While there are a number of lessons to be gleaned from the Covid-19 pandemic, one that is coming more into focus is self-service. In fact, this was a consistent theme from our 2020 CSO Summits. An increase in social distancing on a personal and professional basis has led to an increased interest in technical knowledge by customers in both the B2C and B2B worlds.

As we begin to discover the trends that will persist in a post-pandemic world, companies must shift their way of thinking and adopt practices that allow for the end-user to engage in the first level of information gathering and troubleshooting. By enabling self-service, there can be a multitude of benefits for both customer and business, such as faster time to resolution and a lower cost to serve. In this blog, we will discuss four areas:

  • Consumer-facing trends that are permeating into the B2B world
  • Why Industrial businesses should care about self-service
  • The value to the business by enabling self-service
  • Future themes/trends in self-service

When a self-service option is successful, it becomes ubiquitous and can have a far-reaching, global impact. Let’s use Automated Teller Machines (ATM) or Cashpoints as an example. Prior to the widespread adoption of ATMs, you had to physically walk inside the bank, fill out the paper slip, and complete your transaction with the bank teller in order to withdrawal money. Now many people prefer to avoid going inside the bank, resulting in an increase in the use of cashpoint machines. Obviously banking has progressed further to include online and mobile formats, but if you want bills in your hands, you make a stop by the ATM.

Making the leap in your business, while taking cues from the consumer world, is about being where your customers need you. If a customer begins their journey to problem resolution on your website, the ability to locate the required information in an easy-to-use format must be simple. It should go without saying, but the information presented must be accurate and up to date as well. Taking that a step further, you want to help guide your customers to resolutions to common problems. This can come in the form of multiple channels, such as chat, video conferencing, and virtual customer assistants. Using scripts and AI for common problems saves your business and the customer time, money, and resources.

The competition is higher than ever. Every business, whether related or not is competing for the attention of the end user. With the internet, people have come to expect all their information condensed into a single feed on their mobile device. Every business has a website and social media channel that are constantly pitted against one another, regardless of their industry. When end users are using your self-service platform to diagnose and repair their equipment, they have an expectation that the platform will be as user-friendly as the big brand platform they use personally on a daily basis. The usability and design of your self-service platform for businesses are much more important than anyone could have anticipated.

From Consumer to Industrial: The Business Value

What does this mean for the industrial business that is considered by some to be lagging in innovation around the customer experience? They all have been deeply affected by the pandemic, and their ability to access the equipment and their customers has been diminished. Most industrial companies that we speak to see an increasing amount of value in extending self-service opportunities to their customers. In a good proportion of those engagements, the extension of self-service information is included as a part of a premium service contract or packaged into the premium service experience. The desired impact is to:

  1. Improve the customer experience and decrease customer effort – In most organizations, a good proportion (20-30%) of inbound customer requests or contacts are for information. Typically, this information seeking is around the following areas:
    1. Where is my technician?
    2. When is my appointment?
    3. Where is my invoice or service report?
    4. What is the current status of my work?
    5. What is covered under my contract and when does it expire?
    6. Can I see a report of all the service events that have taken place in the last year?

Making this information easier to access via a self-service medium reduces the frustration and time that a customer has to go through to get that information. It makes it easier for them to do business with the service organization, which can then have a downstream impact on customer satisfaction and loyalty. See our recent customer effort blog, Understanding the Impact of High Customer Effort, to learn more.

