Kick-starting the self-serve revolution

Date: 30 April 2020
Author: Stuart Sheppard, Head of Content, Seccl

A number of people have observed that the current Coronavirus crisis has the potential to begin new trends, and accelerate pre-existing ones.

Trends like the global decline in CO2 emissions over the last few months, which many (myself included) hope will carry over into the post-Covid era.

Or the shift to collaborative working thanks to the growth of tools like Slack, on which we now spend an average of one billion minutes each weekday. Their CEO, Stewart Butterfield, summed it up powerfully: “It felt like the shift which we believed to be inevitable over 5–7 years just got fast-forwarded by 18 months.”

Well, another trend I think we’ll see hastened is the move to a self-serve customer support model  –  along with our increasing lack of patience for those brands unable to deliver it. Particularly in financial services – a sector that has traditionally lagged behind.

Buying things is hard

It’s harder than ever to be a consumer right now. The process of buying stuff is more difficult, not only because there’s less of it about, but because it’s tougher for it to physically get to you. And if you’ve already bought something and need some help, well, it’s harder to get hold of whoever sold it to you, too.

Call your bank or credit card provider and you’ll likely get hit with a long message advising you that, because of abnormally high call volumes, it’s probably better to hang up and try again tomorrow (…as if it’s likely to be any different then.) Now more than ever, it seems like financial services brands don’t want to speak to you.

Of course, I get why. These companies – in particular banks, who have had to quickly conceive and operationalise pretty complex projects like mortgage holidays for cash-strapped clients – will be overrun with calls. It’s only right and natural that they triage them so as to focus on the queries – and the customers – that are the highest priority.

But it’s no less frustrating. And the reason it’s so frustrating is because most of us probably don’t want to call them in the first place. Picking up the phone to a brand is increasingly a hassle, not a convenience – a last ditch attempt at solving a problem (or trying to buy something), where we’ve been unable to do so ourselves.

A disjointed customer experience

The current situation has thrown into even greater stark relief the friction-laden obstacle course that many brands have created for those looking to buy or find support.

And it’s shown just how far behind the curve some sectors are – particularly financial services.

As we all know, large banks suffer from ingrained operational inefficiency. Product, marketing, sales and post-sale support are seemingly siloed, with little to no consistency or communication; while their technology stack will no doubt consist of various legacy systems imperfectly patched together.

As a result, the easiest option for these businesses is to throw people at the problem. Build big teams of long-suffering customer operations folk, and ask your customers to call them.

A structure like this simply adds cost and inconvenience, and, when it gets put under serious strain like it is today, starts to crumble.

The path to friction free

Ultimately, I believe that customers are intuitively channel agnostic. We don’t think in those terms. We just want to fix our problems in the fastest, simplest and most convenient way.

And more often than not, that probably means sorting it ourselves, within the very product that we’re using. So, if we misplace our debit card, we would rather just freeze it from our app, rather than spend five minutes on the phone telling someone.

It’s not rocket science. Fintechs and digital banks have shown that they get it. They understand that convenience rules – and that a digital solution doesn’t have to be devoid of delight. But they remain the exception, not the rule.

The future belongs to fintech

It’s no surprise that the brands that have proven most successful over the last decade are those that have sought to remove friction from the customer journey.

It’s no surprise, either, that these brands – the Amazons, Ubers, Slacks, Zooms and Deliveroos of the world – are proving especially helpful during the current crisis.

They have removed friction within their technology – using APIs to seamlessly connect microservices to create rich, rounded experiences.

They have removed friction within their products – with intuitive, low-click journeys and well-crafted content that minimises clunk, maximises speed, and anticipates questions or problems before they arise.

They have removed friction within their customer operations – helping customers to help themselves through in-app customer support and online problem-solving content.

And they have removed friction within distribution, too. Making it super easy to buy once, buy again and refer others.

As we emerge from this strange passage having had to adapt to a life lived online, I think our patience with clunky, phone-based customer service will wear even thinner – and our desire to just sort it ourselves will, I believe, grow stronger.

When it comes to self-serve customer support, fintechs have shown us the future. Now we need to banish the past.


Stuart SheppardStuart Sheppard is Head of Content at Seccl, the digital custody and investment technology business that’s part of the Octopus Group. Its publicly-documented API provides simple, plug and play access to financial markets – helping ambitious fintechs of all sizes to launch new investment and advice propositions quickly and affordably.


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