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Self Service and Automation: Everything you need to know


Five minutes with Brad Semp, Sales Director, Specialist Solutions at Nasstar as he discusses self-service and automation.

What are the main benefits to organisations of self-service in your view?

There are many! Perhaps let’s start with the most important person in this – your customers. According to research firm Forrester, some 84%[1] of consumers want to try to find the answer to their question using self-service first before calling an organisation. Typically, calls into a contact centre for confirmation or what is deemed as simple transactions can easily be completed using Self-Service Automation. Gartner estimates that this can amount to a third of all calls[2].

Our experience echoes this and the cost efficiencies for adopting Self-Service Automation are significant. If we look at the ‘2020-21 UK Contact Centre Decision-Makers Guide’[3] by ContactBabel, it tells us the mean cost of a live service telephone calls is £4.55, whilst the average cost of a telephony self-service session is estimated to be around £0.30-£0.70. In addition to the cost efficiencies, we should also account for the security de-risk self-service introduces, whilst enhancing the customer experience. If done well, it really can be a ‘win win’.

For the remainder of customer contact that can’t be fully self-serviced, there are still material gains to be made. So, for instance, when making contact by phone call, natural speech recognition can be used to establish caller intent and then custom logic within the application can determine the best route for that caller. Not only is this far more efficient than traditional methods, such as menu-driven automated telephone keypad entry mechanisms, (‘press 1 for this’ or ‘2 for that), for example, but this also brings significant de-risk to the organisation in question.

Once the intent is established, identification and verification checks can also be completed using the same technology which not only saves on average between one to two minutes of agent talk-time but also means the agent doesn’t have to go through the tedious process of verification and establishing intent on every call. This can help boost staff retention rates by reducing agent fatigue, leaving agents to spend more time on meaningful, more enjoyable work.

All this means the potential efficiency savings are huge – in our experience, anything up to 75% of contact centre costs can be saved, but of course, such applications also turn any organisation into a 24x7 365 days a year company, enabled to provide an always-on service to its customers, day, or night.

What type of organisation stands to gain most from self-service in your view? Is it more adaptable to certain markets or sectors?

Any organisation interacting with end-users over the phone can benefit from self-service, however, the larger the contact centre headcount the greater the gains. Typically, the ‘sweet spot’ is organisations that handle a large volume of customer contact, where queries are relatively routine. This could mean contact about changes to a policy or account including a change of address, rearranging an appointment or delivery, checking order status or stock availability etc.

Sectors such as insurance, mail order, retail, debt collection, local authorities, housing associations and charities see a particularly high number of these types of customer contact. Take an insurer for example where engagement requires lots of personal data capture and administration. Typically, policies are renewed annually, to do so there are several steps involved for the insurer to generate the quote, to a customer accepting the quote and agreeing to renew, and then of course creation of the new policy documentation that in many cases is sent out via the post. Even for a large insurer enjoying economies of scale, the associated costs are high for items such as post franking, fulfilment, print and stationary etc.

After all this, there is no guarantee the intended recipient will receive or review the correspondence, they could be away from home or just too busy to read their mail. The result is an expensive and time-consuming process, and potentially without a successful outcome or call to action. But, if the same process was driven through self-service automation and via a mobile interaction, for example, the chances of user adoption and a successful outcome is significantly increased.

What self-service tools are you most excited about?

For me, it’s the ability to join up multiple self-service application technologies to work coherently. For example, with voice and mobile self-service, both exist today as mature standalone solutions that are increasingly utilised, but they typically operate in isolation. Integrating them together so they provide a joined-up customer experience and journey is the key to high output success. Remember that according to Forrester 69%[4] of customers would like to move between channels and not have to repeat identification checks each time or must explain again what they are trying to achieve, which can cause a great deal of frustration. Beyond that, joined up technology can provide maximum gains for all involved.

Take an example of an address change. If you try and self-service this through a voice application then the experience can be poor – as good as this technology can be nowadays, it still struggles with customer names, postcodes, and addresses. So instead, both voice and mobile applications can be used to provide a joined up, secure and efficient customer experience that can result in a 100% success rate. In this scenario, use the voice call and speech recognition technology to establish intent, i.e., have the caller explain why it is they have got in touch, then speech recognition technology identifies the caller and verifies them. At this point, the user is seamlessly transferred from voice to mobile where they can input their new details which are cross-referenced and updated in real-time to the customer database in use.

