12 Tips to Tame the Self-Service Juggernaut

Getting to book your own flight tickets without going to a travel agent or picking food of your choice from a buffet rather than being served are self-services that all of us have done to ourselves in the past few years, if not decades.

Industries with large customer base and having multiple-frequent touch points have always been the forerunners of Self-Service adoption, be it retail, airlines, telecom, banking or hospitality.

If you are not from one of these industries, don’t dispose self-service as an irrelevant component. Dr. Robert Ersek, an Austin plastic surgeon, has taken self-service to a new level by performing liposuction on himself!

That my sound weird, but Self-service is now a growing global trend across industries that aim to help customers to get the optimal experience they’re looking for more quickly while reducing the cost of servicing to the service provider.

self service

In developed countries, more than 70% adoption to self-service channels in air travel web-check in or online utility bill payments.

Companies seriously pursue self-service adoption because it can reduce nearly 40% servicing costs. For example, telecom companies have seen that 12% reduction in call volumes when issues are resolved through web self-service.

Let’s accept Self-Service is a juggernaut that even large organizations are struggling to stir successfully. For example, HSBC had to pull off its One HSBC program that aimed to provide seamless experience to customers and encouraged self-service options. After 2 years, due to complexities such as global spread, local regulations, customer literacy levels, legacy tech systems, etc., the Bank had to step back. It is estimated that this program cost them over 20% of annual technology budget of nearly $6 Bn.

Again, Albertsons LLC grocery store chain, based in Boise, Idaho, had to pull back its self-checkout kiosks to ensure customer experience isn’t impacted.

On the other hand, Zipcar, a car rental startup (now a subsidiary of Avis) has seamlessly achieved near to 100% self-service. After booking the car through mobile app, customers get instant keyless entry to the car that is available in local neighborhood, parking structures, facility clubs, etc.

While today’s technology is amazing, be it interactive & intelligent CRM solutions,  web-analytics, interactive voice response advancements, mobile applications, self-service kiosks, etc., the ground level challenges in companies that have implemented these technologies continues to be adoption, adoption and adoption!  Front line staff driving penetration of self-service channels quite often associate low penetration to customer’s attitude.  Organizations are trying out innovative ways to increase self service adoption.

Solutions to drive adoption lie in understanding the complexity of the problem from both design and execution perspective. Here are 12 tips that can be customized to suit your environment to drive self-service adoption.

Improving Self-Service Design to Improve Adoption

1. Convenience: It is positioned as the single most important customer utility driver or self-service adoption. 24×7 support & 1 touch access isn’t exciting today’s customer. She looks at accuracy of information, her productivity, simplicity, guided, self-paced and of course easy access.

      • Accuracy: Is the information provided in self-service channel as real time as alternate channels? Disparate systems often lead to inaccurate or inconsistent information across channels, either misleading the customer or creating financial impact. These are good enough to act as a deterrent to consider such channels.
      • Customer Productivity: Does the self-service channel enable faster end-to-end hands-on time for the customer to complete the desired tasks? Complex navigation, improper placement, etc consume high end-to-end time. Learn more on Customer Productivity.
      • Simple: Anxious to get everything on self-service channels, designers end up creating complex designs overloaded with information. This further leads to system latency impacting customer productivity.
      • Guided: In the design of the self-service channels provide human or automated real-time guidance to enable customer progress in the journey. There is huge scope to increase adoption by targeting the automated real-time guidance.
      • Easy Access: While this has been the fundamental premise of self-service channels, having customer remember complex short codes, passwords, etc., certainly is a deterrent.
      • Self-paced: Most self-service channels are already self-paced.

2. Design for Abuse: Self-service channels are used by customers of diverse demographics and hence the design should cover all scenarios of use, abuse and potential failure modes. Consider conducting a Fault-Tree Analysis or Design Failure Modes Effects Analysis during design phase.

3. An ‘Out’ Ability : Consider include an ability from the customer to get out of the self-service channel right in the middle of the transaction to an alternate channel such as contact center, with least effort, yet able to complete the transaction successful.

