The customers of today aren’t like the customers of yesterday. Today’s customers are savvy, self-reliant, demand convenience, and are comfortable using Google to find answers to their questions. It’s a generation raised with Amazon, Airbnb, and Uber. Customers prefer to shop, book travel tickets, and order a cab without picking up the phone. They like self-service, and it’s changing how they do things in both their professional and personal lives, from recovering passwords, to booking trips.

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review says that “across all industries […] 81 percent of all customers attempt to take care of matters themselves before reaching out to a live representative.” This aligns with Gartner’s most recent customer self-service strategy report (available to Gartner clients), which notes that by 2017, two-thirds of all customer service interactions will no longer need human intervention.

Given these stats, how do you create a self-service experience that lives up to your customer’s expectations? Let’s find out more about self-service below.

Here’s what we’ll cover in this article:

  • What is self-service?
  • Why is self-service important for your organization?
  • Does your organization need self-service?
  • What are the different types of self-service support?
  • What the future of self-service?
  • What are some self-service tools that your organize can deploy?

What is self-service support?

According to Gartner, self-service support is a blend of ‘customer-initiated interaction technologies’ that enable customers to solve problems themselves without reaching out to a customer care department. Self-service support channels include electronic records management systems, chat, and knowledge bases.

Why is self-service important for your organization?

One study reports that companies who offered self-service support experienced an 85 percent year-on-year increase in customer retention rates, compared to those without self-service. Some of the key benefits of self-service support include:

  • Cost efficiency: Self-service support costs 10 cents or less per contact to a company, while the average cost of live service (phone, e-mail, or web chat) is over $7 per contact for a B2C company, and over $13 per contact for a B2B company.
  • Timeliness: Self-service platforms are available around the clock, assuring businesses that their customers don’t feel stranded outside of regular business hours. According to a recent study, a key attribute of good customer experience is a fast response time. Customers want immediate solutions, and if you’re available to customers 24/7, you’re ensuring quicker response times.
  • Availability: Customer self-service resources can free up your service reps from routine support requests so that they can take up complex jobs and generate more leads.
  • Empowering customers: Self-service channels like knowledge bases, FAQs, how-to videos, virtual agents, and troubleshooting guides help customers find accurate, relevant, and complete answers to their questions instantly, without the need to speak to a service rep. As one survey points out, 40 percent of customers prefer looking for solutions via self-service before calling a company.

Does your organization need self-service support channels?

Below are a few questions that you need to ask yourself to figure out if you need self-service support tools:

  • Is your customer base outgrowing the capacity that your customer service reps can handle?
  • Do you have a huge backlog of unresolved queries?
  • Are your customer service reps answering repetitive questions every day? (i.e. “I forgot my password,” “Do you ship to Washington?”)
  • Are you looking for a more cost-effective way of serving your customers?

If the answer to most of these questions is ‘yes’, then it’s probably time to start implementing self-service support tools.

Customer self-service channels

Customer self-service channels can take many forms, including:

  • FAQs: A centralized repository of common customer queries related to a product or a service. Responses to these questions are made available in a user-friendly format.
  • Online knowledge base: A centralized online database of questions, how-to’s, tutorials, and other useful information.
  • Self-checkout: Allows customers to choose, compare, and buy products without any human interaction.
  • Interactive voice recognition (IVR): IVR allows customers to interact with an automated voice system that directs them where they need to go based on a series of options.
  • Chatbots: Chatbots are computer programs designed to respond to specific questions or commands. They are either built with pre-defined questions and pre-determined responses, or are artificial intelligence bots that can answer questions through their learning from previous pseudo-conversations. Platforms like WhatsApp, Viber, and Facebook Messenger are all game for offering self-service support in the form of chatbots.

Tips for effective self-service support

A self-service support strategy will not be beneficial for businesses or their customers unless designed correctly. Businesses must understand their customers’ needs first before going ahead with plans of offering self-service support. Here are some key best practices to keep in mind:

  • Intuitive design and easy navigation: In order for self-service to benefit customers, self-service tools should be intuitive, with simple design and easy navigation.
  • Personalize the experience: survey by Amdocs revealed that 91 percent of consumers were willing to use an online knowledge base if available and customized to their needs. As a best practice, learn from what your customers have to say, and use it as the basis to update your knowledge base and FAQ section.
  • Keep content fresh: recent Software Advice survey revealed that 31 percent of consumers get frustrated if they have to search for something for as little as five minutes. For an additional 11 percent, it was ‘very frustrating’, and for another 10 percent, it was extremely frustrating.’ If you are looking for an effective customer support experience, adjust your knowledge base, monitor keywords, and update your online content regularly.

Self-service support: What to expect in the future

It’s not only organizations that want efficient and high-quality self-service support systems– it’s customers as well.

  • Gartner predicts that by 2020, 85 percent of the relationship between customers and the organization will be managed with zero human intervention. Similarly, another piece of research shows that the interactions that do take place will have to be quick and intuitive.
  • By 2020, self-service tools will also need to be customized to assist customers in solving issues on their own. Platforms such as social media support, online communities, and live chat will offer a more personalized customer experience.

What customer support tools can you use?

Below are some of the top customer self-service support tools for you to consider, ranging from knowledge bases, to IVR, to chatbots.

TeamSupport

TeamSupport is a great customer support software that offers a fully customizable customer portal which you can embed in your website or use standalone with a custom URL. Here, your customers can check ticket status, view knowledge base articles, chat with your company reps, as well as look for other relevant information. Its built-in customer chat feature allows your customers to initiate live chat with your support team to get immediate assistance.

Desk.com

Desk.com is another powerful all-in-one customer support tool that is worth exploring. The app allows you to set up self-service support with multilingual knowledge bases and FAQs, which your team can create and update easily without needing a web designer. By implementing Desk.com, you can manage multiple brands simultaneously with separate help centers for each product line.

Your customers can also rate your content, letting you know which articles are popular and which ones need another look. Apart from that, you can also create a customer forum by adding a public Q&A to your website and creating customized contact forms.

Plum Voice Hosted IVR

Empower your customers to get solutions to their problems over the phone with Plum Voice Hosted IVR, an inbound self-service interactive voice response (IVR) system. Not only does it reduce wait times for customers regardless of the volume of inbound calls, but it also provides fast solutions to callers with routine inquiries. When integrating Plum Voice with your CRM system and other databases, you can access information to further customize your self-service offerings.

Chatfuel

Chatfuel is an artificial intelligence (AI) chat bot building platform that enables you to design chatbots, even if you don’t have any prior programming or coding knowledge. Chatfuel integrates with apps like Facebook, Twitter and Dropbox, allowing users to easily sync their bot with these popular platforms.

Striking the balance between self-service & support

If you aim for higher customer satisfaction scores, you should look to deliver a better customer experience. Although self-service has changed the way that customers seek support, well-trained customer service reps remain integral to any customer-centric organization. To be successful, you must strike a balance between these two support channels.

To get more from your customer support efforts: