Love the human, love the app, love the robot: The self-service platform in the digital era

By James Cammarata, on | Banking

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The customer self-service platform has come a long way. Think about the progression from interactions using telephone responses to web and mobile apps, along with more recent chatbots and robots. New technologies born in the cloud and made accessible by mobile devices have changed our notions of self-service. We want immediacy and easy access to everything.

“If I can go on Amazon and order a shirt in one or two clicks, then why can’t I order a pizza in one or two clicks?” asked Yum! Brands CEO Greg Creed in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

So, how do humans, apps and robots collectively add value to a self-service platform in the digital era?

All about the customer

Selecting the best mix of self-service tools is about aligning with customer needs. My wife loves the convenience of a mobile app for her business and personal banking. Yet for making a service appointment, she insists that speaking to someone on the phone is faster. Her behavior is not unusual. A banking preferences survey from The Wall Street Journal showed that 80 percent of respondents said online and mobile functions are important, yet 35 percent said branches are important. Data from NewVoiceMedia showed that the preference for a live agent versus automated self-help was 52 percent for an appointment booking, while 86 percent preferred a live agent for technical support. It’s clear automated and digital self-service platforms complement human interaction.

Does technology deliver the same value as the human touch? It’s possible, but there are gaps between customer interest in self-service technology and the satisfaction it provides. According to Business Insider, an NM Incite report claims 47 percent of US social media users tried some form of social media for customer satisfaction. A separate survey from the North Ridge Group showed that 33 percent of social media customer service requests go unanswered. Business Insider’s research found that customers prefer phone and email despite the interest in chat and bots. The self-service message you implicitly send to customers depends on the value they receive from the interaction.

Here’s how to make customer self-help capabilities and platforms work for your business:

Use a superior customer self-service platform as a competitive advantage, not a cost-cutting tool

Companies that are leaders in providing superior customer service have outperformed their competitors by a factor of three times the profitability of S&P 500 companies in recent years, claimed James Heskett, professor emeritus at the Harvard Business School. According to Bloomberg, Starbucks showed the right approach: It was an early leader in using mobile apps for payments, and 21 percent of its customers now pay using mobile. The company built on its success, with a mobile capability in the US enabling customers to order and pay ahead using the app. The coffeehouse chain is rolling out the service in China and Japan this year.

Plan customer self-service platforms as an integral part of your business model

Determine the role self-service plays as a channel and means for satisfying customers and building loyalty. For many years, Quicken Loans claimed it was “engineered to amaze.” Speaking as a longtime customer, I confirm it does amaze. Its excellent self-help on the web for applying, closing and servicing a loan is seamlessly woven into the way it does business. When I need a personal touch, it’s easy to connect with its support team or my mortgage banker.

Make a mix of apps, text, bots and cognitive part of the self-service platform

Customers are willing to use the full range of self-service tools if the experience serves their needs. Cognitive systems that can understand, learn and reason will provide breakthroughs in customer service. These cognitive self-help functions may be delivered through an app, device or robot. The Verge reported that Hilton Hotels is testing Connie, a robot serving as a concierge. Medtronic is developing an app that will monitor diabetes patients and anticipate the probability of a diabetic event occurring. These tools will make anticipatory services made possible by data-driven apps or cognitive systems more common.

Welcome to the new world of self-service platforms in the digital era. Take advantage of the opportunities for using technology to drive superior self-service. Love the human, love the app, love the robot.

About The Author

James Cammarata

Mobile Enterprise Marketing Strategy Leader, IBM

James is an experienced Mobile Enterprise Marketing Strategy Leader at IBM. He has led strategy and marketing initiatives for a diverse group of IT businesses at IBM over the past 20 years. Currently he manages marketing strategy for IBM's mobile enterprise portfolio of software and services. He started his career in the advertising business developing advertising programs for major consumer businesses in the US and Europe.

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