Evolution of Self-Service

The Past
The Customer service function was historically characterised by low budgets, high call volumes, low technology adoption, limited business hours and disparate systems, among other issues. This ensured that businesses had greater control over the process, customers had to go out looking for required information and they repeatedly shared the same information over multiple channels.

Self-Service: the early days

As customer service gained importance and the innovation boom took off in the early 90s, telephones were being put to new use and the computers were making the shift from an object of scientific curiosity to one that can be used in everyday life. This led to the emergence of the first form of customer self-service – the Tier 0 support encompassing automation in the form of IVR (Interactive Voice Response). All established banks, airlines, utility companies, etc. adopted this channel over the next decade.

IVR could aptly be described as a circular, basic version of self-help where customers were likely to get stuck in an automated loop of infinite numeric options and voicemails.  IVR offered tangible benefits such as relieving agent bandwidth, reducing hold times, lowering call volume – all of which eventually reduced call center costs.

The internet emerged around the same time, enabling development of web self-service portals- providing further impetus to the self-service revolution. 

However, this breakthrough in customer service came with a cost: resultant customer frustration and compromised customer loyalty.

The Present

Driven by the advent, adoption and increased penetration of technology in all aspects of business (and life), the customer service landscape has evolved. Customer service is now a 24X7 phenomenon, with the customer controlling where and when the interaction happens. Content is proactively sent to the customer, who must no longer repeat the same information at every touch-point.

Digitalization has introduced a new breed of customers, the digital customers who are independent, forward-thinking, and tech-savvy.

Self-Service today

Customers are now in control, demanding a 24-hour access, via computer, tablet or smartphone. Further, millennials as a share of the customer base are consistently growing, and firms must look to support specific preferences of this generation of consumers. This segment expects to be able to self-serve if possible and, if not, get help using live chat, email, or telephone. They want an immediate response, else they almost instantly resort to social media to call out how you failed to meet service expectations.

With evolving customer dynamics and preferences, customer service offerings have fallen in line over recent years.

Learning from the past, Tier 0 customer service today is highly focused on customer satisfaction, ensuring more sophisticated, better integrated and more user-friendly technologies are adopted. 

lthough new-age customers prefer less human interaction, they do value personalized support. Businesses are thus integrating self-serve into multichannel solutions that incorporate AI, chatbots, social media, virtual assistants and messaging to elevate the customer experience. Transactional data is captured and stored, helping build specific customer profiles, which enables agents to personalize their interaction and deliver a differentiated customer experience.

Companies with a robust self-serve strategy neither underestimate, nor over-emphasise the importance of self-serve. They know that engaging a self-serve option is usually not the first step in the customer journey map. A good self-serve strategy is based on an understanding of all options a customer may explore before picking up the phone, such as online customer support and crowd-sourced customer support.

Digital self-service options now dominate as customers look for speed, reliability, convenience and efficiency. Although evolving, AI has exhibited value across the customer journey, allowing proactive customer self-service through conversational platforms targeted at consumers – such as IVR, chatbots, visual bots, etc. These tools enable customers to save time and effort as resolutions for simple queries/requests are available at a click.


Voice Self Service
  • Transactional IVR
  • Speech recognition
  • Voice biometrics
  • Text to speech

Knowledge Base & Smart Search

  • Knowledge Management
  • Keyword search customer assistance – knowledge sharing via websites, portals, apps and social forums
  • Chatbots & Virtual Agents
  • Chatbots
  • Virtual assistants
  • Support across phone, mobile and online channels
Digital Self Service
  • Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
  • Online community
  • Customer service portal
  • Smartphone apps
  • Contact us
Effective Self-Service for the future

Technology will continue to offer new ways of connecting with customers and enriching customer experience. Effective self-service remembers a customer’s options and redirects them to an agent if the queries become complex. The agent can explore more ways to be proactive and to personalize the experience for the human touch. Effective customer service must balance traditional human interactions with the use of self-service technology to empower the customer.

By prioritizing human interaction, bolstering them via analytics technologies – companies can continue to streamline operations via innovations, while still delivering the “high touch” that customers desire.
(Source: HBR)
Studies of customer feedback by Zendesk reveals that 67% of respondents preferred self-service over speaking to a company representative.