Self-service providers shift focus

Johannesburg, 20 Feb 2012
Read time 3min 10sec

The majority of self-service providers are now looking at ways they can use online and mobile self-service as a strategic business driver that helps them grow revenues and profitability while increasing customer convenience and satisfaction.

So says Kevin Meltzer, co-founder of online self-service solutions provider, Consology, who notes that the emphasis for companies that make use of self-service has shifted towards using technology to improve customer satisfaction and loyalty.

According to Meltzer, five years ago, most companies that adopted self-service solutions did so in the hopes of achieving cost-savings on customer billing and support.

“A few years ago, we saw an upswing in the adoption of self-service among companies that wanted to deflect calls from their contact centres, cut billing and postage costs, and automate business processes.

“We believe that the early adopters have ticked off all these boxes, with the result that they are achieving significant cost savings.”

The recent Dimension Data Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Report found that customer satisfaction has replaced cost reduction as the primary driver for self-service solutions such as interactive voice response.

Of the 546 contact centres surveyed across 66 countries, 60% said they placed more importance on the customer experience than on cost reduction. South African contact centre organisations, however, have a slightly different focus; 64% state their focus is on cost reduction and 48% on improving customer satisfaction.

Siva Pather, Dimension Data's GM of customer interactive solutions, MEA, says SA's focus on cost reduction does not contradict the general trend towards the overall drive to improve service in contact centres.

“Organisations are investing more on recruiting and training agents compared to the results in the 2009 report - up 50% and 40%, respectively. In addition, spend on motivational and social events grew by 37% over the past two years. As a result, contact centre agents at the frontline are being better equipped to deal with complex enquiries.”

Meltzer believes the same trend can be observed in the online self-service market as companies begin to understand how important this channel has become to their customers.

“Online self-service is the preferred destination for many customers,” says Meltzer. “They don't want to hold for an agent, they don't want to stand in a queue, and they expect to be able to access services 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There is a real opportunity for companies to take advantage of customers' enthusiasm for online convenience, which has been fuelled by the rapid growth of online access for South African consumers.”

Meltzer points to the banking industry as one example of the trend in action. Banks prefer their accountholders to use ATMs, online banking, cellphone banking and IVR services for as many of their banking needs as possible because the cost to the bank is far lower than call centre or branch services. But now that most of their customers with Internet access have embraced online banking, banks have started to look at ways of differentiating themselves from their competitors with value-added services, mobile applications and loyalty programmes.

“They are beginning to see the self-service user experience as an important way of retaining customers and keeping their clients happy,” says Meltzer. “This marks a dramatic break from their earlier approach, which was often inwardly focused around business processes as opposed to customer centricity.”

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