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Oct 14, 2019 11:59:00 AM

5 steps to a successful self-service channel


This certainly isn't news anymore, but customer behaviour and expectations have changed dramatically in the last few years.

There’s a whole plethora of support options and channels, all suited for different situations and purposes. Just as your customers hop between channels when consuming your content and buying from you, they also hop between channels when looking for customer support.


Self-service has become the new go-to stop before whipping out the old contact form or service phone number. In fact, according to Nuance Enterprise, 67% of consumers actually prefer self-service over speaking to a company representative. They only contact customer service, when self-service doesn’t yield results.


Already convinced to take the next step?




The majority of the people who end up in your phone queues and ticketing system, have already attempted to resolve their issue on their own. 


This seems straight-forward, right? Your customers start with self-service, and if the question is too complex to handle in your FAQ, they will just call you.  




Not quite! Over 50% of customers say they can’t find the information on company websites that would successfully solve their problem.


This number suggests that self-service channels carry a high risk of frustrating your customers, and that in the end, they still have to call you to get help. 



The study explains further, how consumers find self-service channels on websites and mobile apps often hard to use, ultimately forcing them to contact the call center. 

In this date and age, when our entire lives seem to revolve around digital products – these numbers seem staggering. 





But it doesn’t have to be so - let’s review how you can ensure your self-service channel is a success. 


1. Understand your customers' needs


This one’s actually a big gun dressed as a freebie. It seems simple enough: you’ve done your market research, you know your customers better than anyone, right? Not so fast. Before making a plan, you need to understand when and why your customers reach out to your customer service. 


  • Do you have a top 20 list of the most common requests they have? 
  • Do you know what tools or channels they used before emailing you? 
  • Are the requests simple or rather complex – could he have figured it out himself, just with the right information? 


Many companies actually find out that they have an incomplete picture of their customers’ support needs and in worst cases, insufficient contact tracking to gather that intel.


Understanding your customers’ needs is the prerequisite for any successful customer service project - self-service or otherwise. 



2. Set clear goals


Setting clear goals is crucial, but it cannot be done without completing the first step. Only if you understand why your customers contact your support department to begin with, you can set concrete goals for your self-service channel. 


  • Define with your stakeholders: what do you want to achieve?
  • Is the ultimate KPI to reduce the number of support tickets, or to improve your CSAT-score? 
  • Do you want to manage staff better through business seasonality? 
  • Are the goals cross-departmental, or only for your service organisation?


Setting clear, tangible goals helps measure the success of your self-service channels and aligns them with your company’s KPIs and OKRs. In the end, the whole point of the self-service channel is that you can reach the larger goals of your company and service department.



3. Use the right channel


Make sure you are using the appropriate channel for your needs. Broadly speaking, there are two types: channels that provide a static experience and channels that provide an active experience.


  • Static experience

A typical static experience comes from FAQ-pages, which works well if you need large quantities of text to provide a satisfying answer. The biggest advantage of an FAQ-type page or knowledge base is the low cost of implementation. The disadvantage of FAQ-pages is the fundamental structure and navigation style. Often, customers have to browse a variety categories, sub-categories and articles, before finding what they need. This is time consuming at best, frustrating and disengaging at worst. FAQ-pages, or “wikis”, also have a tendency to guide customers into informational “cul-de-sacs”, where the next steps towards a solution are not made clear. Tracking the performance of the content in the static channel is also traditionally not an easy task. 


  • Active experience

Chatbots would be classified as providing an active experience. A chatbot starts an interaction with your customer and can also provide a more personalised experience, f.ex. by fetching the order status or tracking information from your database. 


Besides being able to present a precise solution in mere seconds, the other advantages include a seamless handover to a human agent, which is required in more complex cases. By this time your service representative already knows the scope of the customer’s questions via chat history, which leads to a quicker resolution time.

There's a lot of market confusion about what kind of chatbots are there are and what they can do - to find out what type of a chatbot matches your support needs, check out our handbook, “Beginner’s guide to customer service chatbots”.



4. Make it user-friendly


No matter the type of self-service channel you have, make it easy to use. 


After choosing and setting up your self-service channel, you want people to use it. Broadcast it, set it center stage; the more people resolve their issues through the channel, the bigger impact it will have.


Make your self-service channel the gateway to your other customer service channels and have your customers first interact with the FAQ-page or chatbot. If the issue is not resolved, direct the customer to fill in the contact form. A chatbot can even do an automated hand over to a real agent, along with the chat transcript.


Self-service should be the top of your service funnel: your customers have the opportunity to solve the issue on their own, while only the requests that cannot be resolved in the self-service channel are put forward in the funnel.


Choose your wording so it is understandable for your customers and avoid internal jargon. Have someone who's not an employee proof-read the content. If your customers can’t navigate your self-service channel, you’re back to square one.



5. Keep improving it


Iterate, iterate, iterate. A self-service channel is an ongoing project. You need to keep tracking the performance and make sure it’s kept up-to-date with relevant content.


  • Make changes incrementally – don’t try to overhaul the whole channel all at once. 
  • Measure the performance of the channel by regularly monitoring the CSAT-score.
  • If certain questions get asked over and over again, they belong in your self-service channel. Remove questions and answers that have become obsolete. 
  • For static self-service channels, updating the content might involve manual work and very close collaboration with your customer service representatives. 
  • For active self-service channels using machine learning, the chatbots proactively suggest new answers and further training, reducing the maintenance costs and effort. These insights nicely complement the first-hand feedback you get from your service team, so you can make further improvements. 


Key to running a successful self-service channel, is matching the channel with your customers’ expectations. Doing so, you will create a valuable experience to your customers, which ultimately benefits your service team, and your business. Use these guidelines above to find the right self-service channel for your organisation - or to improve the channel you already have. Good luck!


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Sara is a former Solvemate. She’s really into chatbots, and improving customer experience. When she’s not writing about customer service automation, she’s an Italo-disco singer and a devoted housekeeping nerd. Hailing originally from snowy Finland, the Berlin winters leave her cold (pardon the pun).