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Real Stories of Self-Service Gone Wrong

Guest Author

What do you value more—time or money? According to the 2015 National Customer Rage study, the most widely reported damage that customers suffered was lost time. Lost money was the second most popular answer, according to findings from Customer Care Measurement & Consulting, W.P. Carey School of Business, and Dialog Direct.

As consumers, we’ve all experienced the frustration of wasting time resolving problems with service providers. On the other hand, if you’re reading the Oracle Insurance blog, you’re most likely familiar with customer experience from the provider side as well.

I recently conducted a significant amount of research to author the latest white paper, “Redefining Customer Experience Through Self-Service.” It got me thinking about my own issues dealing with my health insurance provider, Kaiser Permanente. The company’s poorly executed customer communications can offer learning lessons for all organizations—especially those with self-service offerings.

A Simple Request

Awhile back, I decided there was no point in receiving my monthly premium statement on paper because the amount is the same every month. I did a quick search on how to change my delivery preferences online, but didn’t find it. So I called member services to request paperless statements. After going through the phone directory, dialing in my membership ID, and verbally confirming my full name and date of birth to a live human, I made my request.

The service agent said I had to go online and make the change myself. She couldn’t make the change for me and even worse, she couldn’t explain where on the website to change my delivery preferences. According to this agent, she couldn’t see the same screen that I was viewing, and her only option was to transfer me to another department. But of course, I’d have to explain the situation again to another representative who may or may not know how to solve my simple request.

There are a few dysfunctions here that offer good lessons:


  1. The insurance company inhibited the service agent’s ability to serve the customer by not enabling the agent to grant a simple request. Customers expect to be able to conduct transactions through multiple channels. Providing a way for customers to change their delivery preferences online is great, but requiring them to go online after they’ve gone through the trouble of calling devalues the customer’s time.
  2. The customer service agent in my case was apparently not trained on a simple issue. Companies that implement self-service options must have their service agents trained on those offerings. Otherwise, how can they fulfill their role as service agents?
  3. The customer service agent couldn’t see the same screen I was seeing. At the very least, service agents should see exactly what their customers are looking at. This capability would drastically improve communication and shorten call times.

Eventually, I figured out where to change my delivery preferences online. I guessed by clicking on “My coverage and costs,” and found under “Additional tools and information,” the link to “My document delivery preferences” (not the most obvious place to look). I checked off the paperless option.

After changing to paperless statements, I continued receiving my premium statements on paper. It turned out my medical bills were being sent via e-mail, and my premium statements were still on paper—the opposite of what I needed.

Kaiser Permanente’s Odd Policy on Paperless Premium Statements

After a few months, I called Kaiser again and went through the whole rigmarole before reaching a live person. I asked if it was possible to have my premium statements paperless, but have my medical bills on paper.

The service agent’s response: You can only have paperless premium statements if you’re set up with automatic payments.

I never trust automatic payment arrangements, so autopay wasn’t an option for me. Again, I was struck by the inherent dysfunction of Kaiser’s customer communications policy.

Here are a couple more learning lessons:


  1. Paperless delivery saves costs on printing, supplies, and labor. And of course, going paperless is good for the environment. Yet Kaiser’s policy is to require customers to receive paper statements unless they opt for automated payments. Customers don’t appreciate policies that force additional obligations. If your organization receives a request for paperless billing, make it easy on your customers and grant the request.
  2. If there is a good reason behind the policy (e.g., if a regulatory agency requires communications to be delivered a certain way), be transparent and explain the purpose behind the policy. Train your service agents to explain to the customer in an easily understandable way. Customers want to be treated fairly. If a company can give a “clear and believable explanation,” that makes a big difference, according to John Goodman, vice chairman of Customer Care Measurement and Consulting.

Empower Customers, Don’t Burden Them

Self-service options in customer communications can lead to excellent customer experience if they’re designed with the customer in mind. We’ve seen it happen with digital disruptors that are primarily self-service-oriented businesses like Amazon and eBay. Yet achieving a truly customer-centric focus can be difficult, especially for mature organizations that are stuck in old habits using outdated technology solutions.

Here’s the glaring difference between self-service done right and self-service done wrong:

The right way: Intended to make the customer’s life easier, offer the customer speed and convenience, and enhance the customer experience. Considered a strategy that differentiates the company, increases its value proposition, and promotes brand loyalty.

The wrong way: Intended to cut costs and lighten the workload for customer service—even it places additional burden on the customer.

How can organizations design self-service in a way that empowers their customers rather than forcing additional burdens on them? Read the latest white paper “Redefining Customer Experience Through Self-Service,” and you’ll find 13 principles to creating customer interactions in the digital age.

Learn more about Oracle Documaker by visiting oracle.com/goto/documaker.

Additional Resources

  • Interested in understanding the major market drivers to customer-centric communications?
    • Check out the white paper, “Why Digital Transformation Should Be Every Insurer’s Top Priority.”
  • Looking for quick tips on how to pick a solution for document digitization?
    • Check out the article in Insurance Network News by Randy Skinner, Vice President, Oracle Documaker Development and Consulting.

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