consumers were quick to adopt, but not as fast to use self-service on a consistent basis.

According to the results for B2C companies:

  • 42 percent of customers used Web self-service at least once;
  • 35 percent registered (moving beyond cursory Web browsing by giving an account name and log-in code); and
  • 13 percent used the channel consistently.

The story was not much different for B2B organizations, either:

  • 50 percent used Web self-service at least once;
  • 44 percent registered to use the channel; and
  • 22 percent used this touchpoint consistently.

Krajewski notes that different verticals have different meanings of the term "consistent" and the survey allowed each respondent to define it subjectively -- but the fact that many companies have failed to keep users utilizing the channel on an ongoing basis is one of the most significant barriers facing Web self-service going forward.

The other challenge is in conversion and revenue generation, Krajewski says. The survey results seem to back up his claim, as 58 percent of respondents considered product and service information along with inquiry as critical to their consumer customers. Only 28 percent said ordering and adding new products and services was the most critical application necessary. “It’s the traditional disconnection from someone who may shop on the Web, get all the information needed, and then stop short before filling the [virtual] shopping cart,” he says.

Krajewski adds that it is best to put these barriers in the context of what he calls the “mashup world”: Increasingly Web-savvy customers expect Web 2.0 applications to make the self-service channel more challenging for companies trying to keep up. “When [this medium] started out, it was very much around cost containment, reduction, and making paper bills electronic,” he recalls. “Now, there are the ideas of community, branding, and the portal being a destination of choice [for consumers]. End users for both B2B and B2C [organizations] want better, more-effective forms of Web self-service.”

So where should companies start? The initial goal, Krajewski says, should be a clear strategy for driving adoption -- something that 41 percent of survey respondents do not have targets for. “Are we taking this [channel] seriously?” he asks. “Perhaps not enough.”

That’s the main message he says he hopes this survey conveys. “Going forward, Web self-service is going to be a very important part of the customer interaction equation,” he asserts. “Get ready for it and have a strategy in place.”

News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine. You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" at the top; to contact the editors, please email editor@destinationCRM.com.

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