As the business world has changed in response to technology and COVID-19 we’ve seen a lot of businesses push customers towards self-service channels. Perhaps not quite the pioneers of this but certainly the biggest early adopters are banks who switched to ATMs in the 90s and again made the switch internet banking, mobile banking and apps more recently. What’s the idea behind this shift and why should you be paying attention to it?

Self-service

Self-service isn’t exactly a technology thing but technology can certainly be applied to it. When grocery stores decided to let customers roam freely in the shop and bring goods to the till for payment that was pretty much the start of it.  Now see it everywhere and don’t even think about it. Online shopping took it to the next level. Stores can serve staff without ever investing in shop infrastructure. Customers pick and choose what they want and stores focus on fulfilment.

Advantages

There are 3 main advantages to customer self-service namely automation, resource allocation and saving time in the form of labour hours

Self-service automated many processes that would’ve required the attention of at least one customer service person. A customer who wants to find out about the various options a bank offers need not go into the bank and talk to tellers or a personal banker. A few clicks or taps and they have all their information online. Of course, this works best when information is well presented. None the less it automated many processes that were otherwise manually initiated.

On the resource usage front, all the money that would’ve been spent on explaining what is available to customers is available to spend on customer acquisition. Ever wondered why your favourite online store advertises 4 times as much as their brick and mortar competitor? Well, they do have a lot more money to spend on customer acquisition. I will again refer to the case of banks because I have a closer experience with them. Banks used automation opportunities to reduce branch sizes and retrain staff for higher functions in the bank. They used their resources better because of automation.

Time can be viewed in so many ways in this regard. See it’s not just the time saving on customer service. It’s also the active time a customer spends making a decision. When you buy things online for example you spend much less time in the decision process because you can do so much more online. Bricks and mortar outfits have a tough time with this. The average consumer in a 3rd world economy makes 4.5 visits to a store before making a big purchase according to research. Paying staff to entertain prospects that may never buy is a necessary evil. Paying staff to fulfil confirmed orders is what you would rather be doing.

Scalability

You see self-service builds scalability into a business. Scalability is in simple terms the ability of a business to increase revenue without a proportionate increase in costs. If you write a book, for example, you write the book but can sell a million copies of it without spending any extra time. That’s scaling. If you build a customer base that is ready to self serve you are halfway to building a scalable business. Even if your product is not scalable you can still reap the benefits of selling service.

How you can apply it?

Harare city parking recently had a bit of a tussle with customers who were unhappy with their new parking charges. They came back with a revised cost structure and a discount for customers who used their app. The business does employ a lot of people and it looks like a play to build self-service into their customer base and what better time to test it than in reduced business flow times like now?  Many examples will involve technology but it’s not a technology thing, it’s a system thing. Do you bake cakes? How about having all your cake varieties displayed on a website and letting customers go through cakes in their own time then contact you to write business?  Do you offer services? Have every single service you offer detailed in a WhatsApp business catalogue so when prospects make contact you can easily forward it to them. Food provider? Have your menu online or in Image format, you can quickly send to customers. Some cases make it hard to make the entire process self-service, just apply it to the part you can. You will find it boosts your business.

Just remember to do it right. Putting your catalogue on a digital platform is a great idea but if executed poorly it will create more work for you. When done properly it should have customers only contacting you to give you money. Also, it’s not an overnight thing. Understand that as brilliant as you are you’re not likely going to produce the best idea the first time. Listen to your customers and adjust as you go.