4. Nudging : Find out ways of nudging customers to adopt rather than forcing them.  For example,, online grocery chain is loud enough to let customers know quantum of time they save for other important things in life, or HDFC’s favorite withdrawal functionality in ATMs highlights 80% lesser time to withdraw cash! Self-service adoption isn’t a mere technical or awareness issue, it’s a behavioral issue and many business & social problems have been solved using Nudging. Learn more about Nudging.

5. Single Utility Express Channel: Instead of designing all-in-one comprehensive self-service channel, consider single utility self-service channel with very specific purpose. For example, consider a self-service utility for just your top call driver of your contact center. If you reduce call volume of that driver through self-service by 60 – 80%, you will have nearly 20-40% reduction in overall calls. Single utility is far quicker to attract customers.

6. Robust Search Functionality: The whole world is addicted to Google search. Ride on this wave. Design your entire alternate self service channel through just search utility. Focus on building robust search functionality in your alternate channels. Get to experiment and improve keywords, simplify information provided, fine tune language, include pictorial/visual guidance, comprehensively cover all scenarios, etc.

7. Proactive Push: Amazon proactively updates its customers on the status of the consignment through SMS during various stages of the logistics. The top call driver for any logistics company is ‘Status of Consignment’. So instead of developing exhaustive self-service channels where information is available on demand, identify important milestones in customer journey and proactively push information.

8. Customer Community: Consider the communities of Android developers, Udemy instructors, Lego Mindstorms customers, 3D printing enthusiasts, artists, etc. They are part of a community that serves their needs as customers. Products and Services that require customers to learn, adopt and apply specific knowledge during usage journey are best suited for customer community. In such cases, creating an apt environment to nurture the community is all that you have to do. Peer member network will self service itself.

9. Passing on benefits to customers: Design of self-service channels should involve a business mindset rather than a technical mindset. Consider a business case to pass on benefits to customers who move to self-service channels.

Improving Self-Service Execution to Improve Adoption

10. Customer Anxiety: Think about how you felt when you first used your Credit Card to make an online payment a decade ago. Were you anxious? In a recent survey, it came out clearly that customers initially experience an anxiety in using a new technology that is associated with insecurity and uncertainty of the outcomes. It also came out clearly that customers feel they are safe if an employee is around hand-holding them.  Organizations usually address this concern by educating the customers to use the new channel again and again. Instead consider how blended help can be provided during the early stages of adoption to new self-service channel. This would mean an increase in customer service costs as compared to a decrease. Be prepared for a short term increase in costs if want to gain on long term..

11. Polite Service Denials: When the customer reaches out to a retail outlet or contact center of a brand, explaining to the customer the presence of an alternate source of service, its benefits and letting the customer use the alternate channel right away to fulfill her need without providing service through conventional channel is nothing but polite service denials. It is a powerful way to drive quick adoption of new channel. On the contrary, organizations that provide the service through current channel and explain about the alternate channels and its benefits aren’t successful when it comes to adoption.

12. Up-times: Self-service channels with low adoption usually get poor management attention. Hence service levels such as up-time, regular upkeep of accuracy of information, etc., are also poor. This becomes a deterrent for customers who voluntarily use such self-service channels. After all, when you get customers to new channel you don’t want to let them have a bad experience!

None of these 12 tips will be permanent fixes, but they are avenues to experiment in small scale to see how your customer base reacts to these changes. But that’s how all fixes are!


  • Rise of Customer Self Service, Cynthia Clark, 2013, 1to1 Media
  • How Customers View Self-Service Technologies, Sheryl E. Kimes and Joel E. Collier, Magazine: Fall 2015 Research
  • Customer Success Summit: Increasing Self-Service Adoption ,Tomer Hason, WalkMe, Totango’s Customer Success Summit

Customer Experience a priority for you in 2016?  4 of 5 organizations across industries say their top priority is Customer Experience.

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