Evaluating and implementing customer self-service technology

This section of the guide to self service offers explanations of self-service terms and expert advice on customer self service.

Learn here how to evaluate customer self-service technology to find the software that's the right fit for your...

company. Self service covers a variety of software options, and companies should choose wisely to be sure the software they implement will grow with their business and offer flexibility for long-term customer service planning.

The basics of customer self service

Web self service is a version of electronic support that allows customers and employees to access information and perform routine tasks over the Internet, without requiring any interaction with a representative of an enterprise. When it is specific to Web-enabled employee interactions, the practice is known as employee self service (ESS). When it is specific to Web-enabled customers, it is called customer self service (CSS). For employees and customers, self service offers 24-hour support, and immediate access to information without having to wait for an email response or a returned telephone call. Ultimately, the success of Web self service depends upon the quality and quantity of information available and the ease with which it can be accessed. Deploying Web self-service applications benefits a company in a variety of ways. The most prominent motivation is the lower cost, as compared with telephone or email service by a company representative.

Read the full WhatIs definition of Web self service

John Ragsdale, vice president of research for the Service & Support Professionals Association (SSPA), sat down with SearchCRM.com to discuss self-service technology in this exclusive podcast. Ragsdale discusses self-service technology moving from a tactical to a strategic imperative, microsites and the vendors in the market. He also shares his take on highly customized "microsites" that allow users companies to create personalized pages for customer eservice and the growing importance of "click-to-call."

Listen to or download this Voices of CRM podcast on self service

Choosing customer self-service technology

There are several common challenges when it comes to choosing self service. Aligning various business objectives and user needs, to manage what we have termed the "self-service paradox" -- how to create online customer service applications that provide value to both the business and their customers, while balancing top-line and bottom-line goals. Also, aligning the vision must be addresssed. Your senior management, call center team and end users likely all have differing opinions about what is most important, however. Meanwhile most end-users want convenience, more accurate and timely information, and overall a better experience (e.g., I don't have to wait in line) compared to "traditional" channels. Selecting the right metrics to measure return on investment (ROI) is also key.

Read the entire business case for Web self service

Organizations have long focused on enabling users to help themselves via technological intermediaries, from the Web, to ATMs, and way back to the mechanized vending machines that sold postcards in the 1880s. It enables them to reach the information, answers or products they need, the first time. Of course, by pushing more to users, organizations can take agents, or sales people, or even toll collectors out of the loop. This is the classic argument for self service: reduce the number and/or cost of customer calls or other interactions, and you can save money. But call deflection and cheaper transactions are only part of the self-service story. Many customer self-service initiatives may be justified initially by calculating cost savings due to the "efficiency" effect. However, our view is that over time, a greater benefit often emerges: the power of insight -- into user needs and behavior, product and campaign effectiveness, and even purchasing or service trends.

Learn more in this article on the benefits of customer self service.

There are a lot of online customer service products available today to small and midsized businesses (SMBs). Some are oriented toward making your internal customer service operations more effective and efficient, while other solutions are more focused on allowing your customers to help themselves. The first thing to do when choosing technology is assess the strengths and weaknesses of your current customer service people, processes and technology. Second, supplement this internally oriented customer service evaluation by talking to as many customers as you can. Explore their expectations of your customer service operations and what you might be able to do to exceed their expectations. Finally, once you have a handle on the processes you'd like to improve and the kinds of things that your customers would find most valuable, you should find it much easier to look for self-service technology that will enable you to achieve your specific objectives.

Read more in this expert anwer from Jim Berkowitz: Online customer service -- how to get started

While customer self-service technology offers obvious cost savings, its role as a revenue generator is often overlooked. Self-service applications are well-known for saving companies money, but a few firms are finding out that when done right, it can bring in revenue as well. One area that is seeing impressive revenue gains is in using guided search technology to increase sales conversions. Additionally, companies are generating revenue by using business intelligence rules to trigger escalation of self-service inquiries to live agents who can then up-sell or cross-sell, by analyzing clickstreams to improve marketing effectiveness and by redeploying valuable support staff to revenue-generating activities. There are three areas where the technology comes in handy: Informative inquiries, administrative inquiries and interactive -- customers interact with live agents in situations like chat technology.

Find out more in this article: Self service stakes revenue claim

How much do you know about self service?

SearchCRM.com's quizzes on self service cover both customer and employee self service. Here's a sample question from each one to get you started:

Employee self service:
7. This type of employee self-service search tool allows users to enter a problem using a natural language, then work through a troubleshooting session which narrows the problem with follow-up questions.

a) Interactive voice response (IVR)
b) Workforce management
c) Knowledge base search
d) Case-based reasoning (CBR)
Read the answer

Take the rest of the employee self service quiz

Customer self service:
5. Which of the following is not an example of an inquiry a customer can make with a self-service system?

a. Informative inquiries -- customers retrieve information themselves
b. Administrative inquiries -- customers have a part in the process, company finishes the process
c. Interactive inquiries -- customers interact with live agents
d. Home-based inquiries – customers can request that an agent come to their home
Read the answer

Try the rest of the customer self service quiz

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