Cloud isn’t a service without Self-Service

My phone needed replacing desperately, when iPhone 6 was released. The fastest and easiest way of obtaining it was to order it from Apple’s online store. The local brick-and-mortar shops had only a few units, and they were sold out immediately. This got me thinking about how the business in general has transformed.

Have you ever thought that the most popular services are automated and operated through self-service? You install new applications to your phone from app store, communicate with your friends on social media and listen to music from Spotify. You can stream movies and TV shows from Netflix, pay your invoices from the comforts of your home, and even book your next vacation without ever talking to a live person.

The migration into a self-service society has been rapid. In the late 90s, banks and financial institutions were the first ones to automate services. Now, self-service itself has become so integral part of almost any service that we as consumers get surprised if a service provider doesn’t provide it. We consider the companies without proper online services laggards and old fashioned. We expect the service to be immediately available after order; our expectation of the time gap between service order and fulfilment has diminished. We also expect mass customisation so that we can choose which features we need and pay only for them.

Unfortunately, still several services are too difficult or non-intuitive for customer to deploy, so the good idea behind the user interface is lost. Facebook and iPhone are good examples of a user-friendly self-service concept. It is very easy to start using them. In Facebook, it takes just a few clicks to install or remove apps or modify their privacy settings. When using iPhone, after you have entered your Apple ID, you can purchase new content to your phone as easily, and if you so wish, your phone will recommend other content that might interest you.

User perspective should always be one of the first things to consider when planning products and especially self-service features. Service deployment should be as easy as possible, but if needed, ending the service use should be easy as well. If a service requires a separate contract, it must be available electronically when the customer wants it. A new service must be available immediately, or no later than within a few minutes. If applicable, a short-term use option should be available. For example, if you’re offering software tools using a SaaS model, and customer needs to edit just one photograph, customers should be able to rent the software for an hour. The fees and expenses should be reasonable and relative to the benefit that the customer has gained by having the access to the software. Falling short on any of these customer expectations will most likely mean the difference between winning and losing the customer relationship.

New ways of using services will open possibilities to new pricing models. Thanks to cloud computing, traditional model of buying licenses and access for life is currently decreasing in popularity. Many companies license their software for a one-year or a three-year period. Many consumers would like to license their software or other service for significantly shorter time periods. What about other models than time-based licensing? It could be reasonable to charge usage of some services based on the number of times the customer has used it, like a subway ticket. Other services could base their charging on the number of simultaneous users, like a sports team’s calendar, or the number of individual transactions, like an email campaign management system. These advancements will place heavy expectations on any service provider’s BSS infrastructure. These services need to be provisioned in real-time, they need to be charged in innovative ways, and they must be invoiced when the customer is ready. In addition, the BSS infrastructure must be flexible enough to allow adding, modifying and implementing these services according to the current customer need. Not only BSS infrastructure is affected: if a customer fails solving his problem using self-service tools, customer care must know how to help. Customer retention must adapt to the new services, and product management must learn a new way of developing and managing their products.

The future consumer trends remain of course mostly to be seen, but we already know that the self-service is taken for granted and personal service will become a value-adding feature. In some cases, individual service may even become an extravagance, a differentiating factor to attract premium customers.

Today, many service providers seem to be in reactive mode, waiting for customer demand to increase so that the appropriate functions can be introduced to the self-service platform. As my colleague Franz-Josef mentioned in his blog post Another perspective on self-care tools a year ago, we believe it will matter that operators seize the self-service opportunity, by matching consumer expectations for freedom of choice when it comes to services, and by aligning themselves with a proven way to raise revenue. There should be an advantage with physical local presence, but unless operators do some serious catching up in the self-service offerings and infrastructure, it may turn out that differentiation with value-adding human interaction will not suffice in the race against OTT players.

/ Teemu

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