How Customer Self-Service Can Help Your Business & Your Customers

What is customer self-service?

Customer self-service is a form of proactive customer service that allows the customer to help themselves. Effective customer self-service relies on easily accessible information that will help solve a customer’s problem. In practice, a company will lay out all the resources a customer will need so they won’t have to contact the customer service team to solve any potential obstacles.

The best support ticket is the one that’s never been created. There are times when help is needed, yet some things are easier to simply do by oneself, on one’s own terms. Plus, there also comes the self-satisfaction of striking a complex task off a list, like filing tax forms or putting together a desk from IKEA.

Using the self-service options that are available to them, customers can then research and troubleshoot issues by themselves. Today, many want this degree of autonomy – 70% of respondents said they expect a company to have a self-service portal or content available to them, according to the CX Trends 2022 report.

Why is customer self-service important?

As mentioned above, many favor the ‘do-it-yourself’ option – people like to get instant help without waiting. Beneficial for all sides, customer self-service helps both:

  • Customers, by providing faster resolution times. Consider two scenarios: a customer waiting on hold for several hours to inquire about a cereal versus being directed to a detailed and comprehensive blog article about the product’s ingredients, which can be reviewed within minutes. Which is likely to be resolved more quickly? The presence of self-service can also foster a strong sense of community – one in which customers answer one another’s questions and share tips, tricks, and best practices related to a company’s product offerings. Self-service options are also readily available day and night, so if a customer is suddenly locked out of their account during a late-night Netflix binge, no problem!
  • Businesses, by reducing support costs and ticket volume, freeing up agents and allowing them to concentrate on resolving more complex customer issues. Customer service teams benefit from not needing to handle cases that are similar and repetitive. With access and the ability to contribute to company-wide platforms such as knowledge bases (more on that to come later!), agents are empowered to keep information and knowledge fresh, updated and helpful.

Highlighting categorical shifts in customer service, such as the shift to remote work, research from Gartner revealed that 59% of customers prefer to resolve their issues without contacting a customer service rep. Only 13% of customers, however, are contained successfully within self-service, as their resolution journey breaks down, underscoring the need for businesses to enhance their self-service offerings.

The Customer Self-Service Journey

How can my business implement customer self-service?

It is incumbent upon business leaders to coordinate the self-service journey all the way from search through to resolution – making it as seamless as possible for customers. The key, then, becomes to create effective self-service channels, and also to guide customers to the optimal channel. Customers, separate research from Gartner pointed out, often select the wrong channel for their resolution, which leads to channel switching, increased customer effort on the part of the customer, and lower customer loyalty. That is, a customer may peruse a quick-start manual for help getting the timer for their new oven set up, but need to contact a service rep to have them walk them through the actual issue they are facing.

A quote about why customer self-service is so popular today.

Designing a customer self-service portal or system can be accomplished, but it involves lots of moving parts and various aspects that must be considered. A strategy can include questions such as:

  • Is information easily discoverable, such as a prominent link to a help center on a website’s homepage, or a search bar that directs customers to the most relevant resources? This may involve harnessing search engine optimization (SEO) tactics, to create a clear pathway to relevant customer service pages.
  • Is a company’s knowledge base or resources page proactively optimized, featuring the most relevant and helpful content? How often is the content refreshed?

Many businesses choose to work with trusted partners to implement customer self-service options.

How does customer self-service work & what are some essential tools for good customer self-service?

As the authors of Zendesk’s CX Trends Report noted, “Having a best-in-class customer service team isn’t possible without the right tools in place.” It is also essential for such tools to integrate – to work together in harmony, for one seamless customer experience.

A customer service chatbot

A critical component in the customer journey, an AI-powered customer service chatbot can:

  • Guide – guiding customers 7 to self-service resolution, throughout their journey on a website (Example: a chatbot that pops up on a website’s homepage upon a user’s first visit)
  • Anticipate – the chatbot can be pre-populated with common issues, which draws the customer’s attention and encourages them to engage in self-service
WestJet’s chatbot ‘Juliet’, powered by Netomi
  • Collect – gather key information about customer issues before routing them to assisted service (Example: gathering background information from the customer, such as the date of purchase and whether a return or a refund is being requested, and why)

The best AI chatbots integrate with agent desks and other back-end systems to personalize and contextualize responses to customers. With such native integration, businesses can fully automate repetitive customer queries, and provide pertinent articles from a company’s knowledge base.

Escalation options

Some issues may carry more complexity or sensitivity, which is why it is always important to offer an escalation path to human agents, based on topic, customer profile, or instances when a customer asks to converse with one. A human agent may need to intervene if a customer is growing increasingly angry or frustrated, or if the AI is unable to comprehend a customer’s intent.

Knowledge bases

What if a system proactively detects what a user might enter into a search bar when they begin typing a query? Here lies the essence of knowledge bases. Serving as centralized hubs that house a company’s key resources all in one place, knowledge bases are ideal for customer self-service, as they allow customers to access information, such as “how-to” articles and video tutorials.

AI-powered knowledge bases unlock even faster service. AI can also help surface relevant information that is needed for agents to help a customer at that particular moment. For example, if a customer is inquiring about sandal sizes, it is time to pull up the spring/summer catalog.

AI can also ensure that a company’s knowledge base remains relevant – such as flagging content for review at regular intervals, leveraging machine learning to identify articles that require updated titles, fresh content, and better search labels, as well as suggesting new content based on what customers are asking for in their support requests.

There are numerous knowledge base softwares on the market, tools specifically designed to help businesses create, organize, and manage their self-service content for their customers, as well as internal support teams.

The customer self-service revolution

By deploying intelligent self-service that leverages machine learning to deliver the content that’s most relevant to the individual customer, businesses can help their customers become better and more efficient at resolving their own issues. Empowering customers to help themselves leads to faster resolution time while reducing ticket volumes and support costs for companies.

Customer self-service is not the future of customer service – it’s here now – it’s what customers desire and have come to expect. Businesses can benefit a lot from a system that works well for their team and their customers, but it must be carefully and thoughtfully deployed.

Amy Wallace

Amy Wallace is a community builder and digital storyteller based in Toronto, Canada. Marrying her background in print journalism and digital marketing, she enjoys writing and researching about all things related to tech, innovation and AI. Connect with her here. 

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