The State of Self-Service in Customer Experience

In this piece, Simon Brennan, VP sales, Engage Hub, outlines for RetailTechNews the current state of self-service within customer experience. It’s fair to say that self-service in the retail industry has taken huge strides in recent years. Once a gimmicky and unpopular form of customer interaction, chatbots powered by highly advanced AI and machine learning technologies have delivered self-service that is seamless and fast.

Increasingly, chatbots can hold conversations with customers that seem natural and human-like, bucking a problem that has traditionally plagued the technology and put off consumers.

It’s worth also noting that the growing prominence of self-service in retail isn’t solely down to the latest cutting-edge technologies. Self-service can be as straightforward and simple as an FAQ or troubleshooting page. Similarly, with chatbots, self-service like this is effective in enabling customers to solve their own queries in a convenient way.

Self-service has clearly come a long way in recent years and will play an increasingly important role in the future. How can retailers capitalise on all that this emerging area of customer experience has to offer, and make sure that customers are as satisfied as possible when self-servicing?

The current state of self-service

Something that’s noteworthy with self-service today is that it’s popular with customers, making it something on which all retailers should be focusing their attention. Take Amazon, for example, who remarkably topped the UK Customer Satisfaction Index last year for the sixth year in the row. Amazon is an online retailer who places self-service right at the heart of their customer experience by allowing their users to edit order details, delivery addresses, or even cancel purchases – all without needing to interact with a customer service agent. Empowering customers through self-service in this way is a key element in Amazon’s popularity and high levels of customer satisfaction.

It’s not just good news for the consumer, either. Implementing self-service helps bring lower overall costs for retailers by bringing in greater flexibility and support for existing human agents, who are freed up to work on the more complex customer queries that need to be escalated beyond self-service.

As already touched upon, self-service is speeding up – to such an extent, in fact, interacting with a chatbot has become much quicker than waiting on hold to speak to a customer experience desk over the phone. This a win-win for customers and retailers alike, the customer is happier being offered a quicker experience and, in tandem, the retailer lifts those all-important customer satisfaction numbers.

Managing the wants & needs of the customer

One thing all retailers should remember is that, no matter how sophisticated chatbots become, there will always be those customers who prefer interacting with a real customer experience agent. Some just prefer a human touch; and this is something all retailers should accommodate. Recent research found that, after all, good customer service is about tailoring your approach to the customer – not forcing them to do what’s best, cheapest, or easiest for you. Recent research that surveyed c-level executives found that empathy is the most important skill to have in delivering outstanding customer experience. Self-service does not exist in a bubble outside the wider CX sector, and the same importance of empathy applies when considering where human interaction should be offered as an alternative to self-service.

Sensitivities around data security have understandably risen up consumers agendas in recent times, and web users are more conscious about their online interactions, particularly with bots. To address these concerns, retailers should keep things honest with their customers. If customers are talking to a bot, they should be made aware of this. If an interaction with a bot is collating personal data, then again, customers should be made aware of this. This kind of honesty will help put customers at ease and on the preferable track of solving their issues through self-service.

Getting self-service right for now & the future

If developments in self-service over recent years have shown us one thing, it is that products change very quickly. Advances are constantly being made in AI, machine learning, and other technologies, and retailers’ self-service offerings must be updated accordingly. Neglecting doing so will very quickly leave self-service platforms outdated and inadequate.

It’s also important that self-service platforms are constantly improved and connected to the most extensive and relevant database possible. Chatbots that relay outdated and incorrect information in responses will frustrate customers, worsening their experience and overall satisfaction considerably.

The very best chatbots are those that have elements of personalisation and can relay natural language that is courteous and easy to understand. Making chatbots as friendly as possible will invoke the same feelings amongst the customer towards the bot and raise overall satisfaction levels.

Self-service is a fantastic opportunity for retailers, with lots of benefits for both their business and customers. However, reaping these benefits and making self-service a success requires retailers to think very carefully about implementation and, above everything else, put the customer first.