Customer Experience Conundrum – The Fine Line Between Self-service and Customer Service

Self-service, when it works, it is a wonderful thing: online shopping when insomnia strikes, checking in for your flight on the way to the airport, using your phone to hail a ride downtown. However, there are still plenty of occasions when customers really do need to speak to a human to get something accomplished.

A recent experience has left me to wonder, have the scales tipped so far toward automation and self-service that when a human interaction is needed, the experience suffers?

I had an issue with updating information in a customer loyalty program of all things and, unfortunately for me, this could not be resolved online due to the circuitous challenge of a forgotten password and an ancient email address.

To fix the problem I needed to speak to a human. I called the organization only to learn that my wait time for a live customer service rep in the loyalty program would be between 32 and 57 minutes. Finally, after listening to muzak for 90 minutes, a representative came on the line, apologized for the wait, listened to my quandary and then went off to investigate what could be done. He popped on the line one more time to assure me that he had not disappeared, and I was back on hold.

He returned, with a solution! However, when he suggested that I could go online, fill in a form, and provide a copy of a photo ID, and then get a response in 24 hours, I was less than thrilled. I explained that waiting nearly 2 hours to hear this was unacceptable. The supervisor who was brought in quickly updated my information and waited on the line with me as I reset the password. I was left wondering, was this process not known by the first representative I spoke to?

As a consumer, I understand the demand for self-service, the need for immediate gratification, and the faster the better mentality. But in efforts to address that need, has good old-fashioned customer service suffered? Has automation and call center assistance with chatbots negated the need for a well-staffed team of people to answer the phone in a timely manner and help another human with their problem?

In our work with CIOs and CMOs, we have discussed both sides of the coin, and I don’t think there is a one size fits all answer, but I do believe there needs to be a balance of technology and human intervention to show that companies understand the challenge, keep customers engaged, and ensure that their best advocates don’t turn to the competition.

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