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This article is part of our Essential Guide: Customer service technologies revolutionize CX engagements

9 disadvantages of self-service options

Customer self-service platforms free up live agents for more complicated issues, but if organizations don't keep this software up to date, its disadvantages can frustrate users.

Many organizations have integrated self-service options into their business models, and when done right, this integration can vastly improve CX.

However, self-service initiatives can fail for a variety of reasons. The biggest and most damaging is poor customer service. Yet navigation issues, a lack of personalization and inflexibility are common disadvantages of self-service that organizations must consider before investing in this strategy.

"A poorly implemented self-service customer support system can lead to frustration and irreparable damage to the brand," said Vivek Lakshman, director of product management at UiPath.

Explore nine common disadvantages of self-service options.

1. Confusing navigation

Self-service platforms should be simple and intuitive to navigate across channels. Some features that confuse users include open-ended navigation, hierarchical menu structures, buried content, multiple tabs and lack of standardized document formats and inputs.

These features can also lead to frustration and customer drop-off, said Jonathan Collins, strategic advisor at Foretell Reality, a VR platform for professional communication. Missing, outdated or incorrect information can also annoy customers.

2. Lack of attention

Another disadvantage of self-service options is the lack of ongoing attention they get. Many business managers expect the platform to run on autopilot once launched, Collins said. Yet, like any site, CX teams should continually analyze customer interactions with the self-service platform to optimize and improve CX.

Additionally, content teams should regularly remove stale documents and FAQs to reduce clutter, as well as updating content tags based on search engine queries to improve search results. Machine learning can improve resolution times, and technologies such as voice, video and augmented reality could create more engaging customer experiences.

3. Inflexibility

Some self-service options aren't flexible enough to meet changing customer and business needs.

"Organizations that put platforms in place that can't be easily changed or updated are setting themselves up for failure since demands evolve constantly," said Dietmar Rietsch, CEO of Pimcore, a CX management software provider.

Organizations could embrace a self-service system that relies on cloud and open source technology, iterates with customer data and provides accurate and relevant content. This system's flexibility can reduce time spent reworking other platforms to ensure they meet current needs.

4. Doesn't incorporate feedback

A self-service project's success depends on customer and employee feedback. Organizations that don't listen to how customers and employees want to interact with each other can create more challenges than they solve, said Scott Webb, CEO of Avionos, a digital services integration consultancy.

CX teams should gather feedback at the project's outset and over time as they develop and use the platform. Then, they can make changes accordingly as customer and employee preferences change.

While customer feedback helps improve the product and its processes, it also ensures customers have a better experience, said Katrina Garza, vice president of customer success and support services at FormAssembly, a form management platform provider.

5. Constrains users

Many self-service options try to force users through a long procedure without alternative channels, such as direct access to a live agent.

Self-service platforms have to be easy to modify -- not just for adjusting areas of improvement, but also for meeting changing demands in a fast-paced market.
Adam BémCOO and co-founder, Victoria VR

When customers know they have an unusual situation or would prefer to speak with an agent, forcing them into self-service can frustrate them, said David Buchanan, CEO at X2Engine, a CRM software provider. These constraints can lead to poor CX and potentially a loss of customers if they don't feel understood or supported by the company.

6. Creates extra work

Some self-service platforms send users through a portal path that asks for information the company already knows.

"It is very frustrating for users to repeat information every time they access a portal or call a company's contact center," Buchanan said. Customers expect organizations to already know information they've provided, so forcing them to submit it again wastes theirs and agents' time.

A customer should have a login so the portal can present relevant data and options tailored to the user. This way, customers feel that the organization understands them and doesn't force them to repeatedly enter the same data.

7. Lacks human interaction

Organizations often embrace self-service options to offload customers from more expensive options, like customer service agents. While automation may increase efficiency for some customers, it can turn off others at the point of sale.

"Most customers want to have the ability [or] option to talk or interact with someone," said Lila Logue, regional sales manager at Roycon, a Salesforce consultancy. While a chat function with humanlike bots can help, organizations should enable handoff to a support agent when a customer starts to feel frustrated.

For example, Salesforce developed a bot escalation workflow into their Einstein Bots that aims to simplify this automation, Logue said. Einstein Bots can recognize keywords to offer specific knowledge articles or transfer customers to an agent. A question about billing addresses or resetting a password would direct the customer to step-by-step instructions.

Content teams can also tag knowledge articles in a hierarchy of categories. For example, "Product X" could include child categories such as "Product X - Billing issues" and "Product X - Quick tips." This categorization enables chatbots to offer relevant, targeted messaging about the product rather than generalized responses.

8. Makes personalization difficult

"Self-service options usually fail because of bad design, but there's a little more to it," said Adam Bém, COO and co-founder of Victoria VR, a blockchain VR platform.

Many projects begin with designs that have confusing navigation or inefficiencies because the designer imagined most users would take a specific workflow. An inflexible platform can exacerbate these problems, Bém said, because teams cannot personalize the platform to streamline user engagement. Inflexibility can also increase labor costs and customer support challenges.

"Self-service platforms have to be easy to modify -- not just for adjusting areas of improvement, but also for meeting changing demands in a fast-paced market," Bém said.

9. Requires constant analysis and monitoring

When designing self-service options, organizations must consider how to manage it. "Without enough personnel to examine and track the performance of the self-service solutions you've implemented, you will fail to meet customer expectations," said David Bitton, co-founder and chief marketing officer at DoorLoop, a property management software.

When Bitton's team started off, some of them thought self-service capabilities would run on autopilot. Over time, they realized they must monitor the platform consistently to ensure the service continually improves and optimizes CX. He also set up a dedicated team to ensure all support collateral is up to date and well-defined.

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