The key to successful self-service applications is understanding exactly what users need and building in flexibility for change
Thexton.com.au is determined to become the number one health and nutrition Web site in Australia and New Zealand, selling quality products and providing complementary "wellbeing" services. Absolutely everything it does is directed at furthering that aim. It is not surprising, then, to find its Web site is extremely content rich, incorporating 6000 product listings, full pricing details, legal disclaimers, archived newsletters, assorted linked articles, plus an online encyclopaedia covering thousands of health topics.
But Thexton director David Thornton also knows that today's wired customers increasingly demand the kind of sales and service environment that caters for what researcher, consultant and analyst Aberdeen Group has branded the "self-serviced customer". Self-serviced customers expect choice and control. As Aberdeen puts it, they may expect the same seller to hold their hands in one instance, yet refuse to be touched in another. That means preconfigured options are out. Self-serviced customers expect to be able to self-configure a solution to whatever issue is currently on their minds.
So as people turn away from the "sickness industry" towards the "wellness industry", with health and nutrition industry sales growing almost exactly the same rate of growth of Web site sales - about 25 percent a year - Thexton needed a software solution that was intelligent enough to answer simply and rapidly any health-related question its customers might care to put.
"We cover everything from toothpaste through to vitamins through to body building supplements through to bandages. When you've got a product range that is that great, the customer has to be able to find information quickly, because on the Web their span of attention seems to be very short," Thornton says. "If they can't get what they want very, very quickly, then they move on to something else or another Web site."
Compared to their US counterparts, analysts say Australian businesses have yet to make effective investments in self-service technology. And there may be good reasons for their inaction: Thornton says when Thexton went looking it found relatively few products around to justify such an investment, eventually settling on iPhrase's self-service technology as seemingly providing the best match to needs, although that jury is still out. But readily available product set or not, Australian businesses may find they need to move fast on creating self-service environments, and possibly even end up going much further than Thexton has to date.
"Customer service and technical support seem to be following Moore's Law of computing: customer expectations are doubling every 18 months," writes Tom Tobin, senior business analyst with ServiceWare's Decision Integrity Team. "While this may not be exactly accurate, it does describe the reality of customer expectations that customer interaction centres currently face.
"Companies today not only have to deal with clients' increasing demands for support and service, but they also have to do so over multiple channels. No matter how great your call centre or help desk is, if you're not offering support on the Web your customers are wondering 'why?' Is there an intrinsic problem with this company? Don't they know how to help me on the Web? Why am I not offered the convenience of online support? Customers are increasingly seeking out self-service."
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