What happens when your self-service system fails?

image Companies are increasingly shifting to self-service technology as a way to substitute expensive “human services” with cheaper solutions that empower customers to use an organization’s products or services.

Examples can be found at airports (check in counters), train stations (ticket counters), banks (ATMs and Internet banking) and even in selected McDonalds restaurants where you are able to order your BigMac with a self-service terminal in a restaurant.

Many customers prefer self-service over traditional service interfaces because when working properly they help to save time. When you look at it holistically, a service designer should try to reduce the number of human interactions to increase the efficiency of a service system. But while focusing on continuously increasing efficiency, service designers should not forget about effectiveness.

When “human services” fail, there is usually somebody around who could at least help you. If a self-service system fails, there is nobody around who might help (that’s the point of self-service) and customers are usually lost. Obviously you should design for self-service failures but not everyone is doing it. But how do “smart” companies solve that problem? By assigning employees that help customers with the self-service system.

Three of my personal experiences with such “workarounds” were at the Swiss Air check-in counters in Zurich, Deutsche Bahn (German railways) ticket counter in Cologne and United Airlines check-in counters in San Francisco. Why would you put a “half-baked” self-service terminal there, when you know that you probably need employees that can help customer’s to use them?

If you want to make a difference, first you have to ensure that you do everything possible to prevent self-service failures (a.k.a. user testing, user testing, user testing). Additionally you have to plan for self-service failures and design for self-service recovery through the self-service terminal.Designing a self-service terminal with “human backup” is only the last solution. If designer ignore this and something goes wrong, your customers will be lost and without any recovery efforts they will become ambassadors of negative word of mouth.

Image courtesy of [HippiHippo]


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