Customer services are at a crossroads.
Ticket requests are up, agent attrition is stretching teams thin, and the so-called “next-generation” of digital solutions are quickly becoming… outdated.
Add rising customer expectations to the mix, and it’s easy to see why so many are feeling the pinch. Now, the onus is on customer care leaders to weather the storm – and upping investment into self-service technology seems to be the solution of choice.
But, as brands across the globe prepare to increase digital interactions one and a half times by 2024 – does the data exist to truly justify the switch to self-serve? And, more importantly, what does it take to implement standout self-service right now?
In this article, we’ll explore the key advantages of self-service technology, and why capitalizing on new trends can drive faster resolutions, lower labor and greater cost-effectiveness.
What is self-service?
Customer self-service refers to a customer support model where individuals can independently find information, resolve issues, or complete tasks related to a product or service – all without the need for assistance from a human support agent.
Digital self-service means more today than ever before – and it isn’t exclusive to one particular platform either. With an omnichannel approach, brands can help their customers find the right resolutions on mobile apps, via automated text, on websites, over the phone and more – all entirely independently.
Key components of digital customer self-service include:
Why is customer self-service important?
Consumer demand for self-service is so overwhelmingly evident that it’s no longer considered just a “customer preference” but an actual necessity to remain competitive – one that could be the difference between repeat business and soon-to-be-former customers.
In fact, research suggests that:
81% of consumers say they want more self-service options (NICE)
90% of businesses are seeing growth in customer self-service requests (NICE)
77% of customers say they view brands more positively if they provide self-service options (Vanilla Forums)
When customers encounter a problem with a product or service, they no longer pick up the phone, they look for the quickest and easiest fix possible. That usually means searching for resolutions on their own. In fact, 81% of customers attempt to take care of issues themselves before they reach out to a live representative according to Harvard Business Review.
The challenge is that when businesses can’t provide the answers customers are looking for, there’s likely somebody else that can. If businesses don’t serve this need, they risk customers turning to third-party forums, where customers face an increased likelihood of dissatisfaction – causing issue escalation, or worse – customer abandonment. 28% of customers report hard-to-find resolutions as their most frustrating issue.
What are the benefits of customer self-service?
Is the investment really justified? Yes, it is. There are some substantial competitive advantages that come with improving digital self-service options, including:
- Improved customer satisfaction
- Greater agility and decision-making
- Lower labor and support costs
- Faster resolutions
- Decreased hiring and talent shortages
Modern buyers clamor for convenience – and sadly, the traditional customer service model consistently falls short. In fact, one 2021 study revealed that 42% of customers would rather clean a toilet than call customer support. With self-service, customers can access information, troubleshoot queries and resolve issues at their own urgency, without having to wait for business hours, rely on human assistance, or persevere through long wait times. This massively reduces the burden for customers, and brands typically enjoy greater loyalty as a result.
With automated interactions, businesses are able to connect with more customers than ever before – and this means an increase in consumer data. By harnessing the insights provided by a whole scope of digital interactions, businesses can better understand what customers expect from their brand, optimize their digital footprint and continually use technology to measure performance and drive down cost-per-channel. These critical insights can also reveal trends in customer habits and current self-service shortfalls, where existing content is either insufficient or simply non-existent.
Customer service is a notorious “black hole” for businesses. With a traditional model, each ticket request costs money – and a higher volume requires an increase in staffing, which adds further expense and capital reductions. Consequently, many businesses become victims of their own success. With self-service options, brands can automate routine inquiries and tasks that would otherwise require agent support – decreasing the demand for agent interaction, lowering labor costs and reducing staffing-related overheads.
Digital customers demand immediacy. In fact, more than 32% said resolving issues quickly was the most important aspect of a “good” customer experience. Support phone lines very rarely meet the expected pace – especially with peak call times, long wait queues and customer callbacks further slowing the process down. AI-driven self-service tools like predictive analytics help businesses deliver a proactive experience that identifies and resolves issues before customers are even aware that they exist. Not only does this reduce the potential for customer unrest, it also means businesses can dramatically reduce average handle time and keep key agents free to handle escalated needs.
