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Click Here: Moving to a Self-Service Society
Businesses across many industries today are moving more toward a self-service business model where their customers serve themselves. This trend is not new (e.g. consider vending machines and self-serve gas stations) but in just the past few years self-service has become much more common and accepted, if not expected, by consumers.

Much of this trend can be attributed to rising business costs, the deployment of technology and the consumer’s demand for choice. Consumer self-service reduces operating costs, increases convenience, and gives consumers more control over when they shop, how they shop and what they purchase.

Self-service seems to be everywhere: Here are just a few examples from everyday life of how many of us, as consumers, are now doing our own self-service:

  • Hello? Call many businesses today and you’ll get a recording (i.e. automated phone attendant) to route your call, take a message or even answer your question through a pre-recorded message
  • Going to a matinee? Call and order your movie tickets in advance or use the lobby kiosk machine to select and pay for your own tickets
  • Change a magazine or newspaper subscription or delivery schedule using automated phone menus
  • Airport check in: Check yourself and your bags in at the ticket counter in seconds using a touch-screen and avoid standing in long lines
  • Price check? Do your own price checks or check items in stock at many retail stores using their self-scanning bar code machine
  • Register warranty information for your new appliance or equipment online or by using an automated phone system
  • Homebanking: Use the phone or internet to automatically pay monthly bills, transfer funds, review cleared checks, or apply for a loan
  • Be your own broker: Check the DJIA, research stocks, and buy/sell your own stocks online
  • Cashless toll roads: Get a transponder for your vehicle and you never have to carry cash or stop to pay a toll; retrieve your own receipts online
  • Got milk? Bag your own groceries and do your own checkout without a cashier
  • Continuing education: Go to any college website and register for classes and even take classes online via distance learning modules
  • Tickets for the big game: Go to your favorite team’s website to pick your own seats and even check the stadium view from your seat before deciding to purchase
  • Conference registration: Register online for next year’s conference or tradeshow. Select the workshops you want to attend, your meal entrees, and even fill out your own name badge.
  • Skip the hospital gown: Doctors now provide us as outpatients with the equipment and tools to do our own labwork in the convenience and privacy of our home
It sounds great but...: Self-service strategies are not without some risks including the potential to frustrate, alienate, or lose customers when they have questions or want more personal service. Some businesses attempt to reduce this risk by limiting self-service to routine and simple processes (e.g. reviewing bank account balances or purchasing airline tickets). Also, businesses using self-service channels typically provide their customers with “back office” support (e.g. call centers staffed by trained personnel) to answer questions. Some businesses using self-service also continue to maintain other channels that some customers may be more comfortable with (e.g. you can still use the bank’s drive-up window or lobby or mail in your retail catalog order).

Convincing the customer: Although self-service channels may be appealing to a business, one challenge can be getting customers to use them, especially if the business previously provided full service and may now be viewed as taking something away. To influence consumers to serve themselves, many businesses now offer price discounts (e.g. $20 off an airline’s e-ticket or $50 off online purchases from a retail store, etc.)

Not only do businesses offer discounts to convert consumers, some of these same businesses also add surcharges for those who still prefer to use the familiar but more expensive channels. Thus an airline adds $20 to the ticket price if you prefer to use a live agent to book your flight, a trade association surcharges members to call in and register by phone, and some banks now charge customers a $3.00 fee just to talk to a teller in person.

IS self-service right for my business? The self-service trend is significant enough that most organizations, regardless of the industry, are carefully examining how much and in what ways they can successfully deploy self-service. Here are some of the questions to ask and answer regarding self-service:

* How do our customers prefer to contact and do business with us?
* What are our current channel costs per transaction?
* How are our competitors using self-service to gain a cost advantage or to make it easier for our customers to do business with them?
* Do our current self-service practices truly benefit our customers or create barriers that frustrate and drive them away?

Out-clicking the competition: Many organizations today have already figured out ways to “out-click” their competitors with self-service practices that not only satisfy their current customers, but also attract other consumers who want the same choices, convenience, discounts, and control over their purchase decisions.
 

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