Are They Being Served?

The dos and don'ts of self-service

By Angela Bradbury on 5th October 2017

Which social apps do you use on your phone most often: Facebook or Twitter?  WhatsApp or Snapchat?  When was the last time you picked up the phone to someone whose number you didn’t recognise?  When did you get your first smart phone?  Or a mobile phone at all?

Your answers to these questions are probably a good indication of your age, and younger generations’ preferences look to be moving in one direction, away from phone calls and more towards text-based interactions.  Companies have been reflecting this, both for their employees (e.g. JPMorgan getting rid of voicemail for their staff) and customers, via live chat, with surprising results.  At this point, pretty much every sector has moved further beyond text-based customer service to self-service, for example online banking in addition to telephone banking.

From live chat to chatbot

The benefits of self-service to the companies offering them has always been clear: lower overheads, ability to handle fluctuating demand for customer service, improved scalability.  In self-service banking, for instance, it is up to 95% cheaper to process deposits digitally than through a cashier, and the cost of online and mobile payments is 65% lower than payment via physical cheques.

Few predicted that automation of customer service might lead to improved customer satisfaction, too.  But now, a whopping 72% of customers now prefer to use self-service support rather than phone or email support.  According to the CEO of the oldest and largest chatbot platform, Pandorabots, email marketing’s open rate of 24% is dwarfed by the chatbot equivalent metric at 80%.

Why might this be?  It’s easy to see how, in the short term, the novelty of playing with a chatbot might excite curiosity.  But it goes far beyond that: in banking again, primary drivers of customer satisfaction are ‘ease of doing business’ (as reported by 32% of customers) and digital experiences (26%).  Self-service enables both of these.

Of course, an economist would say that what customers say they want means nothing - it’s their buying behaviour that counts.  But that too bears out the preference, as several companies in multiple sectors are reporting.  Just Eat’s customer service chat bots drive a 266% higher conversion rate compared to their human counterparts.

Self-service kiosks and other technologies are becoming more sophisticated all the time, but in many contexts it’s not quite - and will never be - enough.  As companies implement more self-service models, there is the potential to get this very wrong.

The problem is when there is a problem

92% of consumers want their challenge or problem to be taken seriously.  So, while self-service is great when everything’s working, when you’re having a problem, dealing with a computer that can’t understand your issue or feel your frustration feels like banging your head on a brick wall.

In these contexts, customers often long for the days when it was easier to speak to a human, and lots of sites have actually sprung up to solve this problem: GetHuman and Dial A Human to name just two.

Supermarkets know this well

Self-service checkouts in supermarkets have always had a human supervisor, to be on hand when ID needs to be approved, or something goes wrong.  We’re all too familiar with the phrase “unexpected item in bagging area”, and if we can’t get that solved quickly, our convenient and quick checkout experience can turn into a rage-filled few minutes.

And that’s the key in lots of self-service implementations, to enable customers to get on with things themselves when things go smoothly, and give them quick access to a human when needed.  But how should that human be available?  Here’s our handy decision flow to help you design the perfect customer service function:


At Chime, we believe expert calls will always be of value, but that tech has its place in streamlining the process and improving the experience for both sides. Viewing profiles, providing feedback and scheduling calls can all be done through our online interface. You still get to talk to one of us, and, of course, the experts of your choosing, at your convenience.