Is Your Self Service Effective?

By Rosanne D’Ausilio, Ph.D.

Historically, customer service was delivered over the phone or in person. Customers didn’t have many choices and switching to competitors was cumbersome. Today, these methods are only two of the many possible touch points of entry for any given interaction. With all the options the Internet brings, competition is literally a click away.

The biggest barriers to self-service effectiveness are:

  • 42 percent of customers say it’s too hard to find what they need.
  • 24 percent of customers don’t trust the system and/or the answers.
  • 20 percent of customers say the answers aren’t there.
  • 14 percent of customers don’t know about it.

What’s important here? Only 14 percent don’t know about the site and the 86 percent that do find it unsatisfactory. What does this mean? It means customers will kick it up to a phone call. The impact, of course, is that if you don’t satisfy your online customers, you end up paying twice.

In a Usability Science Corporation study, it was found that: 57 percent of customers prefer to help themselves, yet 50 percent of them fail to do so. For those who fail, 67 percent of them attempt phone or email contact. Again, if you don’t satisfy your online customers, it costs you twice.

In a recent usability study by Sterling Audits, the question asked was, “Based on the transactions the system says it supports, were you able to get them done?” Only 42.7 percent said they could do it without hassles or retries. What does this mean? That means the majority of voice response units are designed in such a way that most callers experience errors or just don’t know what to do.

However, when customers can and do help themselves, the savings can range from $10 to $45 per transaction. The good news is that by continuously adding customer driven content to your site, the percentage of customers who can help themselves online also increases.

Speech recognition applications, as an example, are transactional rather than conversational. That’s not to say they aren’t effective. However, when I have a question or need to resolve a problem, I want to speak with a human and be treated as a person, not a transaction to be processed.

Often customers want interaction, not automation, and they need be given this option. The qualities found in human interaction can eliminate much of the frustration leading to unnecessary and expensive escalations. Once again, we, the people, do make the difference!

Rosanne D’Ausilio, Ph.D., an industrial psychologist, and President of Human Technologies Global, Inc., specializes in profitable call center operations in human performance management. She sits on the Advisory Board for HDPA (Help Desk Professional Association), and represents the human element on the Advisory Board for an Italian software company. Contact her at

[From the October/November 2006 issue of AnswerStat magazine]