Why customers prefer self-service support, if it’s done right

Written by Christian Reni

Self-service is becoming an ever increasing medium by which customers are looking to resolve problems and learn more. Today’s tech-savvy customers are not just ready for self-service but actually prefer it over assisted service.

In research carried out by Nuance, 67% of respondents preferred self-service over speaking to a company representative. While in another study by Coleman Parkes, 40% of people who contact a call center have first looked for answers to their questions via self-service.

The reason for such numbers is that customers want to learn and discover things for themselves. They don’t want to contact a company over and over for an issue or explain their predicament repeatedly. Customers want their problems solved promptly and feel that searching for the answer themselves is quicker than contacting the company. Furthermore, self-service improves customer knowledge, as it allows them to resolve problems at their speed and learn as much or as little as they want.

However, despairingly many customers often feel that self-service is not able to meet their needs. For another Nuance study found that 58% of customers are unable to resolve their issues through self-service and 59% are frustrated when they have to reach out to a customer service representative.

Successful self-service…

Creating a self-service tool that allows customers to easily resolve problems and become successful with a product means fulfilling the following criteria.

Identification & Creation

Understand the diversity that exists within your customer base and know each of your intended audiences’ needs. Demographics, product usage, skill level with the product, access preferences of self-service, etc. – discover what it is that differentiates your customer base.

While the volume and speed of content creation for a self-service tool is important, this will inevitably take time. More important is building on the identification process and creating content that covers each user group’s needs. This means understanding the issues your customers face and how they interact with your self-service tool.

For example, you may have expert and novice users of your product, but within both groups, you may have some that have a high propensity to use self-service and those that do not. In this example then, four distinct groups exist, divided by a mixture of skill level and desire to use self-service

This kind of scenario is actually very common within a customer base. What is needed is to create content that doesn’t only answer the questions of both novices and experts, but actively encourages self-service. For the reasons behind why some experts avoid self-service is different from that of novices and content creation then needs to be done to entice every type of product user.

Functionality

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Make your self-service easy to navigate, and don’t allow any dead ends.

Consider how self-service content should be presented. Make your self-service easy to use, navigate and have a design simplicity; customers don’t want to learn how to use a self-service tool, it should be intuitive. Customers should be provided with multiple ways to find and navigate throughout a self-service tool. Some options include:

  • Basic search, followed by an advanced search that allows them to narrow their search using filters.
  • Make product images or icons the starting point of the service experience, to help customers select their preferred support category.
  • 80% of customers are only looking for about 20% of your content. Make this prominent through FAQs or a “top ten articles” list at the start of the self-service experience.
  • VERY IMPORTANT. Eliminate all dead ends. Once the customer has begun their self-service journey, if they don’t find an answer they should not have to stop and start over. One method is to transition them to assisted help, where the self-service activities of the customer are captured and used to make the customer feel like their efforts have not been wasted.
  • Do not feel the need to follow the conventional means of presenting self-service content. One study found that 71% of customers would prefer a virtual assistant to static Web pages when it comes to self-service.
  • Optimize for all devices.

Optimize based on feedback

Your self-service database, though, is never finished. Customers issues evolve, and new ones gain prominence. Your self-service database should be continually updated, so:

  • Flag cases that repeatedly present themselves within assisted service.
  • Use surveys and metrics such as the Net Promoter® System, Customer Effort Score, and Customer Satisfaction Score to discover key issues that can then be addressed through self-service.
  • Ask for feedback at the end of a self-service experience.
  • Do usability testing, focus groups and collaborative design with your customers.

The key to optimizing your self-service is to be open to the voice of your customer, as there is no one right way to optimize your self-service experience. Customer input can come through unexpected means, but what’s important is that you are open to all channels and that the customer is the primary driver behind the evolution of your self-service.

Personalize the experience

There is a lot of information about customers that companies already know and can employ to improve the experience and create greater brand loyalty. To personalize the experience:

  • Use a single sign-in capability. This means that customers log in once and gain access to all systems, so they are not required to log in again at the self-service function.
  • Populate data fields and other site information if already entered on a related page.
  • Store individual users self-service history to provide related content the next time the user logs in. Most users only use a specific area of a product, meaning their problems will always pertain to a particular field. Presenting information about this will help speed up their self-service experience.

Marketing

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Your self-service tool needs to be marketed to make it preferable to assisted service

Having a well-functioning self-service tool though isn’t enough to shift people away from assisted service. Customers won’t naturally flock to it just because it exists.

As stated earlier, most customers do prefer going through a self-service route. However, it needs to be easy to find and marketed in such a way that it is preferable to assisted service. For changing customer behavior is not easy, as customers often distrust the success of new, untested pathways even if on paper they say differently. To remedy this try some of the following steps:

  • Use recorded messages promoting self-service when customers call for support.
  • Integrate self-service into your website so that a link or “support” button appears on all necessary pages of your site and product (if your product is an online tool).
  • Self-service should not feel separate from the rest of your online experience, but should be a continuation of it.
  • Support pages should be indexed and ranked within your overall website so that support content shows up in search results carried out on your site.
  • Not necessary for all, but search engine optimization (SEO) can be beneficial as many customers will look for an answer first through search engines rather than a company’s website.
  • Allow co-browsing. When a support agent helps a customer solve an issue, the customer can see the agent using the self-service feature, teaching the customer to use the self-service tool in the process.
  • When sending a customer resolution via email or chat, make sure to send the link to the article within your database.
  • CARRY OUT WITH CAUTION. Some companies practice making self-service the path of least resistance or the only path to problem resolution. This often involves obscuring phone numbers and contact information, lowering the importance of phone, email and chat to increase waiting time or in some cases not having phone support at all. Although such measures do save costs, providing comprehensive omnichannel assisted support is advised as it allows customers to solve their issues in the easiest and fastest way, increasing customer satisfaction.

Effective self-service

Self-service not only saves on operating costs for companies but also creates successful customers who remain loyal longer. Creating a self-service tool that is effective at answering customer issues quickly and independently is a three stage process:

  1. Identification, creation and design. Find out the differing needs of your customers. Create content related to these differing needs and design a website that is easy to use and navigate.
  2. Optimizing the tool. A self-service tool is never complete. Flag assisted service problems, use feedback metrics, usability testing, and collaborative design to make self-service the easiest pathway to problem resolution. Harness what you already know about your customers to make their experience personalized, to eliminate unnecessary steps for the customer and make an even better experience.
  3. Marketing. Having the first two steps completed is great, but it’s useless if you haven’t sold it. “Build it and they will come,” does not work in this case. Your customers need to be made aware not just of your self-service but be made aware of the benefits of it in comparison to assisted service.

 

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Written by Christian Reni

Christian writes for CustomerGauge about all things Net Promoter and customer experience related. Not content with merely being informative, Christian's aim is to create free-flowing stories that not only enlighten but actively engage the reader.

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