Consumer Engagement in the Self-Service Economy

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If prompted, the vast majority of us can all share a personal story about a recent customer service experience. And I’m guessing the vast majority of those stories involve some level of dissatisfaction, lack of resolution and frustration. I know I can. The story I’ve been telling in a recent blog post involves an un-named hotel that I frequently visit that greets me as a new guest on every visit – not recognizing that I’ve been there at least a dozen times. Brands should be troubled that even despite all the new consumer interaction technology, customer service is actually worse today than in years past. Even scarier is that consumers are not standing still. In a recent survey by the Center for Generational Kinetics and Aspect, we found that 55% of consumers say that their customer service expectations have increased over the past three years. And the same number said that they have moved from at least one company in the past year due to poor customer service. This should be alarming to any consumer-facing brand…and my hotel chain of choice.

The survey, that we conducted, of consumer engagement of all adult demographics examined each generation’s preferences and expectations for customer service. When we looked at what consumers want when they contact service, we found that consumers would prefer to conduct service related transactions and interactions on their own rather than talk to a customer service representative. In fact over 70% of people want the ability to solve most product and service issues by themselves. The problem is that most of them can’t. Not effectively anyway. Is this a new development or an artifact of generations past? Well actually, consumers have always wanted to be independent and autonomous and now technology has finally caught up and is enabling us to do more than we could before.

Between crowdsourcing, video tutorials, and online communities, consumers arguably know more, by the time they speak to their customer service representative, than they do. It would only be fitting then, that consumers would rather conduct and complete an interaction on their own. The self-service economy is here and the only way for brands to achieve success is to ensure that every technology investment or process change supports these new consumer expectations:

Know me. Carry the context and data from every interaction seamlessly to the next interaction even if the customer switches channels or switches from self-service to live assistance.

Make it mobile. A complete mobile customer experience must leverage all channels available on a mobile device. In fact, the vast majority (70 percent) of consumers would rather text than talk.

Let me do it. The reality is that customer satisfaction is higher in a DIY model largely because we are much more forgiving of ourselves when it comes to service. According to IBM Retail Research, 72% of customers prefer self-service over picking up the phone and 91% would use self-service if it was available.

Make it social. Consumers use social media to crowdsource for help, speak to a company representative, and publically vent. Brands and consumers are drawn to social media for its inherent simplicity as a communication channel.

Fit it into my life. Consumers don’t feel they should be constrained by business hours of operation anymore. They are on the go and conducting their business at every hour of the day. As a result, brands should enable their customers to contact them at any hour of the day and on any medium they prefer.

Save me time. Advances in mobile technology has lessened consumers’ patience for waiting. No one is willing to tolerate a three day wait for an email reply or a hold time longer than a minute. They also have little patience for having to go through a contact center for simple queries that they could have solved themselves.

Make me smarter. Consumers expect that they’ll be informed ahead of time if there is going to be a known change in service. Brands can proactively communicate with customers to inform them of order status messages, appointment and prescription reminders, service outage notifications, and other messages depending on business needs.

The consumer-company relationship has forever changed. Self-service consumer engagement does not have to be lackluster and unfulfilling. With the proper technology we can help consumers as they aspire to do more, have more, be more and at the same time create greater loyalty and longer-term customer value by engaging with them differently and on their terms. It represents an exciting opportunity for both brands and customers and it will be fun to be part of this shift in consumer engagement and the opportunities afforded those who get it right!

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Joe Gagnon, Chief Customer Strategy Officer

Joe Gagnon is Chief Customer Strategy Officer at Aspect. For over 20 years Joe has studied the evolving relationship between companies and consumers and how content and customer interaction affects that relationship. From Penn Foster, to IBM, Exit 41 to E&Y, Joe has helped some of the most well-known companies solve their customer engagement challenges.
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