No one likes calling customer service and, thanks to the Internet, we have fewer reasons for doing so. Every day it seems customers can use online self-service mechanisms to handle more and more issues themselves. That’s good for everybody: Self-service reduces companies’ costs while meeting customer expectations for quick and easy service. However, companies must be careful not to rely so heavily on self-service that they miss opportunities to differentiate customer service.

Forrester analyst Kate Leggett writes, “Moreover, customers have little appetite for long or difficult service interactions, including navigating arduous interactive voice response (IVR) menus to connect with an agent or waiting in queues to be connected to a phone agent; and are increasingly turning to self-service as the easiest path to resolution.”

The fact of the matter is customers will always demand self-service for some issues. No one wants to navigate complex IVR menus and sit on hold for basic tasks like checking an account balance or switching to paperless billing. But if you think about it, those aren’t true opportunities for customer engagement. Those tasks are commoditized transactions. Customers can and should use self-service mechanisms to address them because there’s very little value to be added by addressing them any other way.

What companies need to be careful NOT to do is rely too heavily on self-service mechanisms. By doing so, you miss valuable opportunities to differentiate your customer service organization. Increasingly, this is a key criterion for customers when choosing products and services.

Another way to think about it is the long tail of customer service. The large volume of commonly asked questions can be handled via self-service mechanisms, but the long tail is better served by personal engagement. These are true service opportunities because they give your company an opportunity to differentiate itself by taking service above and beyond the expected canned responses or standard support options.

Of course, it doesn’t change the fact that customers want customer service that’s easy and fast. So how do you deliver that when engaging with customers one-on-one? The best way to do so is to use video.

As First Perspective explains, video solutions can be used in contact centers in two ways: to empower customers and to empower agents. “Customers can show real-time videos to agents when they seek assistance in certain situations, such as problems in installing a product or making damage claims. Callers record a video and upload it to show agents what they see. This is a cost-effective method as consumers avoid the hassle of making multiple calls or visits to rectify problems.”

Of course, video can also be used in place of the phone as the method of engagement, enabling customer service agents and customers to interact face-to-face, in real-time. The agent can walk the customer through troubleshooting steps, for example, and observe issues as they happen. Or, the agent can demo products live to help customers determine how to resolve an issue or whether a product or service will meet the customer’s needs: Does the alarm clock ring loud enough to wake a hearing-impaired individual? How do I reset my security system keypad after an alarm event? These interactions enable customers to get help with both personal and complex issues easily and quickly.

At the same time, video solutions enable agents to connect with customers on a personal level. Through facial expressions and body language, an agent can convey empathy for the customer and leave a lasting impression of the engagement. Nothing surpasses seeing a genuine feeling of care or understanding when a customer is frustrated or confused.

There are other opportunities to leverage video to differentiate customer service as well. Remember those commoditized self-service interactions? On-demand videos featuring product tutorials, installation how-tos, troubleshooting tips, etc., can serve as one more mechanism through which you help customers help themselves.

Depending on your business, the dynamic, visual nature of video can help your company reach a different demographic that other self-service mechanisms fail to reach. For example, if your customers are putting together office furniture, listening to the instructions and glancing at a video for visuals is much easier than pausing to read directions each step of the way.

Ultimately, customers want solutions to their problems as fast as possible so that they can get on with their day. When self-service proves to be more cumbersome to resolve the complex, less common inquiries, or the issue requires more involved resolution steps, face-to-face engagement through video collaboration technology is the next best thing. Remember: It’s what happens outside of the everyday interactions that can make or break a brand.