South Africa’s largest customer-carrying organisations are embracing self-service as a means of driving down customer support costs, reducing churn and increasing customer loyalty. 

A new survey titled “Self-Service Strategies in South Africa 2007”, conducted by Arthur Goldstuck, MD of World Wide Worx on behalf of self-service specialist Consology, is based on in-depth interviews with major South African companies that represent an aggregate base of nearly 50-million customers. Respondents to the research include many of the country's largest banks, insurers, retailers and telecommunications firms.
“This report shows South African companies have realised that self-service is an imperative in a market where customers are looking for convenience and where customer support costs are spiralling out of control. Those businesses that embrace an integrated self-service strategy will outperform those that don't,” says John Ziniades, CEO of Consology.
Companies across all industries rate self-service as both an operational and strategic priority – with banks attaching the most importance to self-service and retailers the least. Respondents rated reduction of customer churn as the most important benefit of self-service, followed by cost savings from automating transactions, reduction of customer support costs, cross-and up-sell opportunities, and deflection of calls from the contact centre.
However, strategic priorities vary from industry to industry. Reduction of customer churn is the most important driver of self-service for banks and insurance firms, while telecoms companies gave the highest weighting to ensuring consistency of the customer experience. The retail group that participated in the survey gave cost reduction, transaction automation and account payment acceleration equal weighting as its top reasons to consider self-service.
The Web is rapidly emerging as the self-service channel of choice as a result of growing broadband penetration and the low-cost of the Web channel for companies and customers alike. All respondents agree that the Web is the most cost-effective channel for self-service, although it is not appropriate for all customers and situations. Call centre costs tend to be higher than anticipated and most organisations would prefer to migrate as many customers to Web-based self-service as possible.
“The research reveals that self-service is no longer a stand-alone extension to the business and its existing processes, but an integrated part of the organisation, which complements call centres and physical branches,” says Arthur Goldstuck. “We’re also seeing that companies are offering customers a growing range of alternative self-service options, including the Web, kiosks, ATM’s, cell-phones, speech self-service and interactive voice response (IVR).”
The survey also reveals that companies will be increasing their budgets for customer care in general and self-service in particular over the next three years. Most respondents indicated that customer care budgets were expected to climb by between 15% and 25% in 2007, and 10% to 20% from 2008 to 2010.
Estimates for annual increases in investment in self-service ranged from 10% and 25% in 2006, about 10% in 2007, and anywhere between 5% and 30% growth 2008 to 2010.
Concludes Ziniades: “The concept of self-service is becoming increasingly familiar to consumers. Customers are becoming used to serving themselves across a range of channels and applications – from self-service for parking and movie theatre tickets, up to online banking and automated flight check-ins.
"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 a solid Internet banking platform. Expect self-service to become as central in many other industries over the next few years."