Self-service is one of the biggest business bywords of the 21st century, yet the self-service trend began in the early 20th century. The idea of allowing customers to walk in, select their own goods without input from a member of staff and then pay was novel, but it reduced wait times at the counter and required fewer staff. It was the start of the self-service trend.
The self-service trend is now everywhere, to the point where people can pick their own goods off the shelves, pay for them using a self-service checkout, and then walk out without ever speaking to or interacting with an employee. For businesses, this reduces the number of staff they have to employ; the advantage to customers is they can get through the checkouts more quickly.
This self-service trend isn't limited to supermarkets though. The explosion of the Internet means that customers can search for solutions to problems and implement those solutions themselves. Customers can bank online, make transfers and set up new accounts without ever speaking to a call center representative. Again, this saves money for the company as each interaction costs cents, whereas call center staff are relatively expensive, with each interaction typically costing between $6 and $12, depending on the call.
Other industries have jumped on this self-service trend. Lufthansa, the German national airline, currently uses a paperless booking system combined with automatic passport scanning so those flying with the airline on domestic flights don't have to interact with airline employees. Similarly, British nationals flying into London's Gatwick airport can skip the immigration queues and use the automated facial recognition system that, combined with their passport, allows them entry into the country without needing to speak to anyone.
Perhaps one of the biggest examples of an almost fully self-service system is that provided by Amazon. Customers log in, select their items and pay, and the delivery person drops off the item at the door. In a similar vein, customers who want to buy a car can find out exactly what's at their local dealer, how much it would cost to finance the vehicle and what options they can have without ever speaking to a salesperson. Again, these self-service trends ensure that customers pay less and that the company saves money. It also increases the amount of knowledge the customer has, as it empowers them to find out more about what they're buying and exactly what they're getting.
These self-service trends do come with a caveat. Companies that use them effectively tend to do well, but those companies that make self-service too complex typically find that customers become frustrated with the self-service system and resort to a call center or require some sort of employee-based interaction, costing the company more money dealing with an irritated customer.
Self-service is here to stay, as it increases throughput for a wide variety of industries. New self-service trends could include anything from RFID tags to novel ways of streamlining the transaction or browsing processes, so be prepared for the next wave of self-service innovations.
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