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Businesses can benefit from customer self-service channels

Self-service channels can save businesses money, while improving the customer experience -- if done right. Here are some tips to keep in mind when building a self-service strategy.

Until recently, the conventional wisdom in customer service was to increase the number of channels to provide customers a way to reach businesses in a manner most convenient for them, whether it be via phone, email, mobile, social media, web chat or self-service.

But businesses should rethink this strategy and consider more customer self-service options while reducing the number of customer service channels, which can both lower service costs within businesses and improve customer experience.

A Gartner study confirmed the need for businesses to reduce the number of customer service channels. While there is still call for live channels, too many can be costly for businesses and complicate the problem resolution process as customers hop back and forth between channels while trying to get an answer to their questions. Live channels such as phone, chat and email cost approximately $8.01 per contact, while self-service channels cost 10 cents, according to the 2019 Gartner Customer Service and Support Leader Poll.

Simple and direct works, and if other human beings can be taken out of the process, so much the better.

Building a self-service strategy

Implementing a successful strategy for customer self-service channels includes several critical steps:

Businesses should select self-service channels that offer the most effective customer journeys and develop those.

Get the customer self-service channels right. Part of the omnichannel story above is that the quest for more engagement channels has yielded a lot of choices -- the company website, social media, live chat, SMS and interactive voice response (IVR) -- but it's a fool's errand to implement them all. Some will work better than others for any given enterprise and its customer base. 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 are placed in the customer's hands, their use must be crystal-clear to be effective. Interacting with a chatbot or IVR system that talks like a computer geek won't endear the customer.

Self-service can include other customers. Customers can often help one another through service issues. Help doesn't have to come from business staff, bots or an FAQ; often the best person to help a customer through a problem is another customer who had a similar problem that a business has resolved. It's already an internet social norm for people to browse forums, user groups and niche communities in search of answers. Putting up a resource for such customer interaction is cheap and effective, and there are few barriers to user adoption, given its familiarity. Businesses can add open source and low-cost forum software to the company website or deploy it separately.

Track the self-service system's progress and success. It's always important to measure the effectiveness of any process that includes customer interaction. But it's especially important in this particular effort, because there's no one on the enterprise side of the process that serves as a factor in the evaluation: There is only the customer. The core of this metric will be customer feedback, meaning that the mapping between the process and customer loyalty will depend on measures such as customer effort score and net promoter score. These simple surveys are widely available on the internet, and businesses can easily add them to customer exchanges. Because these scores are quantitative in nature, organizations should also be sure to collect qualitative data, which provides feedback that businesses can act on to improve the customer experience.

The importance of analysis

Tracking the progress of a self-service channel once it's up and running shouldn't be an afterthought. It should be part of the implementation process and should spill over into other channels once it's in place.

Consider, for instance, doing a soft launch of any planned self-service channel -- a proof of concept, using a subset of the customer base. This provides opportunity to measure and analyze the channel's use, its problem-solving effectiveness and customer satisfaction in advance of a full deployment. This is smart on a number of levels, enabling businesses to fine-tune the channel before it makes a general marketplace impression.

Then there's the value that businesses can glean from customer feedback on the self-service channel once it's in place -- particularly the exchanges occurring in the customer forum if one is in place. Organizations can analyze all this information for insights into customer expectations and the fastest, most effective paths to resolution for all issues. These insights can inform the live service staff tremendously, improving their performance.

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