Technology is dramatically and profoundly changing the nature of services by providing tremendous potential for new service offerings, radically revamping how services are delivered, and expanding the global reach of services that historically were tied to their home locations. Firms across all industries are increasingly involved in providing elements of service via technology, and some of these self-service technologies (SSTs) are more successful than others. Mary Jo Bitner, the CSL Research Director and the AT&T Professor of Strategic Marketing along with Amy Ostrom, ASU Associate of Professor of Marketing and Ford Motor Company Honors Faculty Fellow and Matt Meuter, California State University at Chico Associate Professor of Marketing have recently published research that identifies key lessons for managers in implementing self-service technologies. Their work with the companies revealed the following critical success factors:
Lesson 1: Be very clear on the strategic purpose of the SST. Is it being introduced to reduce costs, to satisfy customers, to build relationships with customers, to attract new market segments or simply because competitors have already done it? A common pitfall is not knowing or clearly identifying the strategic purpose and subsequently providing mixed messages to employees and customers, resulting in less-than-successful implementations.
Lesson 2: Maintain a Customer Focus. SSTs need to be designed for customers not for technicians. The research indicated that a large percentage of dissatisfying SST experiences were rooted in failure to design a user-friendly system.
Lesson 3: Actively promote the use of SSTs. Your customer must be aware of the service and understand the benefits to them of trying it. All the basics of Marketing 101 come into play. Even if they are aware of and understand the benefits of the SST, the customer needs to be educated on what to do, how to do it and what to do if the technology fails.
Lesson 4: Prevent and Manage Failures. Clearly evident from the research is that SST’s are extremely prone to failure and that failures are very frustrating to customers. A concerted effort must be made to prevent failures when possible; however, eliminating all failures is virtually impossible. Thus, planning for services recovery is an essential element to your strategy.
Lesson 5: Offer Choices. Even if an SST works reliably, not all customers are going to want to use it each time they interact with a company. Make alternate methods of using the service readily available.
Lesson 6: Be prepared for constant updating and continuous improvement. The rate of evolution related to technological services delivery tools is so fast that it is very easy to quickly have an outdated SST. Firms that want to be successful with SST delivery options must recognize that one key factor will be the ability to evolve and adapt with the environment.
The full article with details on the findings will appear in the next issue of the Academy of Management Executives. It includes a diagnostic tool to help you think strategically about the existing SST’s that your company offers as well as diagnosing potential problems that may hinder the effectiveness of new SSTs.