Let’s get it out there right away. Self-serve is an effective strategy for software vendors. On the surface, it might appear to tip the balance of the relationship too much in the direction of the vendor and some critics see the move as a cynical attempt to offload costs (time, expense) on to customers. There’s no denying the simple cost-saving logic behind a vendor asking their customers to locate for themselves what they need versus having them request it from a vendor representative.
It’s no different than how corporations in the 1970s and 80s uploaded all the clerical work formerly performed by legions of administrative personnel onto the workloads of pretty much everyone left after the cuts. It was essentially self-serve enabled by advances in technology. And while workers reacted negatively to losing secretarial assistance for report generation and letter-writing, the adoption of new office productivity technologies that accelerated in the ensuing years validated the decision to expect employees to assume more responsibility. It took time but eventually, we all became expert email and excel users.
Similarly, the mathematical cost calculation for providing a self-serve portal to customers is so clear it’s exhausting to imagine disputing the strategy. The industry has moved definitively in that direction. And in case it isn’t obvious, Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA) in its recent Technology Services Heatmap produced a table showing the adoption of 42 technologies employed in the post-sales world of enterprise software. Self-serve is one of only four technologies deployed in more than 75% of enterprise companies.
Peak self-serve? Perhaps but don’t be fooled into thinking the bargain is all in favor of companies. Customers enjoy significant benefits too, as highlighted in this article in the Harvard Business Review. It offers them convenience and speed and in this age of choice those attributes can help address imbalances presented by the eternal yin and yang of SaaS, retention, and churn. Both customers and vendors benefit from self-serve because it places the concept of customer value front and center. Vendors commit to providing what customers need and customers commit to doing many things for themselves as long as they continue to receive, through the portal, what they need.
Upon deeper consideration, this matter of evaluating self-serve through the lens of customer value is actually the more important factor of the self-serve equation and smart companies recognize this. They recognize that they need to invest in a comprehensive strategy that forces them to carefully tend to their side of the equation. If they hope to maintain the ROI of the technology, links will need to always work, documentation will need to be current, relevant, and acutely accurate, and interactive features will need to be, well, interactive. Furthermore, smart companies are using self-serve to better understand their customers through the ability to measure engagement and interaction and, in return, they use the knowledge gained to turn around and more personally nurture their relationships with customers.
Self-serve is a critical, and modern, customer-enabling strategy and it constitutes a major plank in the platform of our new service model announced on May 7.
In the end, smart companies know that the question of helping customers achieve their expected business outcomes isn’t really isn’t about those customers want. Smart companies know the more relevant question revolves around what customers need and to answer that, self-serve removes a lot of the guesswork by opening a window and letting the customers in.
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