Kreatik talks – Ernest Wołkowycki-Dołęga discusses the use of self-service and when it is essential.

Magdalena Węcłaś, Head of Strategy&Content at Kreatik, spoke with Ernest Wołkowycki-Dołęga – Head of Digital at LUX MED, about the challenges, trends and key issues in the area of self-service.

Hello Ernest, we are very happy that you agreed to take part in our interview. Today I would like to talk to you about self-service.  Your extensive experience in implementing self-service solutions in various companies, including Bank Millennium and Lux Med, is proof that you are the right person to talk to and a treasure trove of knowledge about self-service. 🙂

Based on your experience, what are the most common reasons for companies to decide to implement self-service solutions?

It seems that such a question would be relevant 15-20 years ago. Currently, medium and large organizations simply cannot afford to not develop a digital channel of contact with the user. Of course, it is possible and necessary to build a justification based on the automation of activities and reduction of manual operation costs, as well as the quality of service measured by NPS; however, investment in the digital ecosystem is currently a sine qua non for the growth of organizations and building relationships with their users.

What are the benefits of using self-service solutions for businesses and customers/users?

Because of the increasing costs of IT development in recent years, it is not always possible to build effective business assumptions based on quick ROI; investment in digitization from the perspective of return on investment is still a 5 or 10-year effort.

The real and quickly visible benefit of digitizing relationships is user activation and loyalty, which opens up the possibility for organizations to monetize the so-called Customer lifetime value through up- and cross-sell activities. Active users of digital platforms are several times more likely to be interested in and purchase products and services than “internet” users acquired through performance campaigns.

You have also worked with clients from France, the UK, and the US. What are the main differences between the foreign market and the Polish market in the context of self-service solutions?

In comparison to large foreign organizations with organizational and technological legacy, the Polish market has been one of the leading markets for almost 20 years, especially in the area of banking and insurance. This is of course a result of the “late start bonus” and the fact that many problems present in more developed markets in the previous era (e.g. payment processing, checks, long-term investment contracts) did not exist in our market. Additionally, Polish organizations are, in my opinion, more agile and more flexible in responding to challenges and user needs. Perhaps this is due to their smaller complexity and scale than in the case of foreign companies, but decision-making processes related to digitization are shorter and more focused on achieving benefits.

This is a very interesting insight. I am also intrigued by the topic of self-service in the context of the human factor. How does the lack of contact with a live person affect user experiences? How does it affect sales?

The question of the so-called Human touch in digitization is relevant, especially in critical moments of truth on the user path. In sales, this will be getting acquainted with the price offer or health questionnaire, in service processes the moment of calculating the damage or attaching documentation. However, no matter how well the process is researched and prepared in terms of usability, in these critical places it is worth allowing the user to painlessly change the channel or get support from a consultant. Active chat (but not a bot!) can be a key element in helping to clarify doubts and positively influencing the conversion of the entire path.

Could you explain why a chatbot wouldn’t be a good solution here?

The answer depends on the time horizon we have in mind. Currently operating, well-trained chatbots can effectively and with User satisfaction handle 25-30% of inquiries. This is a lot, but it also means that about 2/3 of user inquiries in the self-service system require consultant support. The development of bots based on generative AI, which have detailed knowledge of internal documentation and are able to interpret it (GTC, Regulations, individual Contract provisions) can be a breakthrough; however, it requires the organization’s willingness and readiness to build such a channel.

What are good self-service practices that should always be applied? What are the key factors to successful self-service?

In the process of creating digital solutions, as well as in managing already implemented solutions, the iterative approach of continuous improvement is crucial. Researching solutions and projects with users and then monitoring traction and real user paths is the basis for proper identification of user problems, and consequently – for applying the right solutions. In my opinion, usability management (UX and UX research) should be an element of both the design and subsequent management of the solution in production.

Where should brands that are just planning to implement self-service solutions start? What are the key elements at the very beginning?

If we are talking about an existing organization that wants to develop a digital channel, the basis should be to define and research the group/groups of users who will use the solution. And I mean here the analysis of real clusters of user groups rather than building wishful thinking personas of often non-existent groups (the proverbial “young and dynamic”). This definition of who is/will be our user is the starting point for defining the problems and benefits of the solution, and therefore – its features and functions as well as the course of user paths. User paths constructed in this way for real users should then be researched and confronted with the necessary limitations resulting from the organizational structures or business model.

And what are the 3 most effective actions that a business with a limited budget can implement? What solutions are worth implementing at a low cost at the beginning?