The beauty of incorporating mobile self-service into a user experience is that it’s a technology method that we have all embraced and use extensively throughout our day. 98% of texts get read and the application manages the identification and verification of the caller, preventing unnecessary exposure of personal data within a contact centre - even when contact centre agents work from home. This provides significant risk reduction by keeping personally identifiable information private at all times. It also means that customers enjoy an improved and hassle-free experience, while details of their interactions are securely logged and tracked, passed in real-time via their preferred means or to a data warehouse providing a complete overview of all user interactions and journey.

What are the main barriers to its adoption in your view?

As stated earlier, self service works best in organisations that are dealing with enquires at scale. This makes for a robust return on investment case. Perhaps the biggest issue we find is that organisations must have good data sets to maximise gains available from self-service. 

If an organisation sets up a chatbot (for example) without a good knowledge base behind it, the user experience would be poor. The customer might presume that the artificial intelligence behind the application is at fault, when in fact it’s the data powering the chatbot responses that isn’t good enough. In these cases, service automation and management could be a better option.

Similarly, if a customer is accessing their own data and seeking to make changes to their own circumstances then this must also be accurate, up to date and be joined up.

What does the rollout of Self-Service Automation look like for a typical Nasstar customer?

It is important when scoping a roll-out that it’s done in a very controlled manner. This is where Nasstar adds significant value. It can be a challenge to introduce change to your organisation, but we aren’t shy to let the technology speak for itself.

In certain scenarios, we can provide proofs-of-concept to allow our customers to experience the gains of self-service automation, prior to contract commitments becoming valid, and in some cases, we’ll even fund the proof of concept, so we really do put our money where our mouths are.

Scoping the project is key. We start by engaging with the customer and then moving quickly to a workshop, here we capture the granular detail required to ascertain the resources and effort required for what is typically a 2-4 stage phased roll-out prior to any customer deployment. But during this phase, we would urge customers not to ‘rip and replace’ self-service should be built upon systems that are working well already. Replacing is not just expensive, it can also be disruptive. The gains from self-service are so high, that they can be used to help reshape a business or fund investment required elsewhere.

What should organisations consider, for maximum gains?

  • Be pragmatic - think about which high volume interactions are appropriate for self-service
  • Start small - pick 2 or 3 ideal scenarios,  review regularly, and grow from there
  • Consider all media channels
  • Think how customers can be notified and informed throughout the journey – go to them before they come to you, or worse still one of your competitors!
  • Consider yourself as one of your customers using the service yourself

How do you expect self-service to evolve in 2021?

The technology is there, it’s all about user adoption from here on in. We all know practice makes perfect, the same is true here. The more we embrace the technology and allow it to machine learn from its mistakes, the quicker the improvements to its function and ultimately our experience as consumers will be realised. We have seen a steady increase in demand over the last year or so, in part caused by the pandemic. Firms understandably want flexibility in how they can handle customer enquiries, particularly in a modern world with different ways of working, to help cover staff shortages, or where demand has been somewhat erratic.

Into the future though, the wider the technology is adopted, the richer the function set will become, forever improving the experience and investment case. Importantly though we still need the human dimension and the empathy a contact centre agent can provide in some cases is as important as ever. The role of self-services is to automate low-value, repetitive tasks clearing the way for contact centre staff to become ‘Super Agents’, focused on high-value complex tasks that make their jobs more rewarding, add real value to the overall customer experience and provide high levels of cost efficiencies to the organisation in question. But, ROI is not all about money. As I have said already, self-service used efficiently, can provide higher levels of de-risk to organisations than anything else, whilst providing ease of use for an enhanced customer experience and always-on accessibility.

The future is here, it’s time to embrace it.


[1] Forrester - Trends 2016: The Future of Customer Service - Jan 2016 by Kate Leggett



[4] Forrester - Good Alone, Better Together: Integrating Chat And Virtual Agents