Self-service is emotionally stupid and it might be hurting your business.
If you’re unsure how emotions play into a customer’s experience consider this example:
Picture yourself in a specialty running shoe store. You might be able to discern that you want shoes with or without cleats and you’ll probably have a brand or two that you’re more familiar with, but even given those details, if you’re like me, the options are still overwhelming.
In comes the friendly service representative who says “I see you are wearing Nike’s, how do they feel?” This begins a conversation where you describe the exact feeling of the shoes and what you expect. The service representative will ask a few more questions about how far you are running, how often you are replacing your running shoes, and what kind of socks you’re wearing with them.
As you try on a new pair, the conversation shifts towards the next local run and if you went to the last one. “Yeah, the Gatorade tasted funny but the shirts they gave us are amazing!”
After the transaction is complete, you leave the store with a smile on your face, happy to have received great service, a great pair of shoes, and having reinforced your sense of community in the running world.
Now picture purchasing those shoes online. There is a lot of convenience to buying online such as doing so from the comfort of your home and instantly comparing prices. But, without an emotionally intelligent service representative on the other side, the experience may stop short of instilling a sense of confidence in your purchase or bringing a smile to your face.
Self-Service Lacks Emotional Intelligence
To be fair, self-service can bring a lot of benefits to both the customer and business, but companies should be aware that the level of customer satisfaction overall can drop because of the absence of human connection.
Try as we might, algorithms still fall short on emotional intelligence.
In terms of customer service, emotional intelligence gives an employee the ability to listen and react to a customer’s needs in an optimized way. While a computer can be optimized for higher sales and conversions, an employee can optimize customer satisfaction.
To only provide services without ever connecting on an emotional level handicaps the brand in achieving customer loyalty. Where putting friendly people on the floor is all that is needed to achieve emotionally intelligent service and high customer satisfaction, self-service must go much further before it can meet the same level.
Emotionally intelligent employees are better at adapting too. Employees can gauge a person’s frustration or pleasure, understand the context of the customer’s experience, discern a confused customer’s complaint or proactively engage the customer based on body-language and experience.
Of course, technology can pick up on other cues such as search history and click patterns but the advantage that employees have is that they can pick up on and adapt to a greater number of signals on the spot, without having to be programmed first.
How the Gap Can Be Bridged
The challenge is to create self-service systems that are so good and so convenient, they achieve customer satisfaction and loyalty on par with in-person service.
In-person customer service has the advantage of achieving these high levels of customer satisfaction simply by having emotional intelligence. But because emotional intelligence is not innate in self-service, these programs need to go above and beyond in ease of use and convenience to bridge the gap.
And, in order to build that bridge, self-service systems should emulate the emotional intelligence of face-to-face interactions.
Think first of how the service would play out in a brick and mortar store and then translate that into your digital platform.
In our specialty running shoe store, the customer service representative picked up on the customer’s confusion and jumped in with a personalized response. In a digital platform this could play out as a personalized guide that is triggered at the point of need.
Personalization and in-context assistance are some of the more obvious ways to emulate in-person interactions. Other methods include casual language copy and an intuitive interface.
The opportunities to improve on standard self-service practices are growing with the boom of SaaS companies and businesses are only limited by what is appropriate for their operation.
Self-Service as Valuable as a Smile
Consumers love the convenience of being able to service themselves from the comfort of wherever they connect. Along with convenience, its cost effectiveness and ability to be measured and optimized make self-service systems an indispensable part of doing business online.
Unfortunately, the cost of offering self-service convenience is the customer satisfaction that comes with a face-to-face interaction with an emotionally intelligent employee.
Self-service can’t smile. Self-service can’t empathize.
Emotionally intelligent service providers, those who can smile and empathize, see higher levels of customer satisfaction which in turn means loyal customers and better service for them.
The point here is not that self-service is bad, in fact it’s wonderful in terms of convenience, instead it’s that emotionally intelligent service is so much better at creating loyal and satisfied customers than any algorithm or automated system.
In order to bridge that gap, self-service systems should emulate emotional intelligence and face-to-face interactions to maintain high levels of customer satisfaction while still gaining the benefits of convenience.