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Self-service does not mean no service

There’s a popular perception among businesses that providing self-service alternatives to consumers relieves them of the responsibility to deliver customer service. Perhaps they assume that because they’re offering customers greater convenience, more control over the transaction, and increased value, it’s unnecessary to focus on customer service.

Take, for example, self-service gas stations. As a pay-at-the-pump customer, you’re expected to provide a valid bankcard, fill your tank, and retrieve your receipt. There’s no customer service required. Or is there? Are the pump instructions clear? Does the card reader work? Are receipts available? Is the area clean? Is the paper towel dispenser stocked? Is the window wash bucket filled with clean solution? Is the squeegee clean and in good condition? Are the bathrooms maintained?

Too often, businesses that provide self-service alternatives absolve themselves of the responsibility to provide any customer service. Have you ever lost money at a self-service coin-operated car wash? Maybe the meter gobbled your quarters but neglected to add time to the rinse cycle? Or perhaps the water pressure was too weak to completely remove the bird droppings that prompted your visit? Or possibly you felt cheated after paying $1 for the vacuum that didn’t have enough suction to coax those petrified French fries out from beneath your seats?

What happened next? Was there a number to call? Did anyone answer? If not, were you able to leave a message? If so, did anyone call you back? In the end, did you receive a refund? Based on your experience, will you return?

Other than ensuring that the meters work during all cycles, the water pressure is sufficient to remove “foreign objects,” the vacuum provides adequate suction, and there is recourse in the unlikely event a problem occurs, what else can a self-service car wash possibly offer its customers? Well, consider the Southern California self-service car wash that offers strawberry-scented pink foam soap and dispenses six tokens for $5, providing a pleasant surprise for its customers.

This self-service car wash operator understands that, instead of a myopic focus on increasing average spend, improving customer throughput, and lowering transaction costs, businesses offering self-service alternatives have an opportunity to differentiate themselves and capture marketshare based on customer service quality. This is especially true since most self-service operators dismiss customer service as not applying to their business models. After all, they’re self-service operators, not full-service operators.

Self-service operators who act like full-service operators provide the unexpected, differentiate themselves, and capture marketshare from competitors who maintain a singular focus on operational efficiencies at the expense of customer service quality.

Have you observed any self-service providers that behave like their full-service counterparts?

Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.
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