The best customer service: self-service or live chat?

It used to be the case that customers always had to contact the customer service of a company themselves if they had a question or a problem. In this, the customer would always be assisted by an employee. Over time, the way this service was provided changed from letters and telephone calls to emails and, in our contemporary world, online chat. That customers are able to do and organise a lot themselves in terms of customer service and support is still relatively new. In this article, we take a closer look at self-service and live chat and determine which of the two is the better customer-service method. 

Firstly, we should mention that there are groups of people who only want human contact and will primarily pick up the phone. At the same time, there are people who want the opposite; they want as little human contact as possible and prefer to organise everything themselves. The latter group is growing, which is an interesting development.

Customers are becoming increasingly spoiled, due to the fact that customer service has improved considerably compared to the past. However, this service level should not go backwards, but must only get better and better. Therefore, the question is what the best way to tackle this is in order to continue to meet the growing demands of customers.

How does self-service as a form of customer service work?

Let’s first look at self-service. Originally, self-service was not necessarily employed for the benefit of the customer, but purely as a means to save time and money. This didn’t appeal to many people. Now that self-service is more customer-oriented, people are using it more, and personal online environments and frequently-asked-questions sections have become staple parts of the average company website. In the meantime, customers are becoming used to being able to look everything up themselves without having to make a phone call. Customers no longer want to wait, because their time is valuable.

Concerning self-service as a form of customer service, we can distinguish between self-support and self-admin. The second – you guessed it – is purely concerned with administrative actions: address changes, viewing orders and requesting other changes, amongst other things. Online banking is also part of this. These actions all take place within the personal environment or “own account” of the customer on the website. This is in contrast to self-support, which allows customers to use a website or app to resolve malfunctions or commission products or services, for example. Think of online shopping or expanding your television subscription with extra channels.

The advantages of self-service

Self-service has several highly important advantages. As such, it is highly recommendable to add it to your customer-service mix. Firstly, it saves both the company’s and your customers’ time. Customers are not required to wait in line during peak hours in the call centre, nor are they required to wait for an answer to an email. By offering all information online and allowing customers to make certain modifications themselves, you can save a lot of money for your company.

Additionally, there is a growing group of people who want as little human contact as possible. For them, the solution is to do as much as they can themselves. This will result in higher levels of customer satisfaction. In this, it also helps that the company is more available because a lot of information is available online.

The disadvantages of self-service 

However, self-service also has its disadvantages. One disadvantage is that customers only have limited access to certain information, and not everything can be modified. For specific problems, it might still be necessary to contact the customer service. Additionally, it doesn’t help if information is not easy to find on the website.

It regularly takes place that customers are unable to find the right information online. This is often due to the fact that a good, clear, expansive and easy-to-navigate knowledge platform is lacking. Without a clear and user-friendly way of presenting the information in question, self-service cannot succeed, because the customer will still be required to contact the customer service. This requires companies to invest in a proper information platform.

How does live chat work for customer service?

Live chat can be employed on your website to achieve various goals. Customer service is only one of those goals. You show a chat window or a tab on your website or certain pages of your website, allowing the customer to contact you directly. The customer receives immediate assistance, in real time and in person, but still relatively anonymously.

The advantages of live chat 

Employing live chat in your customer-service mix is certainly important. One reason is that waiting times are short. Customers are not required to wait, as would be the case when using the telephone. Also, live chat plays into the growing need of people to have as little human contact as possible. Customers are not personally communicating with someone, giving them the sense of anonymity, but, because there is an actual person on the other side of the screen, customers do receive personal service that is aligned with their needs.

Live chat can also be used to generate trust with customers, thereby contributing to developing positive relationships with your customers for your company. And, by helping customers to find the right product, you have the opportunity of recommending other products, thus generating more sales. Additionally, live chat can be used to gather a lot of data concerning customers and their (purchasing) behaviour. This information can be used to structurally improve your service and products. Furthermore, we should not forget to mention that live chat is the greatest contributor to high customer satisfaction levels.

Disadvantages of live chat 

Live chat really only has one disadvantage, which is the fact that it is not the ideal channel to delve deeply in questions or problems. Chat is characterised by concise and speedy communication through short text messages. Providing detailed explanations concerning situations is difficult via this channel, making it necessary to switch to the telephone in such situations.

So, which is better?

Self-service and live chat both have a number of important advantages, and can support each other in neutralising their disadvantages. In conclusion, we can therefore say that a combination of self-service and live chat is the most effective strategy for a successful customer-service mix. In this, self-service should be seen as the go-to tool. If the customer is not able to find what he or she is looking for or has specific questions concerning his or her particular situation, live chat can be employed to help most customers. Don’t exclude either option, but combine them to offer all your customers the best possible service.