How to encourage customer self-service?

We know that companies have been trying to persuade customers to use self-service for at least the past ten years, with mixed success. Now due to the pandemic it is being adopted at unprecedented rates according to the Boston Consultancy Group. So how do we encourage customers to carry on using self-service portals when life returns to ‘normal’? The key is to clearly demonstrate that self-service digital channels are faster and simpler for a customer to use and they deliver a better experience. In this article we look at what it takes for new behaviours to become habits, understanding when customer self-service works and for whom and what happens when a customer can’t solve their problem by themselves.

Forming new habits creates opportunities for customer self-service

It’s all about forming new habits and in 2020 we saw a huge disruption to the way we live our lives. It is during these periods of disruption that people are open to change. We have seen changes in customer behaviour and accelerated digital transformation happen in a matter of weeks and months, which otherwise might have taken years. 

Work done in the field of behavioural economics shows that it takes on average 66 days for a new behaviour to become automatic and translate into a new habit. According to a McKinsey survey in October 2020, Covid has speeded up the adoption of digital technology by several years and more than 60% of respondents believed that the shifts in consumer behaviour and demands are here for good.

If we want customers to continue using self-service, we need to make the customer journey clearly better.

If we do this it will reinforce their habits and it will be far more likely that they will carry on using it in the future. 

Permanently changing customer behaviour in how they interact with organisations isn’t new, banking is a great example. It moved from in-branch, to telephone banking, to internet banking and now mobile banking, without any encouragement.  Customers naturally migrated to self-service portals, because it was more convenient, faster, and easier for them to accomplish their goals and clearly delivered them a better journey.

Horses for courses 

Most customers are happy to self-serve and these solutions work extremely well in some situations, like when the enquiry is simple and straightforward, but it isn’t the best solution for everyone all the time. 

This is for several reasons. First, if a customer has a complex enquiry or there is a high degree of emotion attached to the situation it is likely that self-serve will not be able to address their issue. Second, sadly many organisations’ self-service channels are not that well designed or simply don’t work that well, which causes a lot of frustration for customers. Last, a consideration has to be made as to the particular type of customer making the enquiry: their differing ages; tech savviness; and knowledge as to their willingness to engage with self-serve solutions. 

The crux of the matter comes down to who can solve the issue. With self-service portals, the customer solves their own problem, whereas in assisted service the business solves the customer’s problem.

Bridging the gap 

We need to create synergy and make it easy for customers to switch between self-service and assisted serve if they need additional support. When we need more help, all we want to do is talk to a human, and when we can’t, it drives people insane. And as we move from self-serve to assisted service it is vital that the context of our enquiry also moves with us, which is essential for delivering a better customer experience. 

To improve the overall customer experience, you need to create a bridge between self-serve and a person actually resolving someone’s issue.

If we make the change over easy, or give people the choice to navigate past the self-service system with the option of “talking to a human”, customers won’t feel that they are being forced into a way of interacting with you which doesn’t meet their needs – they will feel in control, less processed, and more valued.

Summary: Future of customer self-service

Companies with well thought out and designed self-service channels, which give people the option of how to engage with them, will ultimately win customers and consequently see a higher uptake of their self-serve channels.


Interested in the topic? Tune in to this on-demand webinar on customer self-service!