Experience Continuity: How to Define an Exit Strategy for Your Self-Service

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Self-service is on the rise. And with the mobility revolution started by Apple’s introduction of the iPhone, consumers around the world have realized the potential of finding answers to their business questions themselves, by asking peers, on the go, or whenever they want, instead of relying on call center staff operating by business hours. While self-help has the advantage of quick and convenient access to information when needed for the customer, it also shows quick ROI for businesses that can have their contact center staff focus on more elaborate inquiries or for customer retention efforts. This is a win-win for both company and customer, but not a be-all and end-all. The need for live assistance from knowledgeable staff will not go away as only certain types of inquiries are self-serviceable. Complex account inquiries or the desire to understand a company’s business processes will continue to have customers reach out for human help. For simple inquiries, however, self-service is now usually preferred, as studies show.

With the explosion of customer care channels available in the age of pervasive mobile computing, a smooth handover from self to live service is more crucial than ever to providing excellent support. We call it Aspect Experience ContinuityTM. It’s essentially providing continuity when moving from self to live service, when switching between channels and when switching between proactive outbound communication and inbound service inquiries. Effective execution of Experience Continuity creates a customer care mantra of “I shall never have to repeat myself again.

When it comes to self-service, the question for companies becomes: what is your exit strategy?

Three aspects should be the foundation of your self-service planning as it relates to handover to live service:

1. Ubiquitous Accessibility

Older implementations of IVR systems, often by design, hide agent access for reasons of cost savings. Customers tend to respond with an increased willingness to take their business elsewhere when they feel locked in or poorly served. To address this, businesses should open up and allow access to live service anywhere in self-service portals, be it on the voice (IVR) channel, on the Web, in mobile apps, SMS services, or even social networks. At the same time, quality functionality and an excellent user experience (UX) should always be a priority to keep users engaged in self-service as much as possible.

2. Channel Stickiness

As new service communication channels emerge, such as mobile apps, SMS, or via the Web, access to live service within these channels typically lags behind. This shows human inertia at work: new channels are easier to adapt for self-service as it is “only” software systems that are affected, whereas adding a new channel in the contact center requires (re-)training of staff. Consumers, however, quickly embrace new channels with ease, using their mobile devices more often for customer support. According to Gartner’s Six Best Practices to Deliver Powerful Mobile Consumer-Facing Applications report (June 2014), by 2017, 35 percent of all customer support interaction will take place on a mobile device, an increase of 300 percent (See The ROI of Great Customer Service). Driving this change is a desire for convenient access to live assistance when needed, whether the customer journey started with a self-service attempt or not. Businesses should therefore strive to offer live assistance on the same channel that the customer used for self-service. For example, an agent conversation should stay on SMS if this is where the customer started asking questions, and not force the user to switch to a phone call. After all, there is always a reason why the customer selected SMS as their preferred channel for their inquiry to begin with.

3. Context Preservation

CookieOnce access to live assistance is offered, it is important to preserve any context and data collected during a self-service interaction; a continuity of experience. This means having the ability to seamlessly continue a customer service conversation when switching between channels, or from self-service to live service. An Aspect study from late 2013 showed that 89% of consumers say they are annoyed when they have to repeat themselves about the same issue. (See The Omni-Channel Challenge)

To implement a concept like Experience Continuity, companies need an easily accessible data store that can memorize past transactions on any channel. At Aspect, we call it Continuity Server, and it allows developers of websites, mobile apps, or IVR systems, to store so-called Context Cookies – small traces of information about the journey of a customer. Examples would be:

  • Dropout points in IVR interactions, i.e. incomplete business tasks
  • Last transaction performed in a mobile app
  • Last time the customer talked to an agent
  • Last issue discussed with an agent
  • Most recent page of your website the customer visited

While some of this information might already be stored in a traditional CRM system, the data might not always be easily accessible cross-channel. Aspect’s Continuity Server features a simple REST API for read & write access and can thus be consumed by any developer wanting to improve the omni-channel customer experience.

The beauty of embracing the idea of Context Cookies, similar in function to web cookies, is that you do not have to introduce them on a grand scale. Adding cookies here and there to a customer interaction trail and leveraging them to provide select continuity experiences will create those little “wow” moments you are looking for while engaging your customers. For an example of how this concept can bring IVR to new life and how to deliver these “wow” moments, please see How Omni-Channel Techniques Can Help Make IVR Sexy.

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