Why are UK consumers set against self-service?

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By: Wise Marketer Staff |

Posted on May 10, 2002

The majority of consumers in the UK are feeling frustrated and disempowered by self-service facilities, according to an independent Mori survey conducted for Detica. The survey suggests that most consumers believe that companies are serving their own interests by introducing self-service.

The research, Self-Service Technology: Putting the Customer in the Driving Seat, published by CRM consultancy Detica, reveals that 75% of consumers feel that when a company introduces self-service it is often there to help the company rather than the customer. Respondents felt frustrated and disempowered by self service technology, suggesting that companies are risking their consumer and brand relationships as a result. The root cause of the problem is identified by the survey as lack of genuine customer-centricity on the part of businesses which, in many cases, leads to the implementation of 'solutions' which consumers find entirely ineffective.

Fundamental flaws
The survey suggests that there is a fundamental flaw in the way organisations are approaching self-service: some 80% of consumers feel that the ongoing development of self-service communication technology is a good thing in theory (i.e. mobiles, digital, satellite, cable, DVDs, PCs and the web). In practice, however, over half (51%) do not understand how self-service will ease the process of contacting businesses. Some 82% of consumers feel that organisations fail to take their needs into account in this regard, whilst 73% feel that self-service is implemented purely for the benefit of the organisation concerned.

And the inappropriate deployment of communications technologies has meant customers have been left feeling disempowered. Over 80% feel they were given insufficient help by companies in using new self-services. Interactive voice recognition (IVR) is particularly criticised by consumers, being described as a 'hostage maker'. Two thirds agree or strongly agree that IVR makes the process of contacting companies more difficult. As a result 86% want to be given the choice of speaking to a human operator or using IVR. More interactive enabling technologies, such as the internet, generated more positive reactions.

Just 11% of the population of the UK are ready to adopt self-service technologies in the forms in which companies are currently offering them. The survey found it is typically only these 'early adopters', most of whom are already technically able, who exhibit the right attitude and aptitude to make self-service work in its current form, since they require only minimal encouragement and only basic levels of initial support to adopt new technology. And apart from technological barriers, almost a third of consumers agreed that there are also psychological and emotional barriers which need to be addressed before self-service is openly embraced.

What's the solution?
One solution, according to Detica, is for companies to be smarter about their customer education programmes (only 33% of the consumers felt that companies were good at communicating the benefits of new self-services). All of this indicates that the problem lies not in the technology itself but in the way companies are implementing it. The research highlights this problem further as 75% of respondents claim communications technology has had no positive impact whatsoever. From this, Detica concludes that that organisations are failing to maximise their investment in remote channel development and that many have actually wasted their money. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that 13% of respondents said new communications technology had definitely had a negative impact on their relationships with core brands.

Key factors
The research identifies three factors that are critical in good customer experience delivery:

  • Facilitation - both the process and the nature of the self service solution need to be designed to make the customer's life easier
  • Control - the consumer should always feel that they are in the driving seat
  • Relevance - the consumer must feel that the whole process - the product, the brand and the communication - has been created with them in mind.

Jeremy Braune, head of customer experience at Detica comments: "Self service has the power to cut costs, to serve and to strengthen the consumer's relationship with the brand - but it is failing at present to do so and customers still feel that their contact with an organisation is not under their control." He added that "in order to empower their customers and strengthen their relationships, companies must first understand who their core customers are, the kind of communications relationship they want, and how it needs to be supported. 'Understand, implement and educate', should be the self-service mantra."

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