Customers Expect and Prefer Self-Service

For years the IT Service Management (ITSM) industry has been talking about the benefit of IT service desks offering Self-service to businesses. In the past it was quite an effort to convince IT decision makers that offering a self-service portal was a good thing, worth investing in, and of value to the business and customers. Instead, the focus was always on proving much how money and time was saved for the IT department.

How times have changed. At the recent SDITS show, almost all conversations about ITSM technology now seem to start with self-service. It’s no longer looked on as a frivolous option but a core service for many organizations. Still, there are companies or IT departments out there whose culture is more dependent on phone, emails, or face-to-face transactions to get things done and resist adding self-service to their customer service arsenal.

If you look outside of IT departments, people really like self-service. They’ve used it for years. They expect it and prefer it. There is a maturity model you can see in every other industry, often decades ahead of Corporate IT.

For example, shopping is activity all of us do. If we go back to the start of the Twentieth Century, if you wanted to buy some meat, you went to individual butcher shops, made your order and your request was cut, packaged, prepared and handed to you. All the work was done manually, while you waited.

Butcher shops were replaced by supermarkets who allowed users a better level of self-service.

Then along came supermarkets. Often the meat was pre-packaged and put on shelves. You travelled, selected, took it to the checkout yourself, purchased from a sales assistant, and took it home. The only human contact was at that till. Elements of self-service were improving your experience. In the last decade, supermarkets added self-scanning options that allowed customers to scan their own items and (hopefully) fulfil their purchasing request faster.

And the final stage in this evolution is web self-service (aka online shopping). It’s something we’re all familiar with. Think of it as the purest form of Self-service in retail. You order from home and a package eventually arrives with your order.

At a recent conference I described this evolution and there was a comment that “well actually we prefer the human tills, we prefer the butchers shop”.
Yes, that may be true, in some cases, but the speed with which you move through the self-service tills and the volume of people I see using them suggests that – unless queues are non-existent on manual tills – we are at least grudgingly willing to use them. Change is always met with grumbling.

So we move forward complaining until the new, more convenient way becomes the norm and we learn to prefer it. Look how we use self-service in buying ticket for a train, a concert, or for a holiday or the upcoming London Olympics. You can buy all of those without having to speak to a person. To be brutally frank, it’s much better that way. No shouting to be heard, no misunderstanding between you and someone else, and less time spent travelling or waiting in line to purchase something.

Self-service is nothing new. It’s everywhere. Why? Because it’s faster and more convenient to do it ourselves.

What makes all this self-service possible? Technology. Who provides the technology in a business? The IT department. Yet how many IT departments still rely on phone, emails, or other less efficient options to serve their customers?

If IT and service desk managers aren’t adopting a self-service option, they’re on the wrong path. Employees and customers have used self-service for decades and enjoyed it. You’re not doing anyone a favour when they are forced to go back in time to the equivalent of going to the local butcher for meat.

It’s true that there are times where it helps to have personal service. That’s good options and every good service desk should offer this as one way of communication. BUT it’s not the only way and not a viable options for those who need quick, efficient service.

Self-service is now a fundamental essential in the delivery of effective modern IT service. Your customers expect and prefer it. If you don’t adapt to the change, your organization risks going the way of the local butcher shop.