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Why Consumers Are Turning away From ‘Self-Serve’, and How Providers Can Win Them Back

6 minute read

Stephen Yap, Research Director of the CCMA, based on the research, reveals what is turning consumers away from self-service and how they can increase their customer engagement.  

Each year, CCMA’s Voice of the Contact Centre Consumer research series tracks public sentiment around customer contact. Channel preference is one of the core topics covered in the research: specifically, how consumers feel about self-serve versus being assisted for various common types of query. 

Not surprisingly, people tend to be most comfortable serving themselves when it comes to pre-purchase journeys, such as placing an order, which are usually simpler and there is less to go wrong. On the other hand, post-purchase journeys, such as complaints or warranty claims tend to be more complex and there tends to be a stronger preference for assistance for these journeys. 

We observed during the pandemic years that consumer acceptance of self-serve increased for many types of queries. This was a period when many providers were accelerating their deployment of digital self-serve channels, and familiarity led to growing normalisation. 

Reverting back to assistance 

Starting in 2022 however, we noticed that for some journey types, consumer preference was reverting back to assistance. This trend continued in 2023 and is happening in 2024. This year, for all but one journey type, consumers’ willingness to serve themselves is either not growing or is diminishing. (The sole exception is ‘advice prior to placing an order’, for which self-serve acceptance continues to grow.) 

That’s three years in a row where we’ve seen consumers turning away from self-serve. Why could this be? One possible reason could be that seven in every 10 people who have tried self-serve in the past year reported that on least one occasion they had failed to resolve their query, and had to resort to assistance. 

Poor customer experiences 

Many of you reading this will count yourself in that cohort. Any consumer who spends time in digital contact channels will have stories to tell of poor self-serve experiences. The frustration this creates can be immense, impacting not only the consumer but the human advisor who has to face the wrath of the irate customer. 

I’m not advocating for scaling back self-serve. Done well, it can dramatically reduce demand into assisted lines and offers ease and convenience for consumers who choose it. But done badly, it not only annoys customers but is a false economy, as they’ll end up back on the assisted lines anyway. 

Optimising self-serve 

Here are three key considerations when seeking to optimise self-serve experiences: 

  1. Self-serve for simple pre-purchase journeys will be more readily accepted than for complex post-purchase queries. 
  2. The happy path is constantly evolving and should be iterated continuously, incorporating feedback from customers, advisors and operational data. 
  3. In most situations the option to speak with a human should be easily available. Only hide or turn it off if you are absolutely confident that it won’t be needed (e.g. failure demand has been eliminated). 

We’ve become somewhat jaded thanks to poor early experiences, but that doesn’t mean it will forever be that way. If more of us can get it right, then consumer acceptance will return. 


By Stephen Yap, Research Director of the CCMA

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