I recently had a particularly bad self-service customer experience that prompted me to think about the experience gaps in many organizations' self-service offerings. Although my experience involved a self-pay kiosk at a parking garage, the basic principles can be applied across virtually any industry.In short, I parked my car in a recently-opened, $30 million parking deck. When it came time to pay I found myself with a credit card that wouldn't work in the machine, no clear way to reach anyone for help, and no way to exit the facility.
Ultimately, I was able to use cash to pay. It turns out the problem had been that the machines had lost network connectivity, rendering them unable to take credit card payments. It was frustrating that none of the agents I was able to reach were able to offer a solution, or even to dispatch someone to provide assistance on-site.
If it's self-service you're offering, it's imperative that you think through all the possible customer scenarios and develop easy, intuitive solutions that will leave your customers happy. Start by considering the answers to the following five questions:
1. Do you have a human back-up plan?
Self-checkouts and check-ins are becoming ubiquitous, particularly in places like supermarkets, banks, and airports. If there's a snag, there should always be someone nearby who can help customers and monitor for malfunctions. This generally is not a problem in airports and supermarkets, but what about in less-populated places like parking decks?
Relying solely on machines to do the work is a gamble that you'll lose sooner or later.
2. Do you include customers in the design of a self-service offering?
Too many machines were designed without the customer in mind. In the parking deck I received a "cancelled transaction" receipt that appeared identical to the "paid" ticket, and it even came from the same slot. Making the receipt a different color or having it come from a different slot would have raised a red flag for me, saving a lot of time and aggravation.
Involving customers in the design phase of a self-service offering can virtually guarantee a far superior experience. For example, after customers shunned new self-service machines at a well-known bank, management learned that the keyboards on the machines appeared too complicated for most customers to use. Upon removing the keyboard and embedding a touch screen, making it look more like a TV than a computer, the level of adoption increased dramatically.
3. Do you trust your customers...and colleagues?
Companies often don't trust their customers. They tend to live by the "guilty-until-proven-innocent" principle. Insurance companies are famous for this and customers know it.
In my parking experience, I reached an agent who asked me a series of questions trying to resolve the issue. In the end, he couldn't do anything remotely so he tried to call a third party. After waiting, I called back and reached a lady who asked me the same questions. When I explained that I had already gone through the process with her colleague and failed, she replied, "You haven't tried with me, have you?!"
4. Do you test processes and systems in a real environment?
In the parking experience the machine's help button was the same color and size as all the other buttons. At the same time, a few feet away, was a big green button (unrelated to the self-pay machines, but close enough to represent help in some way) labeled "emergency help." Which do you think your customers will notice when they become trapped in a fully-automated parking lot?
5. Do you have a customer-centric culture?
Ultimately, it all comes down to the customer-centricity of your organization. As a rule, a customer-centric organization will involve customers in the design and testing process, allowing for development of back-up plans and procedures with the customers in mind.
While I endlessly waited for help to arrive in the parking deck, several employees of the transportation hub passed by, clearly members of another division of the company. Something as simple as an employee recognition program could have helped break the silo mentality; instead customers are left trapped and on their own.
Companies like Virgin, Zappos and First Direct are lauded for the great customer experiences they provide. When asked about what makes them great companies, customers most often cite employees that went the extra mile. In the parking deck, I was just a few yards from the railway office, but no one walked even a few extra yards.
Bonus tip: Don't put the onus on the customer
After I finally managed to find my way out of the parking deck I received a call from one of the self-pay machine company's customer service representatives, recommending that I hang up and call the manager in order to get two days of free parking. While a nice gesture, this put the onus back on me to call someone else, potentially having to explain the entire story again.
In a cost-cutting environment, problem recovery should be one of the first avenues to explore. Huge sums of money are wasted on the time it takes management to deal with frustrated customers. More often than not, you'll ultimately find that having a "human" back-up plan and involving customers early in the self-service design process will cost far less and drive greater returns.
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About the Author: Zhecho Dobrev is a consultant with Beyond Philosophy