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Five mistakes to avoid when implementing self-service CRM

When launching a customer self-service CRM initiative, it's important to avoid these five common pitfalls.

Many customer support organizations consider self-service CRM to be a promising strategy for reducing the costs...

of customer service. Unfortunately for those organizations, self-service CRM doesn’t often meet those expectations. Investing in self-service technologies primarily to save money is one of the common mistakes that companies make, industry experts say.

In fact, however, only about 20% of customer support calls are deflected by the availability of Web-based self-service, such as knowledge bases, user forums, or online scanning or configuration tools, according to a 2010 survey by The Association of Support Professionals (ASP). While 20% is much better than 0%, it’s not the result that many companies look for when investing in self-service. And that is really the first major mistake many companies make with a self-service implementation: having unrealistic expectations.

“The big shocker is that people have invested in forums and social networking and are getting thousands of questions answered, but the phone calls aren’t going down,” said John Ragsdale, research director for the Technology Services Industry Association.

What often happens is that customers who have never used support before may now spend time browsing the site, posting to the forum, and researching minor problems not serious enough to warrant a support call. That makes it difficult to gauge the number of calls deflected by a Web support site.

Here are five pitfalls to avoid when launching a customer self-service software project:

Building a self-service wall. While reducing the volume of calls (or reducing certain types of calls) to the call center is a legitimate long-term goal, it shouldn't be a short-term goal, nor the main goal of a self-service CRM project. That will lead the implementers to develop a site that prevents customers from getting through to customer service rather than one that aims to improve the quality and diversity of services available.

“If the goal is just to deflect calls, not provide superior service, you’ll wind up erecting a wall between customers and your company,” said Francoise Tourniaire, founder of FT Works support consulting and training. “I remind my clients that their customers just want a solution to their problems. If you can provide that solution more quickly, then you’ve done something good for them and for you.”

Neglecting to show the value of self-service. Gartner estimates that 50% of all Web-based community efforts will fail. The reason for failure, according to Jacob Morgan, CEO of social CRM consulting firm Chess Media Group, is that companies aren’t taking the time to clearly convey the value of participating in a Web community.

Whatever that value is -- whether giving customers a voice for new product ideas, providing better support by asking users to share information, or earning points toward a new iPad -- they need to promote it.

“They need to define exactly why their customers would want to be involved with this,” Morgan said.

Making it one-size-fits-all. Customers can be frustratingly diverse in their service needs and inclinations. Organizations must create a mix of self-service offerings that matches their customers’ preferences, rather than settling for a one-size-fits-all support site.

"You'll never get ROI [from the self-service investment] if your customers don’t use it,” Ragsdale said. “If you start by putting up things that customers have never asked about, it will be very hard to get them to use it.”

Not only do customers have different support preferences, but different categories of problems require different treatment, noted Phil Verghis, president of the Verghis Group, a service and support consulting firm. Verghis divides customer issues into two main camps -- the known problems, which have an answer; and the new ones, which may not yet be resolved or even recorded, such as a new product flaw. He recommends focusing on solving known problems so human reps can concentrate on solving new ones.

“Known is important to drive down to zero,” he said. “If you solve the known problems, then the technical support people can spend their time solving new problems, not answering the same question over and over.”

Some self-service channels are good for both types of problems. User forums enable customers to help one another by answering common questions and by brainstorming to fix new problems.

 Not marketing self-service. If you don't want anyone to show up to your support site, don't mention it in the company newsletter, website, Twitter feed, or emails.

“The user community may not be aware that you've added something significant,” said Tom Sweeney, founder of Service, a market research firm.

Sweeney noted that users who have had earlier, negative experiences with online support are often the least likely to return for a new, improved implementation.

“Ironically, an early adopter who had a poor experience … with self-service may be less willing to try it again. So it may require putting together a user guide outlining features and functions of the new self-service resources, or online tutorials, newsletters, and examples of how customers have used it. Don’t keep it a secret," Sweeney advised.

Skipping the long-term plan. When Blackbaud, a maker of financial management software for not-for-profits and education institutions, replaced its user forums in 2007 and its knowledge base in 2009, it had to commit resources not only for the initial implementation but for ongoing maintenance as well, for monitoring conversations, adding new content and deleted outdated entries, and tweaking the software when needed.

The lack of a long-range plan can cause self-service projects to die of neglect after the initial implementation. Once a company writes all the knowledge-base articles, puts initial posts on all the forums, and gets the product configuration tool on the website, it too often forgets to go back to update everything. This is typically the result of not specifically assigning or hiring staff to take care of self-service, experts say.

“One of the problems I’ve seen in self-service is that it’s launched with great fanfare, but then nobody does anything else to maintain it, so the content becomes stale, the knowledge-base documents are old and out of date,” Tourniare said. “Too often, people assume buying technology is enough. They don’t realize it’s an investment in people as well.”


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