Customers embracing self-service

Self-service web portals are no longer just about cutting costs. They provide better customer service and can even help increase sales.

A self-service portal is a website that enables users to perform transactions, such as updating their account details, paying bills, or managing their technical or customer support queries.

For a long-time, self-service portals were considered to be just a cost cutting tool and to offer second-best service to customers. This is no longer true. Many customers prefer to interact via this channel. According to research by Forrester, some 72 per cent of US online consumers prefer to use a company's website to get answers to their questions rather than contact the companies via telephone or email.

For instance, getting a police certificate for a job or a visa application can be a time consuming process, with forms to fill out, documents to be gathered and a visit to a police station or Post Office.

In Western Australia, however, a National Police Certificate can be received in a matter of minutes online. The whole process can be completed electronically, from application through to identity check with third party databases, cashless payment and secure digital delivery of the certificate.

The WA Police online police certificate application process which is powered by Australia Post, is meeting increased customer demand for self-service offerings, while at the same time maintaining public trust and confidence in the process.

Customers use self-service because they want quick answers to their questions and don’t want to be stuck waiting on the other end of the phone line. They want to be able to make transactions or find answers to their questions at any time of the day or night. Likewise, they want to be able to complete these transactions not just on their PC or laptop, but also from their smartphones and tablets.

Self-service enables companies to optimise their customer service. Those customers with simple questions or straightforward transactional needs can use the company’s self-service portal. This frees up customer service agents to devote more time to customers who have more complex requirements.

In fact, a survey shows when customers have a question for a company, about 70 per cent go to the internet before they try anything else.

Self-service portals are evolving from cost centres to profit centres, because they enable the delivery of more personalised content to users and open the way for compelling cross-selling or up-selling opportunities.

Cost is still important

While cost isn’t necessarily the main reason companies introduce self-service, it does produce significant cost savings. It’s easier to quantify and assign a value to these cost savings than it is for some of the “softer” customer service and satisfaction measures - so cost can help form part of the internal business case for self-service.

According to research by Destination CRM, some 45 per cent of companies with web or mobile self-service capabilities report measurable reductions in phone enquiries and 39 per cent report less email traffic. These can add up to significant savings. Research from Forrester reveals web self-service can cost 10c or less per customer contact. This is only a fraction of the cost of other forms of customer contact – such as US$12 for call centre technical support or US$2.50 to US$5 for an email response.

Proof of identity is needed for several hundred million transactions a year in Australia and over a quarter of Australians turn to Australia post for an identity check each year.
Moving these checks to self-service portals brings benefits for consumers and also for the businesses and governments offering the service.

Research commissioned by Australia Post illustrates the cost savings achievable when companies give customers self-service options. According to the Boston Consulting Group, solving digital identity friction could unlock $11billion of economic value each year for Australia’s consumers, business and government.

Organisations want to personalise experiences in ways that are easy and cost-effective and they want to provide simpler customer enrollment solutions while reducing the risk of fraud, which remains a main challenge for many of them.

Strong customer response

For their part, consumers expect control over what information is shared and with whom, and are looking for organisations to reduce ‘identity fatigue’ and the need to provide personal details more than once.

The appeal of digital self-service offerings is evident in the customer response to self-service police certificates from WA Police. Customers started using the service as soon as it was switched on, even without any promotion or education. Within a month, some 40 per cent of applicants were choosing the paperless path.

As Australia Post account director Magda Hall, who worked on the project, wrote in a blog: “To succeed, digital services need to ‘speak for themselves’ – providing the safety, ease and confidence for consumers to transact on line.”
Customers also appeared to see the potential for these identity services to save time and hassle in the future. Within the first two months of the launch of the online police certificates, 78 per cent of users ticked ‘yes’ to having their data held securely for possible reuse in the future for other services.

Successfully introducing customer self-service requires a clear vision of what the organisation is trying to achieve, and balancing different objectives. A businesses’ finance department will be looking for cost savings, the marketing department is likely to be more focussed on trying to use self-service to increase sales and customer satisfaction, while customers want choice and convenience.

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