  1. Reduce inbound calls to the contact center – When customers are able to access pertinent information on their own (for areas described above), they don’t need to call the contact center, the service coordinator, or the field service technician to get the information. Depending on the level of access that these agents have to work in progress, scheduled appointments, or service reports, this could mean anywhere between 1 to 30 mins per request. For instance, if this information isn’t readily available, then the person taking the call has to go and dig for the necessary information to answer the customer. This might involve several other people who now have to disrupt their work to find the information. The time can really add up, while the customer is still seeking a simple answer. All of this time could be better spent on attending to customers who really need in-person attention or to support the growth of the service business without incremental investment in personnel.
  1. Improve self-resolution – In the examples outlined above, the customers are typically seeking information that is more account-specific and less associated with the breakdown or performance of an asset. There are use cases attached to self-service, where the customer is actually looking for resources to resolve a service problem or issue on their own. In this instance, the resource they are looking for could be knowledge-specific, such as a product schematic, a service manual, or a resolution video. For other self-service scenarios, the customers might only be looking to identify and acquire the necessary parts. The provision of this information, where applicable, can have the downstream impact of eliminating field visits while continuing to add to overall parts revenue. Depending on your business model, the reduction of field visits can greatly increase the margins on service contracts. For those who charge per service visit, this direction might not be as appealing in the short term. However, it does free up workforce capacity especially if you are struggling to hire skilled workers. It might also ensure a faster response and resolution time leading to a better customer experience.
  1. Increase customer-driven revenue actions – As customers become more comfortable with and trusting of self-service options, they might want to take the lead in certain service actions.
    • Scheduling their own service and maintenance visits – This has the impact of reducing the incoming calls identified above while also removing some of the steps that dispatchers and schedulers have to go through to lock down service visits.
    • Ordering their own inspections or other service-oriented visits
    • Ordering their own parts
    • Renewing their own service contracts

While your service-focused account management or sales organization might not want the customer to engage in these actions without a conversation, they are options available to support increased revenue initiatives.

  1. Improve service and asset information – Most service organizations are looking to capture a better view of their installed base. This is basic information around asset status, location, install date, warranty status, and more that can greatly support automation and other business initiatives. Several of our customers have driven their field service agents to spend onsite time to fill in the gaps around their installed base. Learn how Schneider Electric did it here. It might seem trivial to be able to capture this information, but it does get very complicated, especially if assets are sold via third parties and distributors. Getting customers to populate this information can go a long way to enabling the service organization. Even something as simple as asset location can eliminate a great number of headaches especially if that asset has recently been moved to another floor or another building. This could reduce the time the technician has to spend to locate the necessary asset and begin work. In addition to asset location and more, customers could also be the conduit to provide vital asset performance information. This collection of asset performance data, a poor man’s IoT, can partially duplicate the work that would be done by sensors and might be an appropriate path to capture this information for legacy products. The opportunities for customer-driven data enrichment can be numerous.

The Ongoing Evolution of Self-Service

The key to successful self-service investments is to ensure that the information provided on these channels is accurate, timely, and solves a pain point for customers. Organizations must aim for simplicity and ease to address customer pain points, before looking to increase the amount of information or the type of actions available in self-service portals or applications. Customer trust will be essential in the initial and continued adoption of self-channels which will then allow the service organization to reap the benefits above. A negative experience at the start can derail any and all self-service ambitions.

As customers embrace self-service channels for their enterprise relationships, it will become important for service organizations to link the self-service experience with other assisted-service channels. For instance, a self-service inquiry or journey might require a remote or visual interaction with a technical support engineer. The transition from self-service to remote must be a seamless experience as should the transition from self-service to a more traditional chat, email, or phone-based service experience. Organizations need to ensure that their omnichannel initiatives include self-service interactions.

Self-service channels provide a unique opportunity for service organizations to truly deliver a unique and premium experience to their customers. Customers are beginning to expect self-service capabilities, similar to those afforded to them in their consumer lives. If done right, the inclusion of self-service workflows and information can have a significant impact on the fortunes of the service organization.

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ABOUT Daniel Brabec

Daniel Brabec is director of global customer transformation at ServiceMax. With a broad base of experience in training, course development and project management, Daniel brings a unique background to his role at ServiceMax. He has spent several years working in service technology, providing oversight to enterprise implementations of service management systems, and creating and delivering the training necessary for companies to change the way they manage global service organizations in North America, Europe, India, the Middle East and Asia.

ABOUT Sumair Dutta

Sumair Dutta is the director of digital transformation at ServiceMax. In his role, he works closely with ServiceMax customers to maximize the results from their business and digital transformation journeys. He works closely with leaders of service businesses to define and shape their service vision while working hand in hand with implementation teams to execute on established service plans. Sumair is a thought leader in the field service and service management spaces and has conducted numerous research projects in the areas of field service, customer support and business strategy. He brings more than 15 years of experience in studying, analyzing and guiding field service organizations, first at the Aberdeen Group and most recently as the chief customer officer at The Service Council.