The digital promise: why self-service doesn’t have the impact everyone expected

Digitization has been a theme within customer contact for much longer. Many have expressed the expectation that the amount of face-to-face contact would decrease dramatically in favor of self-service solutions. In practice, this expected decline does not materialize. But why? Jan Jaap Stork (KPN) reflects on this and explains.

Gartner research on Customer Self Service

Gartner has conducted extensive research into self-service channels and their impact on customer experience. They investigated:

  • Service expectations and preferences
  • Patterns of channel usage and channel user preferences
  • Impact of the Customer Journeys on customer effort, satisfaction and loyalty

More than 9,000 panel members took part in the survey and more than 80 companies from various industries and countries were interviewed. The results of this can be found in the book The Effortless Experience by Matthew Dixon. The results of the study are remarkable and intriguing.

Customer Support through multiple channels

One of the first results that Jan Jaap brings up is that customers do not experience a significant advantage when using more channels. On average, it does not matter to a customer whether companies use more channels to service customers. Whether it concerns the use of the website, mobile apps, telephone, email, chat or communities, customers do not experience more benefits through the use of more channels.

However, if you as an organization offer customers more channels, customers will also use them. Even if this does not lead to a better service experience or better customer satisfaction. Once they have chosen a channel, it appears that there is a strong preference to be helped through this channel. When customers have to switch because they cannot find the desired answer, this has a negative impact on customer satisfaction.

Increasing costs

In the wake of this we see additional costs arise. The more channels that are offered, the more expensive the contact eventually becomes. This not only has to do with the number of channels offered, but also the chance that many customers switch to another channel to get the desired answer. Read someone starts online, switches to live Chat and then picks up the phone to finally get the correct answer. This is the practice.

Contact center organisaties sturen in het contact

Desalniettemin zie je steeds meer contact center organisaties sturen in het contact. De vraag die dan direct rijst is of dit niet een negatieve impact heeft op de klantbeleving. Dus wat gebeurt er als klanten gedwongen worden om andere kanalen te gebruiken dan het kanaal van hun voorkeur? Uit de resultaten blijkt dat er geen impact is op de loyaliteit van klanten of zij nu wel of niet gebruik kunnen maken van het kanaal van hun voorkeur.

En hoe is de verdeling dan in het gebruik van live en self-service kanalen? Gemiddeld gebruikt 30% van de klanten alleen assistentie door Live agents. Slechts 9% van de klanten gebruikt alleen self-service en 61% van alle klanten gebruikt beide kanalen.

The conclusion is therefore that using more channels does not lead to a better experience and on balance costs more money. If customers are forced to use channels other than they actually want, they may not like it in the short term, but it will not affect their loyalty in the longer term.

And in practice, we see that the majority of customers need a combination of channels, but still need the live agent to get their question answered and / or resolved. How is that possible? Jan Jaap’s conclusion is that this has to do with the fact that many organizations do not have the right focus. Many Customer Services still think they will get more satisfied customers by deploying more different channels, but this is not the case. In addition, there is a fear of forcing customers to use certain channels and this fear is also unjustified. It’s not about how many channels you offer or where you send customers, it’s about offering customers the right solution within the channel they choose.

But what does Gartner say about this?

Jan Jaap explains that Gartner typifies three phases of growth.

KPN strives to get to the 3rd phase. This means that they guide customers as best as possible to the best channel for them. Which channel is then served depends on the type of issue and the previous experience that customers had with this channel. In practice this means quite a bit. If you look at the site of many organizations, you will see that many self-service solutions are often still organized on the basis of products and not on the basis of customer demand or need. Quite a few changes are therefore needed before you can properly service your customers via self-service and thus keep them within the channel and help them satisfactorily. As an organization you will have to focus much more on the question and whether the problem and then lead the customer to the channel where they can best be helped. In addition, you must connect all underlying processes and systems to this.

But do you always have to use a self-service channel? No, it is fine to use sel service to help customers choose the right channel through, for example, a chatbot. Then it is still very possible that the live agent is a good solution for the relevant customer question.

What do you ultimately need to do to successfully make Self-Service a more dominant part of your channels? Realize a self-service strategy that focuses on the resolving power and not the choice. Many organizations still aim to exceed customer expectations. We now know that this makes little or no positive contribution to customer loyalty. Customers especially want organizations to help solve their problem as quickly as possible with as little effort as possible. Go for a low effort service! On balance, this results in higher customer loyalty and a lower cost to serve.

Would you like to know more about this article or get in touch with Jan Jaap Stork? Then you can contact dimenzi via

Wietse Westerhuis

Sources for this article:

  • Presentation Jan Jaap Stork, KPN during Dimenzi Seminar March 5, 2020
  • CEB Analysis and Gartner 2019
  • Matthew Dixon’s 2013 Effortless Experience

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