Staying sane in the self service era

November 20, 2023

We’re in an age where almost every aspect of our lives is accessible at the click of a button, self-service online has become the cornerstone of modern convenience. This shift to virtual services, accelerated during the pandemic, is often presented to consumers as the only method by which to seek help.

With the digital realm now governing so many of our daily transactions, is how we connect with the world around us fundamentally changing? Are our expectations of how we should be treated as customers changing? Or are we just fed up and increasingly more dissatisfied with how organisations deal with our queries and complaints?

Experiencing poor service as a consumer is never a nice experience, but consumers typically have buying power and can ‘vote with their feet’, choosing to switch retailers should they encounter a bad experience. Outside of the retail sector you’ll find large numbers of service providers that deliver a subpar experience for their users, and unlike their retail counterparts, users can have little or no choice but to use their service.

This type of relationship between a service and its user can prove to be fraught at times, it can feel like you are being treated unfairly and without consequence. Companies are always keen to modernise, use technology where they may have previously used humans and look for ways to streamline their operations.

From a quick form to longer journeys

At one end, something as simple as the input fields in an online form not being configured correctly, so each time you have to pay you have to enter your card details from scratch. Or getting so far through a multi-event, multi-day customer support journey only for it to all eventually fail with a frustratingly complex call centre experience.

There is no shying away from the fact that we’re all guilty at times of being swayed by cheap introductory rates and swish adverts, only to be let down later on by a shoddy service experience. However, when we find ourselves without choice or say in how we’re treated, or when we inadvertently stumble upon a monopolistic market, we know that these companies can provide the service levels they like because we have nowhere to go.

The level of customer service related dissatisfaction appears to be a growing phenomena, and it has arguably reached a level where everyday interactions with the institutions around us feel like a labyrinth. Failed transactions, frustrating user interfaces and system errors have become everyday struggles.

What can be done to avoid a customer service catastrophe and restore trust? We think these are a great place to start:

Don’t take your customers for granted

If you are the only company or service provider available, don’t take it for granted, remember to maintain an open dialogue with your users. Look beyond the statistics and remember they are humans with nuanced behaviours and feelings. Who knows, they may even end up engaging more with your service or recommending you to others.

Avoid ill-conceived tech solutions

Keen to cut costs, organisations replace their back office or their front-line staff with an online solution or an automatic call centre application. Think through the dependencies between systems, hunt out the weak points and make sure you have robust measures in place for times when your technology fails.

Build fallbacks into Service journeys

Solutions are often put in place without a thorough investigation into anything apart from the ‘happy-path’. Consider your backup plans, think carefully about the humans needed to provide support during these tricky times. Train them on the at risk areas using your data and previous real-word examples of when your service didn’t operate as it was intended.

Next time you are looking to modernise or streamline an existing customer journey or you’re envisioning something new, make sure you and your team have planned for the unhappy paths. We at Furthermore have worked with many organizations to help identify the optimal journeys for every type of user. Before rushing headfirst into developing a list of features or implementing swanky technology, we can help you consider what happens if each individual part of your intricate support tapestry fails,  and what may happen if these failures occur at night, during a public holiday or when your service-user’s network coverage is interrupted.

Furthermore is a user experience agency based in London. If you are  experiencing product or service design challenges at your organisation, please feel free to get in touch.

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