It is worth asking whether digitization is possible “at a low cost”. As I mentioned, the costs of software development have increased several times in recent years, so the decision to build digital solutions must be preceded by a conscious analysis of the available budget and plans.

However, regardless of whether we are a large organization with legacy or a newly emerging startup, “at a low cost” we can define who our solution is for and what user problem we are addressing. A well-implemented discovery phase is not costly and allows for the elimination of future expenses related to the construction of solutions based on the whims of stakeholders.

“Standalone” solutions that are not integrated with the company’s existing internal systems will be many times cheaper than multi-layer integrations. This is also worth remembering. Perhaps our solution does not have to be implemented in all systems at the beginning if it provides us and the user with the appropriate value.

And have you heard of the MVP (minimum valuable product) concept? In short, MVP is a product, most often in the early development phase, which has a minimum number of high-value functionalities and allows for collecting feedback from users. We discuss this model in more detail in our ebook and it seems to also be applicable in the case of designing self-service solutions. Have you had the opportunity to work using this approach?

Of course, the MVP approach works perfectly when building products in the “green field” model and allows for iterative responses to user feedback. However, when we are dealing with the organization’s needs regarding the existing “legacy” architecture, the challenge is more difficult – too narrow MVP, not integrated with systems and domain processes is often a shell that does not provide value to the User.

What are the hottest trends in self-service right now?

Of course, artificial intelligence and chatbots. I am watching the explosion of these trends with interest, however, it does not seem that in the next few years, they will replace the currently functioning self-service platforms. This is mainly because these solutions are deeply integrated with the organization’s IT ecosystem and are compliant with regulations and laws. The issue to be observed and tested is the so-called Conversational AI, which will be a candidate to replace standard forms and user paths – here the potential implementation can be relatively quick and give the expected effect.

The most common mistakes made by companies offering self-service are…

In the case of companies offering self-service platforms as a “white label” solution, the main challenge is to adapt the solution to the real needs of the organization and to research the needs of stakeholders. On the other hand, too often decisions are made at the wrong level and are not preceded by mapping of as-is processes. In the case of implementing “boxed” solutions, for the project to be successful, it is necessary to first adjust the processes and paths to those already implemented in the solution. Otherwise, the organization is exposed to the so-called “scope creep” and hidden implementation costs.

How should the effectiveness of self-service solutions be measured?

For years I have been attached to the “digital triad” of KPIs – activation, traction, and conversion. These three indicators give us an answer to whether the solution reaches users, whether a sufficient number of them use it, and finally, whether our user paths are “passable” and end with success – whether it is service or sales. And vice versa – inadequately maintained digital solutions “deteriorate from the head”, i.e. first conversion drops, and then traffic drops. Only continuous monitoring and continuous improvement of already implemented solutions enable their effective operation.

What do you think is a flagship example of well-designed self-service? From whom can we take an example in this area?

I would not like to mention specific solutions here; however, the self-service platforms of most Polish banks developed in recent years are an excellent example of care for the user and conscious “service design”, which goes beyond the commonly understood “UX”. For several years, leading insurance companies operating in the Polish market have been trying to follow this pattern. My “quiet hero” is also the consistently and carefully carried out digitization of public services, centralized around the portal and using the best Polish and European patterns.

What is the biggest challenge in designing effective self-service solutions?

As I mentioned before, from my experience, mistakes in building a digital value proposition result from attribution errors and information/social bubbles in which people responsible for these propositions may find themselves. I notice this especially when creating personas/target groups for which “pains” and “gains” will be defined – I often met with the fact that these personas were a projection of “who we would like our user to be” rather than “who is our user”; based on such a projection, alleged pain points and gains are defined, based on which product features and the solution are designed. Even when designing a solution for existing users, segmentation often does not rely on the analysis of real clusters of user groups, but only on “segments” such as “young dynamic”. As a result, the value proposition prepared in this way is based on solutions for hypotheses that have not been verified and tested on real users (because even when usability or ethnography tests are carried out, they are done for personas created based on projections). That is why it is so important to analyze and understand who your users are and what are the real user groups in your organization.

Finally, I would like you to imagine that you fall into a deep sleep and wake up in 10 years. How do you think the world will change?

Assuming that we survive until that time avoiding the general human tendency towards self-destruction; there is much to suggest that we will reach the point where Artificial Intelligence will be present in our everyday lives, probably being able to imitate the human brain. However, depending on what it was “fed” and what resources it used, it will be either AI supporting us in life, or a threat. For now, however, we have a chance to avoid the future in the style of “Cyberpunk” or “Altered Carbon”…

Thank you very much for the conversation.


Magdalena Węcłaś

Head of Strategy&Content

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