The top three digital self-service adoption killers

Digital self-service has become an ambition in every industry, but some organisations are still making basic errors.
Luke McKinney

Luke McKinney

Luke leads Nile's strategic design practice, and shapes much of our financial services work. He's an expert at helping teams get to grips with strategy and make better decisions for their customers and their business.

Having customers fulfil transactional needs online, enabled by a series of smooth, automated backend processes is often seen as the gold standard for customer service in business. Customers tell us they love the control, and it frees up teams in-house to focus on more important human connections.

But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.

Over the last few years here at Nile we’ve worked with our fair share of organisations struggling with the same issue; customers just aren’t using what we’re giving them. The expensive platforms and tools they’ve developed just aren’t being adopted by customers.

So these are our top three lessons learnt. As long as you don’t do any of these things, you’ll be on your way to getting some decent adoption for the new self-service, and delivering your outcomes.

Self-service is big business

In a recent survey by Forbes, 88% of companies expected ‘self-service’ to be the fastest-growing channel in customer service by 2021 (, 2019).

All types of customers love serving themselves digitally – provided you haven’t made some key mistakes.

What’s more, the majority of customers loveself-service when it is done right. They don’t have to listen to tinny, royalty-free muzak while spending their lunch break on hold. They don’t have to schlep out to a store or branch and wait in line to speak to a moody overworked service representative. And they don’t have to get up from the sofa or switch off Love Island while they do it.

And as in the consumer world, so it is in business. We’ve seen an increasing impatience with poor digital experiences in the workplace amongst employees. There’s rightly a growing expectation that workplace digital interactions should have the same consumer-grade UX they’ve come to expect from their day-to-day lives.

Here at Nile HQ we’ve helped a bunch of organisations design digital self-serve solutions, and during this time we’ve learnt a few things (through both trial, and error) and watched a few horror stories unfold. Here’s the top three:

1. Don’t clone your existing service

You’d be amazed how many times we’re asked to digitise an existing service, replicating the current experience – paper-based forms and all.

Organisations often think that a direct lift-and-shift to digital is the easiest route to self-service. And they might be right. But it’s almost never the most effective.

In most cases, existing services or processes weren’t designed for customers to navigate unaided. They were created with the assumption that there’d be an interlocutor – a person from the organisation to bridge the gap between the system and the human. They’d support customers, and smooth over the rough edges in the process.

If you’re simply cloning your current service you’re exposing customers to those same rough edges in your digital solution, but this time support is a bunch of rage-clicks and an impatient webchat or phone-call away.

Instead, treat it as an opportunity to innovate

When done right, digitising a service is a huge opportunity to reimagine your proposition from a customer perspective and actively improve the quality of service you deliver.

Going back to basics and taking time to understand customers’ behaviours and needs normally leads to a dramatic shift in what functionality teams believe is important. Finding that set of ‘Killer Features’ that differentiate the digital service from the current state is an outstanding way to drive the outcome you want; self-service adoption.

2. Don’t fall in the AUL trap

I’m sad to say I’ve coined a new acronym at Nile. And I hate acronyms.

AUL stands for “Agile, Until Launch”. It’s a term I find myself using more and more often with some of our larger clients. I’ve watched too many teams do great customer-led design work and launch a product, only to hear that same product has been canned 12 months later.

Often it’s because Agile methodologies have been used to get a product out the door, but the learning and improving stops the minute it’s launched. Yet measuring and improving your design with customers after you’ve done your public launch is essential for its survival.

And I know – It’s really hard to fight for budgets and set up accountability to monitor and iteratively evolve a product once live. But this once and done mentality from those that hold the purse strings has killed some of the most promising ideas I’ve ever seen come out the door of some of our clients.

Instead, get crystal clear on budget and accountability

Having a digital solution is a lot like having a child (I’ve heard). Someone should always be looking out for them. You need to invest in their learning, picking them up when they fall and helping them change and grow.

And yes, you’ll be footing the bill for the next 18 years, but do it right, and the rewards are huge.

And if you can’t do this, you should maybe consider if you’re really ready to be a product owner.

Don’t rely on single-channel promos

So you’re a digital team, you’ve built a great self-service system and you’ve tested it with customers and they love it. Amazing.

You’ve gone live, and told all your customers about it through your digital channels. You’ve even got a clear owner and budget for product stewardship for the next 3 years. You superstar.

But there’s one issue. And it’s basic, you guys.

Most digital teams promote new digital services and functionality on the digital channels they control. But the customers’ behaviour you want to change are – by definition – not using these channels. Either frequently or effectively.

Digital promotion of digital services is preaching to the converted; largely a wasted effort.

This is a big challenge for large multi-channel siloed organisations looking to make a channel shift from – say – face-to-face or telephony, to digital.

Instead, make friends in marketing

Identifying other non-digital channels that customers currently engage with is key to changing customer behaviour and driving adoption towards new digital solutions. This often means bringing your marketing team into your design process earlier and defining a mutual goal that supports both teams’ wider ambitions.

I’m going to own-up here. These are all mistakes I’ve made on different occasions over the years, either by not challenging my brief or by being caught up in the detail of the design and failing to see the bigger picture.

With the power of hindsight, I’ve turned these into questions I ask upfront. I make sure we’re addressing these challenges through engagement or collaboration with the right people and teams within the organisation we’re working in.

Have you seen any mistakes that are killing the adoption of a digital self-service solution? I’d love to hear from you.