Customer self-service is the DIY of customer support. Just like many people choose the “do-it-yourself” method for building things — because it’s cheaper, more fun, and often faster — they also choose that option in their customer journey (and for the same reasons).
In fact, according to Forrester, 81 percent of customers use help or FAQs on a company’s website for support. Having self-service support options available is something customers now expect.
The question is: how do you implement these solutions effectively in your customer service strategy?
Here’s everything you need to know.
What is customer self-service?
Customer self-service is any option customers can use to resolve an issue or get answers to their questions without the help of a business’s human agents.
This usually includes various digital mediums and technologies, like help centers, FAQ pages, forums, and chatbots. In physical locations, customers may also find cashierless checkout, ticketing kiosks, and more, though these are far less common than online customer self-service.
Why is customer self-service important?
Customer self-service is important because it makes for a better customer experience and support. Also, self-service reduces the number of routine conversations with live agents. This means agents have more time to spend on complex issues and engaging customers.
More specifically, here are the benefits of customer self-service:
Benefits of customer self-service
- Reduced costs. Self-service solutions are set up once, and can immediately be used as a resource for every customer or visitor, at no extra cost. Also, your customers don’t have to engage the time of a customer service representative to get answers, which reduces the overall cost of customer support.
- Faster support and higher efficiency. Customers don’t need to wait to get a response when looking into customer self-service portals. They can get answers to their questions immediately. Certain self-service tools, like chatbots, can even triage customer issues and route the more complex ones to human agents automatically along with context, increasing efficiency of customer service.
- Higher consistency and accuracy. Unlike humans, customer self-service always gives visitors access to the same information, delivered with the same voice and tone. This reduces the chance of misunderstandings or misinformation.
- Better conversion rate. Effective customer self-service tools help customers find the answers they need to buy the right product or service. Consider that more than half of customers abandon their purchases if they don’t find quick answers to their questions — so self-service is one of the most effective (and cost-effective) ways to facilitate conversions and reduce churn.
- Higher satisfaction. Finding answers quickly is a big factor for customer satisfaction. And, 81 percent of customers prefer self-service as the first attempt to resolve an issue, before reaching out to agents. So, not having these options available may lead to frustration and lower satisfaction.
- Additional resources for employees. Customer self-service platforms can also be used by employees. Instead of agents having to remember everything by heart, or risk making mistakes, they can easily tap into internal knowledge bases or FAQs to inform their approach to customer issues.
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Types of online customer self-service
As we mentioned, digital self-service support includes various alternative solutions. Here are the most popular ones.
Most people have used an FAQ (frequently asked questions) at some point in their lives. When a customer considers buying something they haven’t before, they’re very likely to click on an FAQ page to find basic information, such as delivery fees, delivery locations, payment methods, and more.
Having an FAQ page is the first step for any company to offer effective self-service. Make sure your FAQ page:
- Includes questions people ask. If most of your customers ask whether you deliver to a particular region, that should be part of your FAQ page.
- Is clearly written. Nothing more frustrating than trying to decipher what the text means when you’re looking for a quick answer.
- Links to other information when needed. If, for example, you have an FAQ about returns and refunds, be sure to link to terms and conditions or other relevant pages.
- Is complete. “Yes or no” answers may be fine for certain types of questions, but usually, customers will need some more information to better understand the answer.
A knowledge base (or help center) is a collection of multiple articles that dive deep into information your customers need.
For example, you may have an FAQ on payment methods, but there’s much more information that customers may need around payments, such as who to reach if a payment is declined, different payment plans (e.g. common in airlines travel categories), and more.
These types of questions warrant complete knowledge base articles that provide granular information customers need. An added benefit of knowledge bases is that each article is discoverable from search engines, contributing to your site’s SEO (search engine optimization) efforts.
When building your knowledge base, make sure you:
- Structure articles properly. Create intuitive and easy to navigate categories so customers can find what they need more easily.
- Get as technical as needed, but not more. Simplify information — ask your team to avoid technical jargon whenever possible and make sure people of all technical backgrounds can understand the content.
- Use multimedia. Images, videos, GIFs — any visual or audio help can make it easier for customers to get answers, and also makes your knowledge base more accessible.
- Get feedback. Many businesses add a “Was this article helpful?” question at the end of each article. If you do, make sure you set up a process for your team to look at responses and make adjustments when needed.
- Keep it updated. Outdated information won’t only affect customer experience, but it can also have legal implications for certain types of information. Make sure your team regularly updates help center articles.
Chatbots and conversational AI
Chatbots are the most technologically advanced self-service platforms. They use technologies like natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning to answer questions and learn from user conversations.
Chatbots are “on” 24/7 and they sit at the intersection between live chat with human agents and non-interactive content, such as FAQs and help centers. They can hold conversations with users depending on how well they’ve been designed.
