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5 ways to improve a customer self-service strategy

In today's digital world, self-service options are a must to inform, engage and retain customers. Here are some ways businesses can improve those self-service options.

Customers are relying more on digital channels to make purchases, research products and get advice. So, it's not surprising that by 2025, more than half of all customer interactions will rely on self-service portals.

It's important for CX leaders to focus on delivering customer self-service benefits, and that means taking steps to improve the user experience now. Self-service tools moving forward will not only include a knowledge base and search capabilities; the most successful strategies will include artificial intelligence and virtual assistants.

Here are five steps CX leaders can take to improve their self-service strategies.

1. Establish business drivers for launching a self-service transformation

Business leaders need to talk to CX, sales, marketing and product development leaders to understand how self-service can improve the customer experience. Many interactions still require human assistance, but for those that don't, self-service can provide a personalized experience that results in high customer satisfaction.

Businesses need to determine which drivers are most important to their organization, and map customer self-service strategy to those. Here are some drivers to consider:

  • Speed. Customers may not be getting their issues resolved quickly enough because the wait time to speak to a human being is notoriously long. Deflecting customers to self-service can accommodate them faster, but businesses must first determine what customer support issues are most appropriate. For example, voice chatbots can direct customers to self-service for overnight mailing addresses, account balances and product information.
  • User experience. If organizations have an existing knowledge management system where the user experience is less than engaging, they should consider adding multimedia content -- such as how-to videos, podcasts and images -- to draw customers in and give them the information they need.
  • Revenue. Sales leaders may be concerned that by deflecting what would have been phone calls or live chats to self-service, revenue will decline. However, by adding predictive analytics to AI virtual assistants, businesses can make product recommendations that will help increase revenue.
  • Operational costs. Costs to operate contact centers are rising, and live agents are the most expensive way to handle customer inquiries. But improving self-service options can lower the cost of customer support.

2. Set realistic expectations for self-service volume

Businesses need to determine which drivers are most important to their organization, and map customer self-service strategy to those.

Businesses need to be sure that they have engineered their knowledge base, web storage, virtual assistants and network infrastructure accordingly. This engineering includes the number and size of servers, bandwidth connecting to the servers and number of virtual assistants to handle the anticipated volume. In the beginning, it may be challenging to estimate the percentage of transactions that self-service will process.

In 2020, self-service handled 36% of customer transactions, according to Metrigy's "Customer Engagement Transformation: 2020-21 Research Study" that surveyed 700 organizations. Though it varies by industry, Metrigy projects the percentage of self-service transactions in the coming years as follows: 43% for 2021; 49% for 2023; and 56% for 2025.

3. Update knowledge bases and pair with AI

Knowledge bases need an overhaul in most organizations. They're outdated in terms of content, technology and usability. Content developers and product managers must increase the amount of content, update existing content and expand multimedia content. Knowledge bases shouldn't be static; they should be frequently updated to provide relevant and useful information to customers.

Benefits of self-service content graphic

Search capabilities must also be more intuitive -- and AI helps with this when it's paired with machine learning. Over time, the AI-driven knowledge base learns associations between questions and successful resolution -- and also which questions it can't answer.

By the end of 2020, 33% of organizations had implemented virtual assistants, and another 34% planned to do so in 2021.

4. Address common self-service pitfalls

Once businesses address and roll out self-service tools, there are several traps they often fall into that can foil a successful implementation. Here are some tips to avoid those traps:

  • Don't ignore virtual agents. Virtual agents aren't plug and play -- there will be bugs that businesses need to work out. AI needs human involvement initially to correct default assumptions and incorrect information to properly answer customer questions.
  • Don't shoot blindly. Businesses need data to know if what they're doing is working -- and if not, what they need to revise. Businesses should use analytics tools to determine where customers get stuck and add escalation hooks at those points.
  • Don't leave self-service on an island. Organizations should integrate self-service with other channels. That way, when calls are escalated, customer service agents can review a customer's journey -- regardless of the channel -- and pick up from there.

5. Measure success

When done right, customer self-service tools will help improve business metrics. Organizations need to determine the success metrics they will use from the outset of the project and gather baseline figures to have a basis for comparison. While this sounds simple, many organizations rush to get the project off the ground and don't capture baseline metrics.

When businesses determined baseline success metrics in customer transformation initiatives, organizations saw measurable before-and-after results, including a 7.9% decrease in operational costs, a 37.9% boost in customer ratings and a 33.2% improvement in agent efficiency.

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