Self-Service or Personalized Service?

Which do you prefer—self-service or personalized service? While there is a time and place for each, I personally prefer the care and attention that come with personalized service and dealing with an actual person. Why? Because even though customer service seems like a simple proposition (customer has a question, contacts brand, customer service representative answers the questions, everyone is happy) the realities are fraught with complications.

I recently contacted a well-known retailer about a return. My first contact was with an interactive voice response (IVR) system—you know, the automated menu that asks you to speak or push a button to indicate your answer to a question. Since I prefer talking to a person, so I immediately zero’d out to get to a representative. The interaction was positive overall and I was happy…but it was because I dealt with a live person who was able to empathize, help with my return and get me back to my day quickly. That level of personal connection, coupled with the positive experience, lead me to share my experience with a number of people. Positive customer word-of-mouth is gold for brands and the smartest brands know how to treat their customers right.

These days, customer service is frequently handled, at least initially, by an IVR system. Most of the time the customer can easily find the answer they need. Other times, the customer becomes frustrated because the system can’t understand them or doesn’t have the desired menu option. IVR systems have their benefits—they are less costly than live agents, can handle high call volumes and are available 24/7. Yet the question remains: will self-service ever replace the live agent?

If my personal preference and recent experience are anything like what other people expect and experience—no, personal service is here to stay. The trick is to come up with the optimal mix of self-service and live service. An automated system can’t seamlessly move with a customer from social media interaction to phone to email follow up. An automated system can’t answer a question that doesn’t fit into its menu of prompts. An automated system can’t provide an immediate personalized response (at least, one that isn’t robotic-sounding).

A live person, on the hand, can. Can pivot from one communication channel to another. Can offer an immediate personalized response. Can increase first call resolution numbers. Even if an agent doesn’t have the best tools or technologies at their disposal, the agent will try to find a way—unlike an automated system, which may disconnect a call if it cannot match the inquiry to its pre-set parameters. And when an agent has the best tools available, allowing them to interact with and respond to customers on a variety of channels, the sky is the limit. Everyone leaves the interaction happy and satisfied with the result. And what brand doesn’t want that?

My recent article for ICMI was about this very topic. Check it out for more details about why I believe nothing can replace old-fashioned human connection.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at