Here are a few strategies to take notice of if you’re into conversational AI:
- Choose an omnichannel chatbot. By this we mean a chatbot that can be deployed on multiple platforms (e.g. social media, your site) without loss of data or interaction history. It should also be connected to other self-service platforms — for example, visitors should be able to find knowledge base articles by asking the bot.
- Optimize chatbot workflows. This means using different workflows depending on which path you want the chatbot to guide customers through. It could depend on your KPIs: if your goal is to increase conversions, then you can use a chatbot that helps people choose products and check availability.
- Add escalation routes. AI bots are great for routine questions and gathering data. But, sometimes customers may want a little bit more help. Or, they have a question the chatbot hasn’t been trained to answer. Chatbots then need to have an escape clause — in other words, be able to route conversations to live agents passing along all information they’ve gathered. This helps establish effective customer escalation management and improve customer experiences.
There are several automated processes that businesses often use to help customers help themselves. Signing up for a free trial, resetting a password, modifying and tracking orders, live status updates (in SaaS) — all of these processes count as web self-service because they provide information without human intervention.
While not as large scale as knowledge bases or chatbots, these options need to be seamlessly weaved into the customer journey. Here are a few tips to make sure they work correctly:
- Automate workflows that matter. Password resetting is the bare minimum, but different businesses may have different needs. For example, ecommerce stores offer order tracking, while airlines often have automated alerts in cases of flight delays. Look into customer service processes and your particular business models to identify what can be automated.
- Look at the data. Even small self-service abilities need to be strategic. Look into your reporting to get insight on which options people often use or which ones they ask for that you don’t have.
- Listen to feedback. Your customer-facing team will often get feedback on how automated processes work. A frustrated customer, for example, who doesn’t know where their order is will be a clear sign you may need to redesign your order tracking processes.
Forums and communities
Forums are platforms where customers can talk to each other, ask questions, and get answers. It’s a very common practice in the electronics and consumer software industry — companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Dell, HP have communities where users connect and find information.
These communities are very useful, because they’re not just a self-service option for complex requests, but they’re also a branding tool. You can encourage engagement, sharing of knowledge, and innovation through forums that have an impact on how your customers see your brand. According to some reports, an online community can help organizations improve engagement by up to 21 percent.
Here are a few things to keep in mind if you want to create a forum or community:
- Know your audience. Not all people are interested in being part of forums. If, for example, you cater to a less tech-savvy audience, forum participation may not be as high as you’d like.
- Connect your community with customer loyalty efforts. Customers who are very active in your community can be your greatest ambassadors and contribute to word-of-mouth marketing. HP, for example, has the “HP Expert'' program that recognizes the most useful members of its community. Who knows: maybe you can also find your next hires this way, too.
- Connect forums to improvements. Forums aren’t just a place for customers to get answers. They’re also a source of a wealth of feedback on what works and what doesn’t. Connect them with NPS and CSAT surveys and other data to get the best insight into your customers.
Best practices for customer self-service
For self-service support to be a successful customer service strategy, consider the following best practices:
The future of customer service in general is omnichannel. And that includes self-service customer support. No channel should stand alone. As we mentioned, chatbots need to be connected to live chat with human agents, both as a means to increase efficiency and as an escape clause if they can’t help customers.
Knowledge bases should also be connected to chat solutions. Both chatbots and human agents can serve knowledge base articles. What customers search for in the knowledge base search bar can inform FAQ pages. All self-service options should be seamlessly integrated and feed into each other.
Use interaction history
The best customer support is conversational and contextual. This means that — assuming you’re using an omnichannel customer service platform — any action a customer has taken can provide information to the support team about how to handle issues better.
For example, a platform that includes customer self-service solutions enables agents to see that a particular customer has looked into certain help center articles or asked certain questions to the chatbot. This data will help the agent go into the conversation with the customer already aware of what the issue may be.
Don’t set it and forget it
Self-service is meant to enable customers to help themselves, but it does require effort in the background.
It's good practice to track the effectiveness of each channel and make adjustments. Anything from the design of your knowledge base to chatbot scripts to rewriting tutorials can make all the difference in self-support.
Having self-service options won’t be useful unless your customers know about them. For example, you need to:
- Link to your FAQ page at a prominent place on your site (customers often expect to see it in the footer).
- Create a clear site structure to host your knowledge base, and optimize for SEO so it can be found from search engines.
- Set up rules that trigger your chatbot when needed, using your customer service platform. Also, try to make the bot easy to access from all pages (e.g. via a pop up) or in your mobile app.
- Put popular video tutorials or other material in their own section and link to them from relevant places.
And more. It all depends on how your customer base navigates your site or app.
The power of DIY support
Customer self-service is a great way to offer better support, reduce overload of your team, and increase efficiency. You just need a strategy that will include the self-service options your audience expects.
And of course, you need the right software — a platform that will make it easy for you to set up and optimize workflows, as well as track the effectiveness of your self-service solutions.