Historically, organizations have wanted to increase their customer service channels so consumers could reach agents in the most convenient manner for them.
However, if organizations reduce the number of live customer service channels they have and create a self-service strategy, they can lower service costs and improve CX. Organizations still need live customer service channels, but having too many can be costly and complicate the problem resolution process as customers hop back and forth between channels.
Learn how to build an effective strategy, as well as the benefits of self-service for customers and organizations.
Building a self-service strategy
To implement a successful strategy for self-service channels, customer service teams should follow these steps:
- Get the customer self-service channels right. The quest for more customer engagement channels yields many choices -- the company website, social media, live chat, text and interactive voice response (IVR) -- but it's a fool's errand to implement them all. Some channels work better than others for any given organization and its customer base, so businesses should select self-service channels that offer the most effective customer journeys and develop those.
- Make sure the self-service channel speaks the customer's language. Whatever problem resolution tools organizations put in place, their use must be clear to be effective. A chatbot or IVR system that uses complicated technical terminology won't engage the customer.
- Include other customers in self-service. Help doesn't have to come from business staff, chatbots or a knowledge base. Often, the best person to help a customer through a problem is another customer who went through something similar. People often browse forums, user groups and niche communities for answers, so the organization could implement a resource for such customer interactions. This approach is cheap and effective and has few barriers to user adoption, given its familiarity. Organizations can add open source or low-cost forum software to their websites or deploy it separately.
- Track the self-service system's progress and success. Customer service teams must measure the effectiveness of any process with customer interactions -- especially with self-service, which relies on customer feedback. Feedback requires proper mapping between the self-service process and customer loyalty, which depend on measures such as customer effort score and net promoter score. These surveys are widely available online, and organizations can add them to customer exchanges. Organizations should also collect qualitative data, which provides feedback they can use to improve CX.
The benefits of a self-service strategy
Developing and implementing a self-service strategy can benefit both customers and the organization.
Benefits for customers
From the customer perspective, benefits of self-service include the following:
- More options. An effective self-service strategy should expand the number of self-service options available to customers. Some customers prefer to call and interact with an IVR system, while other people prefer to go to an organization's website and interact with a chatbot.
- Increased security and convenience. Self-service portals should also offer secure access. Customers can log in to a portal and, in some cases, use two-factor authentication to gain access. Additionally, a self-service strategy should let customers interact with an organization at a convenient time for them and in a user-friendly manner. Customers don't need to worry about when a call center is open, as self-service is always available.
Also, customer service teams should use search engine optimization (SEO) on FAQ or knowledge base pages. SEO lets customers ask a question on a search engine -- for example, "How do I fix a water faucet made by company XYZ?" -- and have the appropriate sites and information appear for easy access.
- Improved customer satisfaction. Self-service strategies should strive to improve overall customer satisfaction with quicker and simpler interactions.
With self-service, customers don't have to wait in queues or interact with individuals who may not provide the correct information. If customers switch between self-service channels, then they do not have to repeat information if they are logged in to their accounts.
Benefits for organizations
For organizations, benefits of self-service include the following:
- Increased efficiency. Historically, organizations have increased the number of standard service channels they offer customers as part of their omnichannel strategies. Yet, many of these channels do not have enough demand from customers to operate efficiently, which forces organizations to separate small groups of support agents to handle each channel.
With a self-service strategy, an organization can offer communications channels relevant to its customers and free up customer service agents for other tasks.
- Lower support costs. An effective self-service strategy lowers support costs for organizations, which can also benefit customers.
In many contact centers, labor accounts for most operating expenses. Implementing self-service can cut labor costs, so this strategy overall costs less than live channels.
The importance of analysis
Customer service teams must track self-service channels' progress once up and running. Monitoring should be part of the implementation process and spill over into other channels once in place.
For instance, organizations could soft launch any planned self-service channel as a proof of concept, with a subset of the customer base. This trial lets teams measure and analyze the channel's use, its effectiveness and customer satisfaction prior to a full deployment, as well as fine-tune the channel before rolling it out.
Organizations also glean value from customer feedback on self-service channels -- particularly, from exchanges in the customer forum, if one is in place. Organizations can analyze this information to find the fastest, most effective paths to problem resolution. These insights can help live service staff and improve their performance.
Modern self-service development and implementation require a different way of thinking than in the past. Instead of focusing on the expansion of live communication channels regardless of cost, organizations may decide they won't offer certain channels to customers. Instead, they may choose to expand self-service channels and make them as appealing as possible to customers.
Editor's note: This article was originally published in August 2020 by Scott Robinson and was updated in November 2022 by Scott Sachs.