Is Customer Self Service Worthless?

You read right, we’re going to talk about customer self service. It’s a loaded topic, and a rather polarizing one these days. Self service on paper looks like a splendid idea, but many businesses and professionals inherently see some potential issues with this concept. Some of them are founded, others not so much, but all of them add up to this being a drastically overlooked model for interface, CRM and overall design.

What are some of these problems people tend to see in self service? Well, the biggest one is a lack of faith in how smart people are. Left to their own devices, people are sure customers will be unable to handle their own stuff, or worse, break something or even find exploits. An SaaS design expert recently described it in his blog as “like unto leaving an angry chimpanzee in a missile silo”. He was utterly wrong, but we’ll come back to that rather poignant analogy in a bit.

Another problem is the supposed limitations in technology and interface capacities, especially with SaaS and web services, meaning that self service just wouldn’t implement properly on current technology. Once more, this is very wrong, but we’ll get to that shortly as well.

Finally, and probably the greatest accusation is of customer self service being worthless and useless. This is founded largely on the first two issues, but there’s the added alleged lack of benefit and functionality from it. Naysayers will argue that it brings nothing particularly useful to the experience, especially to justify these woefully inaccurate previous issues. Are they right? Is self service a pointless endeavor? Are these other problems real?

Not on this planet.

Let’s address this in parts and then as a whole. The key arguments for self service being not useful are the first two problems, so let’s put those to bed right here and now.

First, as said a moment ago, many believe that customers left to their own devices will cause havoc. How, exactly? A chimpanzee left alone and berserk in a missile silo would still need the key command and to be able to turn the keys to fire that missile. Such is the case with customers causing problems with self service. People are smart, and increasingly tech-savvy, and they would still only have the power your self service model granted them. If you don’t want them to break databases or crash servers, don’t give them access to things that can do this.

People learn quickly, and most modern technology requires you to try to break it. If someone is going to try to break it, self service being present or absent won’t change their desire to attempt this. These are called hackers and they simply … exist.

Second, the technological barriers. Honestly, where are people basing these barriers from? If it’s a bandwidth issue, that has no bearing on self service, and if it’s an interface issue, well … they had a valid point for a while. Not anymore, though. Now, onboard systems allow for dynamic, learning interfaces which can counter mistakes users make, teach them in real time, and report problems to the tech staff all silently and unobtrusively.

Technology isn’t an issue with self service and it hasn’t been since 2010.

So, what’s left in the argument for customer self service being pointless? That it brings nothing useful to the table? Well, that’s ridiculous. Let’s look at three things right off the bat that it offers.

First, it alleviates CRM, customer service and tech support workloads. These people have to intervene constantly where self service isn’t in place, making their departments costly, and making customer service and CRM laggy ineffective in areas where it actually needs to be. Self service reduces this significantly.

Second, with this alleviation of support, overhead drops significantly for this, increasing profitability as well as efficient use of human resources and man hours. It’s cost effective to not be a babysitter.

Third, and probably the most important, customers will get more efficiency out of increased control over their service. If they can handle everything but fatal technological breakdowns on their own, they do not need to wait for staff to hold their hands through higher level things. They can just … take care of it on their own.

This saves them time, which will improve the user experience drastically.

So, is customer self service dangerous, not feasible and worthless? Of course not. It’s a much valued tool that can significantly lower costs and help reach all those important KPI’s.

Stefanie Amini
is Specialist in Customer Success and chief writer and editor of I Want It Now, a blog for Customer Service Experts. Follow her @StefWalkMe