When did it start this wanting to do things ourselves? Maybe it started with the personal computer (PC). It is personal after all. Prior to the PC, we had to rely on computer professionals to do everything we wanted done on a computer. When the PC came along, we were suddenly thrown into dealing with operating systems, learning application systems and deciding on hardware options. Whether it was our desire for self-sufficiency or the fact that technologies emerged on the scene that enabled us to fend for ourselves, self-service is here to stay.
While technology advancements have resulted in cost-cutting and efficiencies for businesses, the focus today is (and should be) on self-service and ease of use. Things have to be easy enough for a normal person to be able to figure them out. Do you remember the first PC applications and how we needed reams of documentation and multiple training classes to figure out how they worked? Gone is the need for function keys and sophisticated commands. Now we can pick up virtually any piece of software and, with a quick "get started" guide, get up and running. If we do need training, we can sign up for an online, computer- based training class that lets us proceed at our own pace, without the need for hand-holding at every step along the way.
Of course, the advent of the Internet gave us all a huge boost in terms of doing things for ourselves, especially with search engines and the ability to easily find any kind of information we are looking for. We can look for and purchase many items online that previously required a physical trip to a store. Furthermore, even though we have come to hate the interactive voice response systems that make us listen to interminable dialing trees, phone-based self- service enables us to do things that previously took even longer to accomplish. Customer call centers also provide us assisted service for tasks beyond the simple ones.
Technology has enabled us to take an active interest in our world and to move from "being taken care of" to "doing it ourselves." Natural language search lets us ask regular questions, not just enter keywords, to retrieve information. Additionally, search extends beyond the Yahoo! and Google search engines. Any Web site worth its salt has search capabilities that enable users to retrieve the information they need from that site, and most sites have FAQs (frequently asked questions) that can assist the surfer with basic information. Configuration tools let us configure products to our exact specifications so that we get exactly the features we desire and are willing to pay for.
Solutions in the self-service support area combine search engines, knowledge-management technologies and standard help desk procedures to make it possible for users to find answers to even complex questions without having to pick up the phone. Self-service tools that are now emerging in the market can make our lives even easier. However, for companies wanting to improve their customers' ability to service themselves, it's about focusing on the customer experience. An unwavering concentration on improving the precise process you want your customers to go through to interact with you in solving their service and support needs is a prerequisite to implementing a self-service tool. Implementing bells and whistles that are a part of the technology solution should be secondary to enabling your customers to perform basic functions in a manner that meets your standards (three clicks to check-out, for example).
Whether it was the PC, the Internet or a combination of technologies and processes, we have all gone through a metamorphosis involving taking initiative and ownership for what we do. Doing some things ourselves makes us want to be even more self-sufficient. Once we see how technology can enable us to do things that previously required much more effort, we want and expect more technological solutions to make our lives easier. In fact, we even get frustrated when a company/Web site doesn't allow us to service ourselves quickly and easily.
What a relief that there are more advanced technology solutions that can be implemented to meet our self-service needs! Yet, we will only be happy when the company has a relentless focus on improving the precise experience we go through to perform our task. When the process makes sense, is efficient and is easy to perform, then I, for one, will demand, "Let me do it!"
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