(Almost) Everything is Now Self-Service


If you’ve used Facebook for a while, you’ve probably realized that the the promoted ads in the right hand rail are getting more effective. For years I vowed not to click on those ads. And yesterday, I caved, and clicked an ad for Warby Parker glasses. I’ve visited this site before, and have even contemplated using the “Try at home kit” to select a pair of eyeglasses.

This time was different – with prescription in hand and my existing pair of glasses to guide me on sizing, I ordered a new pair of glasses in about 10 minutes. Transaction complete! Only after I finished and I received an email from Warby Parker asking me to take a photo with my computer to calculate a measurement not included in my prescription did I realize how mind-blowing this whole process is today.

In the olden days (pre 2012 or so), you had to go to an optician, get an eye exam, purchase from that optician (or ophthalmologist) and wait several weeks to get your glasses. You could go to Lenscrafters, Costco, or another on-site lab to get faster service, but at a cost of quality. Getting quality eyeglasses with a custom prescription and your choice of frames and colors is now a process you can complete from your smartphone in your house (or maybe even in a coffee shop in the time it takes the barista to make your drink). Let that sink in.

We are now our own service delivery for many transactions that we make. Whether that’s a good thing or not probably depends upon your perspective. For many types of buying this is fantastic – you can shop at 3am! And for other types of buying where in the past you might have needed expert advice you now get the expert advice of … an automated process. I’m not a luddite by any means but think we might be missing something here in the endless desire to control cost and maximize customer choice.

The Most Expensive Parts of a Transaction Are Now Completed By the Consumer

Retailers like Warby Parker are able to compete favorably for a few reasons: they control the vertical means of production for eyeglasses, they limit the number of in-house styles (creating a private label brand rather than licensing cost) and they get you to do the work of selecting and sizing your glasses. All of these factors lower the cost for the end product and simultaneously improve the margin for the retailer.

But expense isn’t the only reason retailers like Warby Parker are moving the transaction into an easy-to-use online experience. The real goal here is to get you to buy more things more often.

The best exemplar of “buy more, buy more often” in online retail has to be Amazon with its Prime loyalty program, and the logical extension of this idea is to move the ideas and streamlining of online commerce to offline commerce. Many of us have used the “self-checkout” lane at the supermarket. Amazon is experimenting with even more radical concepts that remove the checkout all together.

When customers complete the transaction, does the service expectation change?

Now that we are the server, does the expectation for our own service change? We can no longer blame the retailer or the server for problems directly – it becomes a series of “the system isn’t working” or “the problem exists between keyboard and chair.” We gain a lot with this transition, chiefly the ability to buy and consume in more places. And we also lose a little bit too, as it makes it challenging to complete a return or fix a problem if the underlying process is hard.

Consider this example: yesterday, I bought six movie tickets and made a mistake on the day I wanted to see the movie. Instead of buying them for the next day, I bought for the same day (the results of a UX pattern trying to optimize purchases). I now had a service crisis – to get a refund I had to find the right place in the app to request a refund before the movie started on the same day – and had no idea how to do it.

Logging into the app where I made the purchase prompted me “to please login”, though I was already logged in. Logging into the web site prompted me with the same prompt. Clicking the “online help” revealed I could have someone help me with the refund in “less than” 23 minutes, when the transaction needed to be rolled back in fewer than 45 minutes.

I eventually found the right place to solve the problem and got a refund. The only person to blame if this hadn’t gone right, however, was me. I made the choice to buy tickets. I clicked fast to buy those tickets. And I realized that I was the only one who had made the mistake, and the one who was on the hook to fix it.

When customers drive the transaction, they expect that reversing the transaction will be as easy as completing it. The whole concept of service then hinges on the initial user experience, the customer’s understanding of that UX, and the ability to self-heal when the transaction goes bad. Service is not just something provided by a cashier – it is a feeling that pervades the entire customer experience – and the last service point you remember is probably the one you share with your friends.





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