The Evolution of Customer Success: Self-Service Fuel Pumps to DIY Website Builders

We are honored to have Shep Hyken as a guest on our blog. This is the first of a three part series by Shep on the evolution of customer service and customer success. 

I suppose many of you reading this weren’t driving – or perhaps even born yet – when the Arab oil embargo forced gas prices up. Gas station owners, fighting to stay profitable started to turn to the “self-service” model in big numbers.

It could be comical in gas stations during those days. Many drivers had no idea how to deal with gas caps, let alone the pumps, which had to be manually reset after each customer was finished filling his or her tank.

In those days, most gas stations offered customers two options: self-service with a lower price or full-service. Either way there was always an employee hanging around the pumps to collect money, make change and to reset the pumps. However, in the early days of self-service these attendants probably spent as much time helping people deal with pumping their own gas as they did tending to the full-service customers. Of course, over time drivers learned the routines and pumping your own gas became the accepted routine. And over time, the “full-service” option disappeared in most gas stations, and the owners of these stations were able to reduce staff and lower their overhead.


Let’s compare and contrast that with the situation we’re in today. What I described above is an example of consumers going through a trial-and-error process to achieve a desired result – a full tank of gas in this case. I want to make two points; first, consumers weren’t demanding self service. Second, the technology involved was quite simple.

Fast forward to now and we see a startling contrast: Consumers and business professionals are demanding to do things on their own, and the things they want to do can be extraordinarily technical and complicated.

Today, people want to build their own websites, “podcast” their own interview shows, order the right materials for in-home projects or repairs, find the best dentist in their new town, and much more – all without being guided by an “expert.” Our desire for independence and self-reliance (or at least the perception of self-reliance) has increased in parallel with the emergence of new and powerful technology – be it hardware, software and now cloud-based services.

But there are some side effects associated with this quest for independence. While we have become experts at navigating the Internet to find previously obscure information, it seems that we’re losing the capacity or will power to retain large pieces of information.

Thanks to the prevalence and capabilities of smartphones, we have become information “quick draw” artists. These devices allow us to quickly consume an unlimited amount of information whenever we want. But in the era of 140 character attention spans, we’re not retaining the knowledge. A recent Forrester report points out that “the modern customer prefers to learn where to find information, rather than actually memorizing it.”

We live in a world of increasing complexity. This highlights the fact that in many cases the usefulness of traditional customer service strategies is changing, if not ending.

Our decreasing desire to internalize vast amounts of information and the increasing complexity of systems has brought us to a conceptual crossroads. What solutions or possibilities exist for us moving forward?

That’s what we’ll look at next. So, stay tuned for Part Two.

Shep Hyken, CSP, CPAE is a customer service expert, professional speaker and bestselling author who works with companies and organizations who want to build loyal relationships with their customers and employees. Visit his website: