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The Best Self-Service Applications 

The Best Self-Service Applications

The Best Self-Service Applications

By Donna Fluss

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We all know that there are many lousy self-service applications – IVR and Web-based – out there in the market. We’ve all run into them when dealing with airlines, banks, brokers, insurance companies, retailers, telecommunications companies, electric and gas utilities, government agencies and amazingly, sometimes even emergency services (911). I’ve written a lot about poor self-service applications over the years, because they provide great examples of what not to do.

However, there are some outstanding and effective self-service environments, ones that customers actually enjoy calling and using. Clearly, these systems were developed by enterprises that asked their customers what they wanted and how they wanted it delivered before they built the application. These applications are constantly enhanced, taking into account ongoing customer feedback. High-quality applications have been delivered by companies that prioritized long-term customer relationships over short-term costs. These enterprises have invested – sometimes spending a lot of time, thought and money – in building self-service environments that are compelling and inviting. These companies appreciate the power of self-service for providing an outstanding customer experience, building their brand and reducing operating expenses.

Examples of Outstanding Self-Service Environments

Here are a few examples. T-Mobile is a cell phone provider. It provides a speech-enabled IVR that thinks and talks like customers, not like a robot. It allows users to interrupt and fast forward, so that they don’t have to wait until it finishes talking (just like many of us impatient people do during real conversations.) It speaks rapidly and clearly and keeps the call moving, instead of going so slowly that it feels like the conversation will never end. If the system is not sure of what the speaker says, it verifies; otherwise, it does not. (For example, when it recognized a cell phone number, it didn’t repeat it. When it wasn’t sure and could not find my cell number on file, it repeated back what it heard so that I could correct it.) Very importantly, when I asked for an operator, it asked only once why I wanted an agent, so that it could direct my call. It didn’t lock me into IVR-jail” and force me to keep repeating my request, a common problem with IVRs. The application wasn’t perfect; when it asked me what language I wanted, English or Spanish, and I answered French, it put me into its Spanish script – I’m guessing that it defaults to Spanish if the speaker doesn’t say English. I suggest that you give it a call and test it out. The number to call is 1-800-937-8997. Of course, it helps to have or borrow (as I did) a T-Mobile account number if you want to put the application through its paces.

A second example of an excellent self service environment is the Amtrak speech-enabled IVR for schedule information and fares, which is referred to as Julie, as that is how the automated voice addresses herself. Julie is all business and doesn’t waste time. She keeps the call moving, asks the right questions and make sure the caller doesn’t worry about getting locked into a trip accidentally. For example, when researching schedules, Julie says that no fares will be booked until the end of the call. Julie allows callers to research schedules without having an exact date – avoiding a common reason for drop-off in many similar IVRs. Give Julie a call at 800-872-7245. Like T-Mobile’s IVR, Amtrak’s was so pleasant that it’s unlikely that I’ll return to using live agents. Julie answers quickly, is very pleasant, doesn’t waste my time and gets the job done.

On the Web self-service side, FedEx does an excellent job. A customer who wants to know the location of a FedEx shipment only has to go to the home page. By typing in the package tracking number, the customer can immediately find out everything about the package’s status. If it has been delivered, the screen shows who signed for it and exactly when. If it hasn’t been delivered, the site tells exactly where the shipment is and provides a realistic expectation about when it will arrive. This Web site is an easy-to-use and informative resource that quickly gives people the information they need, eliminating the need to call and check on package status.

Self-Service Honor Roll

DMG Consulting has decided to track good customer self-service systems, whether IVR or Web-based. It’s time to recognize companies that are doing an excellent job and investing in their customers. If you have found a compelling and useful self-service environment, please send us an email with the company’s name, the system’s phone number or URL and a short description of what you like about the application. Or, visit our Web site at and fill in a form with this information. We’ll check them out, put together a Self-Service Honor Roll and publish it on our Web site. We’ll also periodically publish the names of the best self-service environments. Please send your emails to For more information, please call Debbie Navarra at 516-628-1098.

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