Within the enterprise, we see the same story. Self-service models are extending intranets and portals, and are being powered by advanced search, knowledge management and the slow but steady innovation by traditional ERP, CRM and call center providers, as we explored in my last two columns.
Organizations have long focused on enabling users to help themselves via technological intermediaries, from the Web, to ATMs, and way back to the mechanized vending machines that sold postcards in the 1880s. As I have often written, the rationale has been simple: enable greater reach and drive greater efficiency. Reach new customers where they are and where they prefer to be served. Enable them to reach the information, answers, or products they need, the first time.
Driving greater efficiency comes from streamlining access, offloading frequent transactions (e.g., paying your highway toll), and empowering users to find what they need – on their own. Of course, by pushing more to users, organizations can take agents, or sales people, or even toll collectors out of the loop. This is the classic argument for self-service: reduce the number and/or cost of calls or other interactions, and you can save money.
This economic argument is true in many cases, and often the foundation for glowing ROI projections. But call deflection and cheaper transactions are only part of the self-service story. The big payoff may be much larger – but also more difficult to achieve.
It's About the Customer, Stupid
Many self-service initiatives may be justified initially by calculating cost savings due to the "efficiency" effect. However, our view is that over time, a greater benefit often emerges: the power of insight – into user needs and behavior, product and campaign effectiveness, and even purchasing or service trends. By automating interactions and transactions and creating electronic breadcrumbs, the ability to monitor, capture and analyze is potentially limitless.
Of course privacy is always a consideration, yet as more self-service sessions involve known account holders such as bank customers, airline passengers or other "members," there is already a trusted relationship in place. With the growth of loyalty programs like frequent flyer programs, I also believe there has become an established user expectation that more information "in" often generates better information and service "out."
Tapping into this potential goldmine of insight requires the right tools – and processes to ensure users see as much (if not more) value from the equation as their favorite bank, airline or retailer. This means choosing and using a self-service platform with sufficient built-in analytics and reporting functionality. Some of this may come directly from a self-service or e-service vendor such as Kanisa, Primus, RightNow or Sento. Other vendors have partnered with specific customer analytics providers such as Coremetrics or Quadstone.
Meanwhile, the traditional BI and enterprise reporting vendors have gotten into the act as well, with vendors such as Actuate making a major push to establish its platform and tools as key enablers for next-generation customer self-service applications.
Insight Drives Optimization
The adage "you can't manage what you can't measure" is especially applicable to self-service applications. With increased visibility and insight comes the opportunity to not only identify content holes or bottlenecks in online content and processes, but to also better understand, target and service various user segments.
The potential benefits can be significant. A leading wireless provider discovered that customers who preferred to receive customer service online were also generating nearly twice the average revenue per user—and a perfect target for special loyalty and online promotions.
A large consumer electronics retailer learned that by analyzing pre-order information gathered via Web self-service, it could accurately forecast demand for soon-to-be-released DVD movie titles and other new products, and determine how many to order for each store based on what looked to be a "hit."
For these reasons, when we help organizations pick the right self-service platform, we often put analytics and reporting capabilities near the top of the list. As companies continue to shift the focus of self-service initiatives from serving browsers and casual users to keeping their existing and best customers happy (like our wireless company discovered), we also see an expanding role for more "heavy duty" business intelligence and enterprise reporting tools as a way to not only deliver richer, more useful information to users, but also greater insight to planners, marketers and service staff.
Allen Bonde is the president of Allen Bonde Group, Inc. (ABG), a Boston-based management consulting and strategic advisory firm focused on CRM, business intelligence and Web self-service market trends and best practices. Contact Allen via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org