Thursday, July 21, 2005

Self Service Technologies - Enable customers to provide their own service

One of the major recent changes in consumer behavior is the growing tendency to interact with technology to create services instead of interacting with a live service personnel. Self Service Technologies (SST) is a set of customer interface technology that allows customers to produce their own service instead of interacting with a service providing employee. A classic example is an Automated Teller Machine (ATM). ATM allows bank customers to serve themselves with most of the commonly needed banking service.

Today, the list of services customers provide themselves are huge: Airline booking, Banking, self service gas stations, travel planning, package tracking, tax filing etc. These services can be classified in three categories:
  1. Customer Transactions
  2. Customer Service
  3. Customer Self-Help

The reason for such massive proliferation of customer self-service can be attributed to:

  • Customers are technology savvy: Customers understand how to use the technology & know how they can serve themself better.
  • SST works: When SST works as they are supposed to, customers are delighted.
  • SSTs are better than the human alternative: SSTs can save time, costs and offer more flexibility than the human counterpart. Internet & telephone based SSTs allows customers to choose the time when they need the service. The quality of serivice through SST is always at an assured standard - unlike a human interface, where quality of service varies with the person who is providing the service.
  • SSTs help customers in difficult situation: At times of crisis or difficult situations, customers want reliable service fast. SSTs emables the customer to provide the much needed service themselves.

The practice of self servicing has grown from consumer domain to Industrial business domain. This is natural, People who are used to self service in their personal life also want the same in they work life. Corporate banking such as Demand Orders, LoC etc can be done online.

A classic example of SST in Business domain is Cisco’s customer service. Cisco provides routers and networking devices which are critical to keep businesses running soomthly. If these devices fail, customers want that problem to be solved immediately.

To address this, Cisco turned to Internet. It built a world class model of customer service using the internet. The Internet based customer service system has set Cisco apart in its industry and helped to build customer loyalty in a highly competitive environment.

Essentially, Cisco put customers in charge of their own service through Internet. In most cases, customers can solve their serice problems with no intervention of Cisco personnel. Access to the solution is immediate, and solutions are customized for the individual customer. Called as "Cisco Connection Online" - It has helped Cisco improve its customer relations, reduce service errors, and win customer loyality.

Currently, more than 80% of customer problems care handled via "Cisco Connection Online" . Customer satisfaction has improved tremendously and has become a differentiating factor for Cisco. This is truly a win-win situation for Cisco and its customers.

A note of caution

SSTs can destory customer relationship and hence customer value if there are problems. Companies that deploy SSTs must be aware of the fact that their technology can be prone to failures, glitches or misuse.

Customers hate the service providing firm when they face problems with SSTs. Common problems with SSTs are:

  • SSTs fail: Technology is always prone to failure. An ATM may not work due to power failure, Internet connection failure, Machine malfunction etc. When this happens, customers do not blame the ATM but they blame the bank!
  • Customer Interface is poorly designed: Poorly designed technologies that are difficult to use or understand annoys customers. A poorly designed webpage will make turnoff the customer from buying and will avoid using that website in future.
  • Customer messes up: Not all customers will be technology savvy. Some customers need more hand holding, more training to use the SSTs. When customer messes up, they usually blame the technology, the company which used the SST.
  • There is no service recovery: When technology or process fails, customer is left high & dry. SSTs cannot provide ways to recover on the spot. Customers are forced to call or visit the company, and that was what they wanted to avoid by using SSTs. For example, if the ATM fails and gobbles up the ATM card, customer must call the bank to get his card back.


It is evident that as technology innovation increases & societies become more technology savvy, customers will like to serve themselves if SSTs are useful to them. To make SSTs useful and successful, it must be fail proof, easy to use and have recovery system in place when they fail.
An example of service recovery in ATM can be: When ATM fails, it should shut down the user interface screen or display a clear error message, alert the bank of the failure & the bank must respond quickly to rectify it.

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