Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is an excerpt of a current article from Retail Customer Experience, a website devoted to helping retailers differentiate the shopping experience.
"I am emphasizing the self-service nature of these platforms because it is important for a reason I think is somewhat non-obvious. Even well-meaning gatekeepers slow innovation." - Jeff Bezos, Amazon's 2011 Annual Report
Recent surveys conducted by Nuance Communications and Corporate Board Executive revealed that two-thirds of consumers prefer self-service over speaking to a person for customer service inquiries, and 60 percent prefer to make a company's website the first stop when attempting to solve an issue.
In fact, consumers are not looking for service at all, at least not in the traditional form. They simply want to get something done or resolve an issue — track a package, change a flight or fix a problem — and they want to do so quickly and efficiently. Retailers that approach the self-service model with the customer in mind will be differentiated by the level of immediacy, empowerment, personalization and customization their self-service capabilities offer.
Understanding this evolving class of active customer's end objective is vital, and it can be more difficult than many companies realize. But the payoff is substantial.
Five key concepts retailers should consider when developing a self-service architecture include:
Design everything from the customer's perspective. This means involving customers/partners/vendors in the design of self-service capabilities.
Rethink policies and the need for manual intervention. For example, manage service matters by exception. This will allow the vast majority of customers to make real-time decisions and complete their objectives. With the right analytics and algorithms, an automated system can make the repeatable decisions in tandem with a separate exception process for the minority that requires intervention and review.
Create a balanced set of metrics for the self-service experience. The purpose is to measure the financial, operational, cost and quality facets of the customer's self-service experience. Break and cascade metrics into detailed sub-processes assigned to specific internal owners. Use routine meetings to review the metrics and encourage peers to challenge each other to improve performance that hurts any phase of the process.
Invest in user interface design to improve interactions. Insist on user experience excellence in all interactions, including vendors, partners and employees. The goal is to increase the number who use self-service, requiring far less support from your organization.
Analyze data to create new customer insights. Collect as much data about customer self-service interaction as possible. Use this data to understand how the customer interacts with the system, and provide the feedback to both the customer and internal teams.
While retailers can use self-service to become more efficient and performance-oriented, the real power is in using it as a strategic mission to respond to shifting consumer behavior. True self-service proves that a retailer's thought process is structured to resolve customer pain points, which goes a long way with an audience that demands more autonomy in the consumer experience.
Overall, do you see retail shifting more toward self-service or full-service models in the next decade?