Are You Ready for the Self-Serve Era?

Retail Report – May 2017
May 31, 2017
Don’t Exceed Customer Expectations
May 26, 2017

by David Ham | May 30, 2017


Why is customer service becoming more difficult to deliver? One reason is that the emphasis on self-service may have unintended consequences. As high-quality online solutions address easier questions for customers, agents are left to handle the more difficult problems.

Customer service is evolving rapidly toward a self-serve model, which many customers prefer. I dread contacting a call center, weaving my way through IVR menu options, being placed on hold, feeling relief when finally reaching an actual human being, explaining what I need . . . then cringing when the agent tells me, all too frequently, that I need to speak with someone else. So, it’s back to another queue, retelling my story, etc. Lather, rinse, repeat.

It can be much less painful for customers to address an issue through online means. This online self-serve approach benefits businesses by lowering call center costs, but it also can change expectations for live agent training and skills.

During a recent family vacation, we were in a car to the airport to fly home when I received a text indicating that our departing flight had been delayed five hours. Besides the dreadful thought of all that time in the airport, it was clear we would miss our connecting flight home. The airline (recognized as a leader for customer experience) included a link in the text message for “support.”

I was skeptical as to whether I could address this online, but I tried the link. Their mobile website showed us arriving in Chicago at 11:30pm, and departing from there at 9:00pm. That schedule was not consistent with my understanding of how the space-time continuum works.

The site gave me an option to cancel my flight but I couldn’t see how to change it. After the self-serve failure, I called the airline to speak with a live agent. I went through the IVR options and was told the wait was about 15 minutes, but I could disconnect and receive a call back once upon reaching the front of the queue.

That sounded good. In about ten minutes I got a call back, and was promptly disconnected while being transferred to a live human. I started the process again, opted to stay on the line, and finally reached an agent about 25 minutes after starting the process.

I explained the situation to the agent. She checked the itinerary and offered two solutions: 1) fly us home Monday morning (instead of Saturday evening), or 2) refund our rewards miles and cancel our return ticket. (I wasn't feeling so “rewarded” at that point.) I told her, as calmly as I could, that I wasn’t shopping for tickets from another airline at the last minute and that Monday was not an acceptable option due to work and school. She gave me the verbal equivalent of a shoulder shrug and told me to talk to someone at the airport.

We got to the airport and the agent at the counter offered the same options. Not good. When I suggested they fly us to Chicago that night, put us in a hotel, and fly us back home the next morning, she went to a supervisor who blessed that solution. The agent acted annoyed but made it happen. (I would later talk directly with another supervisor who actually listened, acknowledged my frustration, and compensated us fairly.)

Consistent with my recent airline experience, CFI Group’s 2016 Contact Center Satisfaction Index (CCSI) study showed a big jump in the number of customers reporting they must talk to multiple agents to get resolution. That rate was up to 50% last year vs. 30% two years prior. Even with all the screening mechanisms in place, a customer has about a coin flip’s chance of reaching someone who can help them on the first try.

That takes a dramatic toll on customer satisfaction and loyalty. When an issue is resolved by the first agent, the CCSI score is 83 (on a 100-point scale), when a second agent gets involved the score drops to 75, and then to 64 when a third agent is needed. Customer loyalty and willingness to recommend plummet accordingly.

So, why is customer service becoming more difficult to deliver? One reason is that the emphasis on self-service may have unintended consequences. As high-quality online solutions address easier questions for your customers, agents are left to handle the more difficult problems.

Are your agents trained to handle such issues properly? Or is the contact center seen as a cost center that needs to be managed accordingly, providing poor customer experiences and damaging customer relationships? Proper measurement is critical for understanding customers’ greatest needs with your contact center and identifying improvement opportunities.

Other Resources


We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By agreeing you accept the use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.

Share This
//]]>