Everyday, consumers around the world come into contact with self-service tools and applications without even realising it.
From booking a movie ticket at a kiosk to checking in for a flight, from paying a traffic fine online to drawing money from an automatic teller machine (ATM), self-service has become pervasive.
"The concept of Self-Service is transforming a wide range of consumer-focused industries: airlines offer hassle-free e-ticketing, cinema patrons buy tickets from kiosks and subscribers buy cellphone airtime through interactive voice response units," says John Ziniades, CEO of Self-Service consulting and integration specialist, Consology.
“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,” says Ziniades.
“Most customers would rather do their banking at home or at work from a computer terminal or a cellphone rather than spending their lunchtimes fighting traffic, searching for parking and standing in queues to get to their bank.
"Most consumers are living at breakneck speed and need access to services at the time and place that is most convenient for them," he adds. "This time could be any hour of the day or night, and the place could be anywhere with a cellphone signal or Internet connection."
The South African love affair with self-services dates back to the 1980s when banks introduced the revolutionary concept of ATMs, allowing customers to draw money, make deposits, check balances and statements, and more at their convenience.
Since then, self-service applications have evolved in leaps and bounds with the financial services and telecommunications industries leading the way.
“In industries such as banking, self-service options that were once a nice-to-have or a competitive edge have simply become a ticket to play,” notes Ziniades.
Few customers would even consider joining a bank that doesn't have an ATM network and a solid Internet banking platform. Many would rather walk away from the cinema and hire a DVD than stand in a queue to pay for a movie ticket if there were no self-service terminals.
"self-service has clearly become 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," Ziniades says.
“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,” says Ziniades.
These systems allow customers to 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.
“Businesses that implement self-service derive tangible returns because these systems allow them 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,” Ziniades adds.