Gerry McGovern, Customer Carewords

Self-service is the essence of the web. People go online in order to solve problems and complete tasks on their own.

“Oh, we have a self-service section on our web site,” some say. No you don’t. Your entire web site is self-service. Your apps are self-service. Most of your digital ecosystem is self-service. “But isn’t self-service just about doing a transaction?” No. If someone is looking up a policy on the intranet, that’s self-service. If someone is trying to figure how to install a product on your web site, that’s self-service. If someone wants to find out what the weather will like today on their smartphone, that’s self-service.

The principles of self-service design and management are:

  • Simplicity
  • Convenience
  • Control
  • Speed
  • Price
  • Customer observation, continuous improvement

Self-service is about people doing things for themselves rather than having others do things for them. On the web, people self-serve by reading content, clicking links, and using applications. The web is all about self-service. Apps are all about self-service. The more technology-driven a society becomes the more self-service it becomes.

Self-service is part of an inexorable trend where people are being replaced by software, by content, by robots. Self-service means using something (content, applications, and so on) to fulfill your needs. Most buyer/seller relationships are not purely self-service. A vending machine needs to be refilled. Someone packs your order at Amazon. But the overall trend is towards self-service supported by content and apps.

The essence of the return-on-investment argument for self-service is that it reduces time. The organization spends less staffing self-service tasks and customers spend less time doing them.

Simplicity is key to self-service because you don’t have that other human to guide you through the process. Thus, you need things to be very clear and simple. Convenience drives self-service. Why should you change? People develop habits. They like to do the same thing the same way they did it the last time. And if they are dealing with another human they often feel more comfortable. So, for them to shift to self-service there must be a significant reward. Their lives need to be made easier, more convenient.

The customer today wants to be in control. That’s what we love about the web. It gives us a lot of information which puts us more in control of our lives. If self-service increases the control we have over our lives we will be attracted to it. Think about choosing your seat on a plane, think about being able to check up on a medicine that was recommended by your doctor. The more control self-service gives to customers the more likely it is to succeed.

Self-service is about speed. We search quickly, we navigate quickly, we read quickly. If a page is slow to download, we’re quick to hit that back button. Self-service is cheap. If we’re doing it for ourselves we like to get rewarded for that. We’re saving the organization money, so what’s in it for us?

Self-service is about continuous improvement based on observing what customers are doing. The web is the ultimate laboratory of customer behavior. Testing is not some occasional activity. Testing is a culture, a way of management. We manage based on what we observe.