Contact Center Solutions Featured Article

Customers Like Self-Service, But Only When It Actually Works

December 17, 2013

When it comes to keeping costs down in the contact center, self-service was once touted as the most promising technology. When customers can find their own answers on a Web site, the reasoning goes, they won’t pick up the phone and call a live agent, which helps keep agents free to handle more complex calls. While it sounds great on paper, too few companies took the time to build robust self-service programs that answered a majority of customer questions. In many cases, the self-service was so confusing that it actually caused customers to contact live agents even more frequently.

Speech technology solutions provider Nuance Communications recently published results from two studies that explored consumer attitudes and preferences for accessing service and support via the Web. As most of us who are customers ourselves know, there is a lot of frustration among consumers when it comes to self-service solutions. Static self-help tools like FAQs often don’t contain the info we’re looking for. Most of us are willing to take the self-service route IF the answers are reasonably easy to find. The study shows that in most cases, they’re not.

According to Nuance, customers are finding that even when they want to answer their own questions online, nearly half of consumers ultimately give up and contact a live agent for assistance when they find that their questions require a deeper level of engagement to resolve.

There are two options here. Companies can either give up on the self-service route and put more live agents on the telephone. This is the expensive option. They can also strive to improve the quality of the self-service they provide. While the answers may be available on a Web site, clearly customers are having a hard time finding them. A technology that can help point customers to the right place to find answers would be invaluable.

Virtual agents are speech-enabled voices or avatars that can handle natural language questions from customers, extracting the pertinent info and helping the customer locate the information he or she needs. According to the Nuance study, customers are open to virtual agents: 71 percent of customers said that they would prefer to use a virtual assistant on a Web site to help guide them to the answers that they need in a conversational human-like way, without requiring a call to a live agent.

“While consumers are willing to resolve issues and find answers to questions from their service providers online, the options available today just aren’t meeting expectations,” said Robert Weideman, EVP and general manager of Nuance’s Enterprise Division, in a statement. “Enterprises are losing money as consumers abandon their Web sites out of frustration and turn to live agents for service and support.”

Weideman notes that recent data from Forrester found that unnecessary service costs to online retailers due to channel escalation are $22 million on average each year for an enterprise. That’s $22 million that could have spent on improving self-service technologies. (Nuance offers a virtual assistant called “Nina,” which the company says delivers a human-like experience and helps keep live support costs down.)

Many companies may wish to ignore the problem, not realizing how much it’s costing them. Other companies may try and broaden their FAQ list in an effort to answer more customer questions. In reality, it’s likely that the entire self-service experience needs a reboot. 

Edited by Cassandra Tucker