How to Perfect Your Self-Service Experience to Reduce Customer Effort and Drive Up Resolution
By Lauren Kindzierski, VP of CX Marketing, HGS
As the old saw goes, if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime. The idea is that helping people to help themselves can often be much more effective and productive than simply handing them a one-time solution — for both this fisherman and his friend.
Creating an effective customer self-service portal has long been a priority for many companies — but recent events have made it infinitely more imperative. We’re talking, of course, about the COVID-19 public health crisis.
The pandemic and the resulting economic fallout have affected every consumer in some way, creating a host of reasons customers might be driven to contact a brand. Perhaps they need to suspend automatic payments, or pause a service, or cancel a reservation. Maybe they have questions about the health precautions a brand is taking within its physical storefronts, or about how recent policy changes might affect their shopping experience.
These and other urgent customer needs have translated into a staggering spike in the volume of customer service requests — Nelson Hall estimates approximately 30% to 40% more requests — for brands in almost every industry. Most companies are not equipped to deal with such an increase on short notice. On top of this increased volume of requests, many brands continue to experience staff shortages. Agents can become unavailable because of illness or lack of childcare. Some contact centers have closed, allowing agents to work remotely if they have adequate internet — not always a given.
With so many brands overwhelmed by what the Washington Post termed “a perfect storm of customer service issues,” the pandemic has been a revelation for many: There are better ways to handle many customer requests than a contact center staffed by human agents.
Yet not every organization has taken steps toward implementing a self-service option. Even those with existing self-service have struggled to design a fully effective solution — because there is a right way to do it, and there’s also a wrong way.
What Self-Service Options Exist — and What Can Go Wrong?
A digital customer help center can employ a variety of channels to help customers find answers on their own, including:
- An FAQ page
- A search bar that populates articles and other content based on what customers type
- How-to videos
- Tip guides, blogs or other content
- A virtual assistant or chatbot
- A customer community hub where existing customers help others
While any of these channels are perfectly acceptable starting points upon which a brand can build, the customer experience when navigating self-service can vary dramatically depending on how well they are designed.
In fact, the experience can sometimes be quite negative. Consider:
- A search bar that yields hundreds of results versus a handful of targeted answers
- An FAQ page that lists too many questions and isn’t organized, meaning users must scroll endlessly to find an answer
- A self-service portal that is not optimized for mobile traffic, making it difficult for mobile users to navigate menus and find and click the right buttons
- A virtual assistant that doesn’t understand the customer’s question
- A phone IVR that makes the customers press multiple buttons or repeat themselves
These are just a few examples of the wrong way to design and build self-service. There are many, because there is so much involved: strategy and messaging, coding and user interface/user experience (UI/UX) design, brand voice and style, helpful visual and written content, technologies like automation and artificial intelligence (AI), and more — and everything must be user-friendly, seamlessly integrated and fully functional.
Here Are 3 Easy Tips for Perfecting an Effective Self-Service Experience
1) Help customers find the right answer, fast. This means:
UX is critical.
The portal must be designed for mobile device users as well as desktop/laptop users.
- Help center search channels should integrate natural language processing (NLP) to direct customers to targeted results.
A “Google-ized” search bar that uses NLP can recognize what question a customer might be typing and offer predictive suggestions, getting them to an answer or resolution faster.
- To continuously improve the self-service options, organizations must track exactly what is being typed into the search bar and use data analytics to identify trends.
Take a Channel Guidance Strategy Approach.
- A self-service portal must give customers the ability to find the right answer quickly by guiding them to the best possible channel or resolution depending on their reason for reaching out. For some questions, it might be a knowledge base article; for other questions, it might be a “how-to” video or guided path.
Deflecting email volume into self help
- Email is never a good solution, yet it continues to be the second most-utilized channel in the industry, after phone. Usually there is a 24- to 48-hour response time for email, which is a bad customer experience. Instead, offer an automated/intelligent email system that recognizes keywords as a customer types and dynamically routes them to a relevant knowledge base article or help video instead.
2) You must identify your main contact drivers (for both web and phone call inquiries and issues). It seems obvious, but it can be challenging to do well: Your brand’s self-service portal needs to be designed around the reasons your customers contact your brand in the first place.
The ideal way to do this is via data analytics to understand top contact drivers by customer location. This allows initial design of a portal, as well as a way to continuously optimize and update the portal in real time.
- Data analytics also allow a brand to marry contact drivers with the right channels. A smart channel guidance strategy gives customers a few channel options (e.g., virtual assistant, how-to video, dynamic FAQ page) based on their contact driver, empowering them to choose their preferred method for resolving their issue or inquiry.
For each contact driver, ask: Can this customer request be automated or done via self-service, or does a human need to be involved?
- Remember, in some complex cases, the best channel ultimately may be a phone call with a skilled human agent. If your customer needs help with a truly serious issue — one that could impact not just your brand’s relationship with that individual, but your brand’s reputation within the wider marketplace — automation is not the right answer. Understand at what point, and for what reasons, a human does or would need to be involved.
3) Measure Resolution & Seek Expertise
- For example, if a customer gets to the end of the self-guided journey, ask them “Was your issue resolved?”. If they click, “No, this did not answer my question,” it’s clear something needs to be redesigned or updated – especially if your metrics show that multiple customers with the same contact driver on the same journey have not gotten their issue resolved.
- Make sure that your marketing team doesn’t design your self-service website without seeking the customer care team’s input. Hiring a third party that can help with data-driven design, UI/UX build based on consumer journey mapping, data analytics and dashboards for measurement and tracking, and build and execution can be extremely valuable and should not be overlooked. The business case for volume deflection will speak for itself.
Lauren Kindzierski is VP of CX Marketing at HGS. Her high energy and enthusiasm for customer experience, combined with her passion for the customer service industry, has been what has driven her to develop innovative engagement solutions that have revolutionize her company and clients’ customer experience strategies. In 2020, Lauren was recognized by Gulfshore Business as a member of the Top 40 under 40, a special list that highlights a select group of young professionals based in Southwest Florida. In 2016, she received a Silver Stevie® Award for being a Women Leader in Business, Executive of the Year. Lauren holds a mMaster’s degree in Business Administration from Walsh College.