The Knowledge War
It's no secret that there are two primary motivating forces to anyone looking at their customer servicing options--the first is cost, and the second is customer satisfaction. Operators are having to supplement, and to a certain extent, shift customer transactions from the call center--a depressing experience for the consumer (and expensive for the vendor)--and move those services online.
Many products and solutions have emerged, all using very similar language to promise a reduction in call centre traffic and improved customer relationships through the use of self-service technologies. But, as I'll explain below, not all self-service solutions are equal.
Self-service products generally fall into one of two categories-, knowledge-based, and transaction-based. Knowledge-based solutions--currently better publicized--are designed to interpret customer requests, often based on an easily searchable and intuitively structured database, essentially a collection of possible answers for frequently asked questions. The rationale behind knowledge-based solutions is that they act as a first level of customer service--but they also serve to keep customers at arms length, and prevent requests from elevating to the far more expensive call center level of customer contact.
Transactional self-service, employed by operators like Orange, T-Mobile, and Vodafone in the U.K., also provides a first level of contact. Yet, where knowledge-based self-service pushes customers away from direct interaction, transactional self-service welcomes customers in, encouraging them to log-in and access their personal details, services, and so on. Crucially, customers can make changes--enabling real interaction between customer and operator. Transactional self-service is currently the invisible success story, but this approach is set to grow as customers become increasingly dissatisfied with knowledge-based FAQs.
Every purchase of technology or implementation of a customer service strategy needs to have one focus: the customer. A knowledge-based approach works fine when all customers want the same answers to the same questions, but what happens when the questions are the same, but the answers are different? And what happens when the customer actually wants to act on the information he gets? Imagine visiting the classic self-service kiosk--a bank ATM--and finding plenty of information on new products and services, but no way of discovering your balance, and no way to get cash.
Knowledge-based self-service vendors, good at providing the same basic technical and support information to everyone, are generally unable to deal with any kind of personalized request. Therefore rather than improve customer service, it can simply end up being an irritation to your customers. And it doesn't take much to frustrate a customer into defection.
Rather than looking at the generic information that form perhaps 20 percent of customer requests and looking to put those online, transaction-based self-service enables an automated self-service system for the 80 percent of inquiries that fulfil basic service functions. In the mobile industry, this includes transactions like checking remaining minutes and billing details, adding text message bundles, changing address details and reporting faults. By adding this class of requests online, businesses can effect real change both in terms of their customer relationship and in reducing costs.
France's Bouygues Telecom has seen the benefits of transaction-based self-service a million times over. It now receives well over 1 million logins per month through their self-service portal, with customers frequently performing several transactions each time they log in. Given that Gartner estimates that the average Web-based interaction costs $1.15, compared to $6 to $12 for an interaction fielded by the call center, this represents dramatic savings for the operator each month
By enabling transactional self-service, we've found that service providers can also get a better view of what their customers are looking for in terms of new services, packages, and deals. A list of the information supplied through a knowledge base will be far less useful in marketing and product development terms than quantified, personalised statistics on customer-driven access to specific details and services.
When implementing a self-service strategy it is vitally important for the service provider to analyze its objectives--to work out what it needs from the solution, and just as important, what its customers want. The benefits of improved customer relationships delivered by enabling transactional customer service--both in terms of retention and the valuable customer activity data, must not be underestimated. Knowledge-based systems cannot be allowed to stand between customers and accounts. That pushes customers straight into the welcoming arms of a competitor.
And the true difference between informational and transactional self-service? When it comes to winning loyalty and new business from customers, actions speak louder than words.
About the Author
Andy Holcombe is the director of product marketing at Netonomy, a leader in self-service solutions. www.netonomy.com