The Brave New World of Self Service

A new generation of tech-savvy customers is shaking up the self-service status quo for contact centers.

Lori Bockland

If you strike up a conversation about self service with contact center professionals, you’ll likely get that “been there, done that” look. For some, it’s a weary grimace that conjures up too many Interactive Voice Response (IVR) horror stories from personal experience and second-hand accounts.

For others, there’s a glow of satisfaction for a growing base of Web-based customers tinged with a hint of frustration for the channel’s isolation from other modes of contact. The overarching feeling is resignation to business as usual — room for improvement, but nothing worth writing home about.

Matt Morey
Brian Hunton

Those who’ve grown accustomed to this self service status quo are forewarned: We’re about to shake things up. In case you haven’t noticed, a whole new generation of tech-savvy consumers has entered the fray with decidedly different notions about what constitutes effective communication.

Mobile trumps land-line and full-screen. Text messaging trumps voice. Event-triggered notices trump customer-initiated inquiries. The good news: There’s a golden opportunity to deliver superior customer service AND bolster the bottom line with new forms of self service. The bad news: You’ll need to get your strategic, operational and organizational acts together to make hay of it.

For inspiration, we’ll start with the good news…

New Tools Create New Possibilities

As organizations continue to make progress deploying voice- and Web-based self-service applications, the technologists have been busy creating new tools to delight customers and lighten the center’s load. A quick glance at the table below should pique your interest. Here is our take on state-of-theart capabilities and their application in customer service environments.

Alerting services such as Varolii and Televox are a “pre-emptive strike” to reduce inbound contacts. Some centers generate alerts automatically as a function of good business practice — for example, order/shipping status from a favorite online retailer or fraud alerts from a credit card provider. Others place such notices under customer control based on their preferences.

Financial services and airlines have been leaders in these loyalty-enhancing services. Most applications allow customers to choose the mode of contact — SMS/PDA, email, phone calls to a hierarchy of numbers, the hours for contact, and the events they are interested in hearing about. With solutions available through premise-based software or hosted services, you can get in the game with or without significant IT involvement.

On the IVR front, automatic speech recognition (ASR) was supposed to be the “killer app” to take voice-based self service to the next level. According to a 2006 Ascent Group poll, 26% of centers use ASR (up from 10% in 1996) with 22% planning to implement the technology in the near future (see IVR Improvement Strategies 2006, published by the Ascent Group, for the complete survey results). It’s a respectable showing, but not the technological tsunami that some anticipated. ASR shines in environments that cannot be reduced to simple menu structures and circumstances where customer input cannot be characterized numerically, with airline flight departure/arrival times and stock quotes as leading examples.

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