Self-service is a trend gaining traction and is being explored by customer service organisations in the quest to deliver better customer service, writes Edward Carbutt, executive director at Marval Africa.
While self-service portals are frequently implemented within external customer-facing contact centres, they can also be easily applied for internal customers of the organisations – specifically within IT Service Management (ITSM). Self-service is processed via web-based platforms, email and even telephone and can be enormously beneficial for improving internal service delivery.
However, organisations need to ensure that their self-service strategy is not seen as a ‘catchall’ to replace personal interaction with the service desk. Self-service should provide a platform for routine requests to be routed and processed effectively, while still giving users the option of speaking to a person when they contact the service desk.
One of the mistakes many organisations make with regard to self-service facilities on the service desk is attempting to automate the entire interaction. This can be detrimental to service levels, as urgent and critical issues may not be dealt with effectively in this manner. For example, certain high-level executives, such as the CEO, may prefer to have their service requests dealt with personally. As such, self-service augments the service desk offering, rather than replacing the need for personal interaction.
Self-service portals typically work best for low impact incidents and typical or frequent service requests from IT customers and end users. For example, if an employee requires their workstation to be moved from one location to another, this can easily be logged via a self-service portal. This helps to alleviate the workload on the service desk while improving efficiency, as the system can automatically capture the necessary information, communicate the requirements for the request, and then route the request to the appropriate person or department for action.  Importantly, the user has the ability to track the progress of their request without having to ask a resource.
One of the benefits of using a self-service portal is reduced costs, since fewer resources are required to manage calls and incidents. In addition, users receive better service with the implementation of automated workflows as they improve productivity and efficiencies. The benefits of self-service portals can be extended beyond IT.   For example, users can log requests such as leave applications, training enquiries or document requests and more, without the involvement of a resource.
Access to 24×7 self-service further improves efficiencies as the user is not limited to business hours if assistance is required. Softer business benefits are derived besides the tangible savings in time and money. For example, the portal can be used to communicate important messages to the user, such as scheduled downtime for services. This improves communication levels while also reducing the burden on the contact centre or service desk, as users will not need to phone in for an issue if they can see that it is already being addressed.
While self-service offers many benefits, it does not remove the need for personal customer interaction. Service should always be interactive, and self-service, like any other, requires adequate service level management to ensure responses take place within appropriate time frames. Personnel still need to be available to deal with urgent requests or to clarify information in the event of misunderstandings. For many companies, the move to self-service is a cultural shift. It is essential to build trust and confidence in the self-service portal by demonstrating the ability to deliver effective services.
Self-service can prove highly beneficial, and illustrates its success across many areas – in fact, the way many people interact online proves that self-service can work. The key to success is fulfilment of services, and it is essential to meet service levels consistently through this medium. Self-service demonstrates the most success for ITSM when it comes to high-volume and low-priority service requests, as well as routine corporate service requests. Having the right balance of self-service with personal interaction, and delivering consistent service levels, are fundamental to success.