Self-Service and Assisted Service: Putting It All Together

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Self-service or assisted service? Who says it has to be an either/or proposition? As technology moves forward and customer expectations evolve, these two previously disparate solutions are working in tandem more often. But getting the recipe right takes more than just mashing the various systems together.

With companies always on the prowl for ways to better serve customers and keep expenditures low, the lines between self-service and assisted service are beginning to blur. There are also a bevy of opinions on where one approach ends and the other begins. To get a view of today’s landscape, a look back at where the industry has been is a useful place to start.

Self-service has a long history, spanning many iterations of interactive voice response (IVR) systems during the past three decades or so. “They were supposed to replace assisted service,” says Michael Kropidlowski, director of product marketing at Aspect Software, of the early systems. “They were to take the stress and call volume off the agents.” Customers were often able to help themselves through self-service tools in those formative years, but the experience wasn’t always good. “Traditional self-service with trees takes a long time to get an answer, and they never really worked out,” Kropidlowski explains. Callers often left with a poor impression of IVRs, prompting a wide shift back to assisted service.

Today’s self-service is much more conversational in nature. The systems are more commonly “able to completely solve someone’s problem for them without ever getting to a human, whether through text conversation, web chat conversation, a phone call, or talking to a smart speaker,” explains Tom Hebner, worldwide head of cognitive innovation group at Nuance Communications. By contrast, assisted service comes in when a human enters the loop and either helps the conversational system complete a task or sometimes takes the transaction over entirely. It’s typically where “the automated system can’t answer the question, but a human can nudge it along or correct it in middle of the conversation, or even give the final answer,” Hebner says. 

Boosting Results With a Blended Approach

Brands and the consumers they serve can both see significant benefits when self-service and assisted service come together. One advantage is the ability to provide a support structure that’s far more seamless than in the past. “Traditionally, the customer experience across channels or touchpoints has been quite disconnected,” says Rodney Hassard, global director of solution strategy at Genesys. In the case of a simple call to a utility provider, the customer may be asked to repeat account numbers and verify other details multiple times. “Blending the self-service experience through a chatbot, for example, with assisted service allows you to pass your contacts and information from that channel experience to that agent experience, so the customer doesn’t have to give that information again,” Hassard explains.

Scott Horn, chief marketing officer at [24]7.ai, believes that leveraging self-service and assisted service together is the best scenario. One reason is that each platform individually may not be able to fulfill every customer request. A chatbot is a good example. “There’s a misperception that you can create a piece of software that can answer every question, but that’s not reality,” Horn says. Even when an enterprise has tried to mimic its best-performing human agent, there could still be things the technology can’t do. “If it’s something an agent doesn’t know, you can’t write software to handle it.” Recognizing the complexity inherent in some customers’ questions and issues, a blended approach smooths those gaps and provides a better experience. “Almost invariably, consumers will have a problem or ask a question the software doesn’t know,” Horn says. “That’s where you want to have a very easy transfer to an agent.”

Big Data’s power is increasingly being brought to bear on the customer experience. With all the information companies are already harvesting, the effectiveness goes up when existing data is used to improve both the self-service and the assisted service experience. “People are used to enterprises knowing a lot of stuff about them,” says John Hibel, senior director of marketing, intelligent self-service at Melville, New York–based Verint Systems. Customers are more comfortable with a brand’s data collection efforts as long as they see a benefit. A more personalized, frictionless service experience is part of that. “They don’t want to repeat themselves,” Hibel says. “Companies should use that context to help customers achieve their goals faster and with less effort.” That applies in self-service as much as assisted service, and by leveraging information across both portals, the use of Big Data becomes more effective and efficient. “Ultimately, customers are getting to the point they don’t care if they’re talking to a human or a bot, they just want to get something done quickly and with minimal effort,” Hibel says.

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