Self-care is everywhere — from self-serve lines at the grocery store to check deposits via smartphone.
Companies like Google and Amazon have built entire business models around it. Multichannel pay providers are increasingly jumping on the bandwagon by launching their own self-care programs and apps, but some experts maintain the industry has not met its potential when it comes to allowing customers to fully manage their products or fix their services.
“Customers are more tech-savvy today than ever before,” Yossi Zohar, director of product marketing in Amdocs’ customer-management division, said. “They are comfortable with technology and they are already going to the Web to shop online and research how to fix a problem or solve an issue.
“Smartphones and tablets take self-care to a whole new level because of their capabilities,” Zohar added. “Many operators at this point are taking the easy route by offering mobile versions of their websites, which doesn’t really take advantage of the smartphone technology.
But there are a growing number of multichannel-service providers who are starting to make use of self-care and self-serve apps.
“The challenge is making sure the first impression is a positive one because if it doesn’t work the first time, people won’t go back and try it again,” Tapan Dandnaik, senior vice president of customer service and financial operations for Mediacom Communications, said.
Self-care apps aren’t necessarily easy to implement correctly, but they do pay off in boosting customer loyalty and subscriber retention, experts said. The key to success lies in how easy the app is to use, EchoStar senior director of business and technical operations Steve Follett said.
Technology vendor EchoStar sells Symbi, a self-care product that enables customers to diagnose their problems on their own. At the same time, the program will assist agents when and if the customer needs more help.
“We want to make sure we are offering a program that is simple for grandma and effective for more tech-savvy customers at the same time,” Follett said. “Grandma should be enabled to solve simple problems, but she should have access to outside help when she needs it. And if Grandma’s problem can’t be solved over the phone, all that information automatically goes to dispatch, where techs can often identify and fix the problem quickly if a truck roll is necessary.”
That was important to Mediacom Communications when it was crafting its self-care app, which is now being officially rolled out.
“If you’re using our self-care app and you end up having to make a phone call, the agent will know what the problem is and the customer is directed to the appropriate place,” Mediacom group vice president of customer service Jon Coscia said. “Self-care has to be easy to be successful. We are constantly tweaking it and looking for fallout points to fine-tune that program.”
There is clearly demand for such a product. About 30,000 customers have already downloaded the MSO’s self-care app, and it hasn’t even been marketed yet.
Most customers are using the app to pay their bills, Coscia said, but 20% are using it to troubleshoot problems. About 9% of app users have had to call customer service because they couldn’t solve their problem on their own, but that means 91% of users rectified their problem successfully, Coscia said.
In the first quarter, 38% of Comcast’s first-quarter installations were self-installs, spokeswoman Jenni Moyer said. That’s up from 24% in the same period a year ago. Moreover, 29% of Comcast’s customers are managing their accounts online, the company said.
The nation’s biggest cable company revamped its customer portal last year and the benefits for both the customer and Comcast have been significant. Confirming service calls, alerts, diagnostic tools, forums and blogs have made it easier for customers to manage their products and services, helping Comcast to be more efficient and helpful. Repeat installs are down 20% from 2012.
On-time service calls have reached 97% and Comcast had 1.2 million fewer truck rolls in the first quarter of 2013 than a year ago. Its call centers also logged 1 million fewer queries between first-quarter 2013 and the year-ago period.
KEEPING CUSTOMERS HAPPY
Time Warner Cable is experiencing similar operating efficiencies, John Keib, executive vice president and chief care and technical operations officer, residential services, said. But that isn’t the main reason for self-care options, he noted.
Rather, to satisfy customers’ needs, offering a variety of means to resolve service issues is just the right thing to do, he said.
“Self-service is really about getting customers to the right place to solve a problem as quickly as possible,” Mediacom’s Dandnaik said. “We don’t want customers to think we are forcing them to solve all their problems on their own.
“We are seeing an increase in the adoption of self-care,” but we know that we’ll never reach a time when 100% of our customers are self-serving,” he added. “The goal is to find ways to reach every customer in a way that is the most convenient for them.”
Cable’s stepped-up efforts to let customers manage accounts and diagnose problems themselves still haven’t reached their full potential.