Self-service is the name of the game these days. You are accustomed to doing self-checkout at the grocery store or big box, booking your own plane tickets or reserving a table at your favorite restaurant. You can even order a $100,000-plus Tesla electric car completely online.
Your employees and your customers are no different. Like you, they are intent on using technology to interact with your company, your service staff, your products and your services themselves. And you’re letting them do this, right?
What started with phone decision trees and interactive voice response (IVR) systems has morphed to websites and now mobile apps designed to offer a high-touch customer experience – with no actual human-to-human contact involved. Self-service allows companies to deploy resources to other areas – when self-service works as it should. Keep these 5.5 tips in mind as you design self-service applications.
1. Get the back-end right on the front end. If applications will be required to access your back-office systems, the connections among servers and applications must be bullet-proof, super secure and super fast. For companies that deal in sensitive personal information such as medical details, Social Security numbers or claims information, this detail is particularly important. Nobody wants to wait for information to load, and we all know that the amount of time a customer is willing to wait is getting shorter and shorter.
2. Get up close and personal. Despite the lack of human interaction, we still crave a personalized experience. That requires a fairly high level of sophistication to remember customer preferences and offer relevant, timely suggestions. When in doubt during the design phase, refer back to tip No. 1.
2.5 Don’t annoy the customer. How frustrating is it to be searching on a website or with an app for a fairly specific item (by brand name, size, unique features, etc.) only to get results that in no way match what you’re searching for. If you don’t have the item or offer that service, just say so.
3. Have a plan. Effective application development doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Before the first line of code is written, take time to understand your customers/employees and what they want. Develop a roadmap of how the app will work, with an eye toward reusing certain components if you can to save development time and money. And if this skill is beyond your IT staff, get help.
4. Future-proof your apps. If your company is more than a few years old, you likely have at least one legacy system that’s outdated but that you still need. What contortions do your IT staff perform to tie that antiquated system into others? Consider creating Application Program Interfaces (APIs) to make those connections easier today – and tomorrow. APIs also make it easier to tie your systems to others. Think about products/services that you don’t offer that would complement those that you do. For example, you can get the weather forecast from the app you use to rent a car or book an airline ticket. Those companies aren’t in the weather forecasting business, but they’ve partnered with companies that are.
5. Don’t forget the personal touch. There still are times when a customer or an employee needs to speak with a real live person. Make that as easy as possible by tying customer phone numbers with their data files or saving search sessions for easy retrieval. I know this is old school, but have real people answer the phone at your company. What a change of pace that would be!
The level of self-service you need to offer customers and employees may depend on your industry, the complexity of your business and other factors. But nearly every company should be looking at ways to offer self-service that makes sense.