Where’s Customer Service in the web design process?

I guess this idea boiled up to the surface as a result of the number of conferences and webinars I’ve recently attended on the subject.  That and the fact that I guess its my job to think about these things.  Things such as where customer service is heading; not next year or in five years but way out there.  Since my Magic 8 Ball seems to be on the fritz tonight, let’s focus on an opportunity for right here, right now. 

A logical place to start is with a definition.  What is web self service?  For purposes here, this is a pretty good definition.  Do you have something better?

To give this post a dash of credibility, I conducted a very unscientific review of 50 websites across various industries.  In over 70% of the cases where the website had some form of self service like FAQs, the most predominant feature of the ‘customer service’ or ‘contact us’ tab was the company’s 800 number.

So whats the message?  “We gave a cursory pass at a self service feature here, but its most likely not going to answer your question.  So here’s the phone number.  You’re going to end up calling us anyway”

On the topic, I had a really interesting discussion recently with the principals at S3 Integrity; a consulting and technology firm with a passion for self service and a focus on customer service as the key stakeholder in the development of technical solutions.

The guys at Integrity use the ATM analogy with me.  To effectively leverage the financial and operational benefits of web self service without sending your customers packing to the competitor, you have to do two things:

1. Make self service the most convenient channel through which to interact with your company so customers will be funneled to that channel.  Then,
 
2. Create an exceptional self service experience that is far superior to anything you will receive by dealing with a representative to keep customers coming back to it.

So, that got me thinking.  Customer service people know these two things implicitly.  So why isn’t customer service the owner of these projects across the board? 

Comments

  1. Interesting observations Barry, thanks. I love the fact that that definition is from 2002 – in internet years that's like a tablet handed down from Mount Sinai – but does seem to work.

    Where I think the world has changed is in the need for an integrated multichannel approach to service. For simple inquiries most customers will want a fast and easy result from the site – but some will still want to talk. As the inquiry gets more complicated so the ratio shifts in favour of talk over self service. But if they have self served first the supplier must know and recognise that.

    Also the idea that service is the responsibility only of the customer service department is also outdated. IT, marketing, design, sales even HR must have service built into their culture and not leave it to the "service guys" to rescue their mess-ups.

  2. Hey Mark,
    Thanks for the comment. Agree, 2002 does seem like ancient history. The reason I chose this though is specifically for that, I think the definition hasn't changed. Although the application of self service continues to evolve.

    Multi-channel strategy has also clearly evolved. One of the keys is to provide customer access via the channel through which they prefer. However, there is certainly more value that the web channel can provide above being a Yellow Pages for the contact center phone number. If you're going to invest in a channel, optimize it, both for the customer and for your bottom line. The two are congruous. Self service technology and business processes exist that allow for much more than the delivery of just simple inquiries. The business case is their as well. And if a customer prefers not to speak to an agent, but all you give him on the website is a simple answer to a simple inquiry, then force him to call the 800#, what impact have you had on that interaction?

    Your last point, right on. Customer service should not be the dumping ground. It should have a permanent sit at the strategy table. Tactically having greater input to these types of projects should also be a given for customer service.

    So, I think I just agreed with you…

    Thanks again. Look forward to reading your blog!

  3. Hi,
    You have got some great posts in your blog. Keep up with the good work.
    Indian website design companies lay stress on this important fact, and thus are responsible for the creation of some of the best websites that can be found on the net.

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