South African companies that want to remain competitive in a market where consumers are hungry for fast, convenient service need to offer easy-to-use self-service tools that allow customers to help themselves at their leisure.
Local consumers have a love affair with self-service that dates back to the introduction of automatic teller machines by banks in the 1980s, says John Ziniades, CEO of Self-Service consulting and integration specialist, Consology.
Since then, self-service applications have evolved in leaps and bounds with the financial services and telecommunications industries leading the way.
"Self-service is transforming other industries as well: airports offer hassle-free e-ticketing, cinemas allow patrons to buy tickets from vending machines and consumers buy cellphone airtime through interactive voice response units," says Ziniades.
"In many industries, self-service options that were once a nice-to-have or a competitive edge have simply become a ticket to play. Most consumers today wouldn't even think about joining a bank that doesn't have an ATM network and a solid Internet banking platform. Expect self-service to become as central in many other industries over the next few years."
Ziniades says the simple explanation for the rise of self-service is that no one likes standing in queues or holding for a call centre operator to carry out a transaction
A recent survey conducted for NCR by Opinion Research Corp in the US found that consumers there estimate that they spend two days every year waiting in line for service. Little wonder, then, that 40% of the respondents to the survey said they were very willing to use self-service kiosks or other self-service devices to reduce time wasted waiting for service. More than 40% chose one supplier over another because it offered Self-Service options.
Says Ziniades: "Self-service is clearly becoming a convenience, like the mobile phone or email, that most consumers can't imagine doing without. The next phase in the development of self-service is Web-based online self-service applications that make life even easier for customers."
Online self-service systems benefit consumers by giving them the freedom to interact and transact with the companies they do business with at any time of any day: they can pay bills, research product and service offerings, apply for services, initiate bill disputes, check and change account information, initiate and track support requests, and more, all from their desks at work or at home.
Companies will gradually Web enable their back-end systems allowing them to reach their customers with a consistent set of services across a range of channels – web, mobile, kiosks and call centres.
Concludes Ziniades: "The good news is that self-service benefits companies as much it does their customers. Using the Web as a channel for customer self-service offers companies tangible ROI by helping them to improve customer loyalty, deflect calls from their call centres, automate bill dispute processes, speed up collection of payments and make significant cost savings on paper and postage.
"Customers are fed up with long queues and poor call centre service, and demand quick access to service, visibility into their relationships with suppliers and easy ways to transact. Self-service is becoming a business essential.