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The Renaissance of Self-Service: Are CMS Vendors Ready?

Self-service has long been part of the customer service mix, dating back to user manuals, and progressing to the first IVRs, website FAQs, and experience sharing communities such as Amazon Help. Even though self-service support has a wide range of benefits and savings for consumers and businesses, its adoption has been slow – due partly to technological limitations, and to a tendency to use the self-service channel mainly in the sales process.

However, over the last few years, the spread of high-speed mobile internet, the development of more advanced support tools, and the effects of the 2008 global recession have shifted the focus back to self-service. The biggest catalyst for a more lasting commitment to self-service is the rapid change in the way customers select, buy, and connect with companies. Today, the customer is in control, choosing the path, the time, the channel, and the format of their brand interaction.

The impact of this change on Customer Management Services (CMS) outsourcing providers has the potential for a significant shift in the overall industry.

In our latest research on the global CMS market, we found that the majority of vendors are showcasing new self-service implementations, or overhauling self-service, on behalf of their clients. Examples include:

  • A cable industry provider commissioning IVR redesign from Transcom
  • EGS conducting user experience tests over self-service for the warranty process of an American consumer electronics OEM
  • HGS’ ground-up development of web self-service for a new product line for a technology brand
  • Firstsource’s self-help online community for U.K. MVNO giffgaff.

Most CMS vendors are working on similar projects, and yet self-service still represents a tiny portion of the market, comprising no more than 1-2% of vendors’ revenues.

Traditionally, self-service implementations were limited to in-house customer service departments, but buyers now expect their outsourcing partners to have the capability to consult, develop and deploy it. The more experienced outsourcing sectors of telecom, retail and consumer electronics manufacturers are leading the way. Providers are addressing this new environment by investing heavily, something they are planning to continue for the next 12-18 months. For example, in the summer of 2015, SYKES acquired Dutch company Qelp, developers of self-service software for smartphones. They already have a broad client base and are now looking to integrate this into its offerings.

In reality, both CMS clients and vendors are behind the end-customer’s expectations. Changing customer and competitive pressure, across industry borders, usually from web-first competitors, makes self-service a ‘must have’ channel to meet the expectations of Generation X and Millennial customers. For outsourcing providers, offering self-service is required to stay relevant in the market, increase the stickiness of their relationships with their clients, and compete on delivered results.

Among those results, cost reduction remains a key factor. Most of the current self-service outsourcing projects are being rolled out primarily as a cost-saving alternative or a solution to scaling support, with the promise of delivering on both in the shortest possible period. At the same time, this threatens to cannibalize revenues, competing against labor arbitrage-based delivery, and incentivizes vendors to push for outcome-based or gainshare commercial models and focus more on their consulting and technical capabilities.

All these developments are just the beginning for self-service. Customers require the option to choose between self-service and human support but also want a highly customizable, personalized experience. The expectation for customer service is for contextual, tailored and proactive support in real time, delivered on a mobile-first approach. Currently, optimal customer service delivery is a hybrid model where self-service is the first line of help, followed by a fluid transition to human support.

Entire businesses are being built around this concept. Some of the latest examples include:

  • U.K. app-based Atom bank with its 3D graphics, voice recognition and security via selfies
  • American online discount retailer Jet.com with real time pricing algorithm based on delivery location.

In response, CMS providers are looking to combine analytics, automation, and machine learning, capable of empowering both agent support and self-service. Sutherland’s avatar-based virtual agent, Xerox’s WDS Virtual Agent, and CSS Corp’s Activei, are few of the standalone tools developed by providers. Many other vendors have integrated (or are working towards creating) proprietary or third-party capabilities in their CMS offerings portfolio, such as HPE Services’ CX On-Demand, Wipro’s Marvel, HGS’ DNA, and Minacs’ ALT CRM.

With the maturity of natural language processing technology, virtual agents will graduate from answering only simple, straightforward questions, and will become capable of engaging in a dialog, thus making virtual agents the most likely contender for a lasting self-service solution.

For customers, this evolution will deliver true self-sufficiency. For companies, it will mean moving self-service from a call deflection instrument to an essential customer experience channel. And for CMS vendors, it will convert self-service from a value-add to a core offering. NelsonHall estimates that over the next four years, self-service will carve out 5% of revenues for CMS providers.

NelsonHall’s latest CMS market analysis report, covering CMS delivery and transformation in detail, has just been published as part of NelsonHall's CMS program. To find out more, contact Guy Saunders.

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