User reactions to self-service features: Is it “Hey, I already have a job, I don’t need to do yours, too”?

Companies obviously want to cut down on calls to customer care centers to save money. One way is to allow (force?) users to do more things themselves. We’ve been recovering passwords ourselves for a long time, and many products include other self-service tasks. Even libraries allow patrons to check out their own books.

In a recent design project, I was afraid that customers would dislike the self-service tools we were adding. I thought they might have the same reaction that I have to self-checkout lanes in stores: “Hey, I already have a job. I don’t want to check out and bag my own stuff here!”

Self-service checkout in a supermarket

But that wasn’t the case. Our users liked the new self-service tools.

We talked with a lot of users in usability studies and customer visits.  They mostly had gotten good results when they called for assistance, but it seemed easier to do things themselves.

Calling customer care may seem like more of an interruption, while doing something yourself may seem more like an extension of what you’re already doing. Making the call requires a lot of work:

  • Deciding that the problem is big enough to bother someone about
  • Wondering if there’s enough time for the call
  • Finding out if customer care is available
  • Looking for the phone number & making the call
  • Going through the voice menu
  • Waiting on hold
  • Explaining the problem, discussing it and maybe being transferred.
  • … and then finally getting a solution

The early results for this product are good. It seems that customers are doing more tasks themselves, and the company is getting fewer phone calls.

Have you noticed that you’re doing more things yourself on the Web? What do you think about it? Are companies forcing you to do their work, or is it a time saver?


2 Responses to User reactions to self-service features: Is it “Hey, I already have a job, I don’t need to do yours, too”?

  1. Ward says:

    I’ve started asking support reps, “If I need to call back, how can I bypass the voices menus and get directly to a real person.”

    Sometimes I’ll get a sequence of steps, e.g., “Enter your account number, press 4, then 2, then 2, then 1.”

    A couple of days ago I was tickled to get this shortcut from my cell phone service rep: “At the beginning, when you’re asked to enter your 10-digit phone number, press the ‘0’ key ten times.”

    I’m gonna try that ‘0’ trick with every phone robot.

    — Ward

  2. Hal Shubin says:

    Or you can say “operator” if it’s a voice-enabled menu. That works, too, sometimes. Who was it that put out a collection of customer care numbers and how to get right to a human?

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