Customer care talent is exceptionally scarce – and hard to hold onto. In fact, nearly half of all customer support managers experienced increased attrition in 2021, according to McKinsey. Employees are leaving faster than they ever have done – leaving support teams with gaps, and adding further strain to their insurmountable call volumes and ticket requests. Self-service essentially alleviates this burden by automating routine tasks and customer inquiries – without causing reductions in customer satisfaction or agent productivity, when implemented correctly.
How to build an exceptional customer self-service model
The global customer service software market was valued at US$1.05 billion in 2021. It’s set to garner a market size of US$58.1 billion by 2030.
With an abundance of new, cutting-edge self-service technology entering the market each and every year, pinpointing where investment is best placed can be complicated. Making the decision between a “good” implementation and the “right” implementation isn’t always easy.
Great self-service is built on simplicity. Customers aren’t looking for the level of complexity that most endeavour to achieve – they simply want a quick way to:
- Find the right answer.
- Understand what their next actions are.
- Resolve their issue.
There is, of course, no prescribed “one size fits all” for achieving this, but there are a few key ingredients that can make a tangible difference.
Optimize help centers and knowledge bases
Investing in help centers or knowledge bases is one of the key focus points for businesses looking to optimize their self-service – and for good reason. 91% of customers say they would use an online knowledge base if it were available and tailored to their needs.
A brand’s first interaction with a customer dilemma is typically through a search engine. With an AI-powered help center, businesses can proactively provide resolutions from that initial search – categorized and tailored to offer multiple solutions based on query, topic and user intent. This convenience means customers never have to stray to third-party forums or complicated tutorials, and businesses can offer branded, long-term fixes that reduce escalation, drive first-time resolution and keep customers off the phone.
Building a solid, user-friendly platform is only one side of the coin. Great knowledge bases are built on two core foundations: visibility and depth. Businesses need to invest time into building solid content strategy: Deploying customer listening and analytics to answer real, relevant questions that their customers are asking. They also need to ensure this content ranks above search-specific competitors: YouTube, Reddit, Quora and other platforms that run the risk of inaccurate, user-generated resolutions. It’s generally worth investing in both quality content production and search engine optimization resources to see a true ROI from help centers.
Optimize IVR and automate telephony
Phone lines are notoriously the most expensive customer support channel for businesses. While the reliance on call support is dwindling, they are still a much-needed commodity – particularly for demographics preceding Generation Z. That’s not to say there aren’t opportunities to streamline through AI.
With the introduction of conversational interactive voice response (IVR), businesses have the opportunity to bring self-service to their support lines – usually without damaging their brand or customer experience. Conversational IVR enables customers to communicate naturally, with embedded natural language processing (NLP) enabling the IVR to comprehend the meaning of spoken requests and respond with relevant information.
Pulling from connected knowledge base resources and CRM systems, conversational IVR can convert insightful content into speech and perform a variety of unique, automated tasks, including: order updates, business transactions, information requests and more. More advanced systems can include sentiment and intent analysis, enabling the IVR to preempt consumer queries based on where they are in the customer journey and either provide additional solutions or transfer the call to the most appropriate agent. Additionally, with machine learning (ML), the IVR can be configured to continually learn from best-performing agents and become capable of handling more complex calls independently.
Optimize chatbotting with conversational intelligence
Chatbotting is nothing new – but its value has long been contested. A recent Drift study found that 36% of customers feel they can’t get answers to simple questions. A further 35% said chatbot services feel impersonal – and it’s easy to understand why. Plug-and-play rules-based botting is hugely accessible and inexpensive today – but offers very little in terms of personalization or human authenticity. It’s essentially an FAQ resource, packaged to deliver a semi-authentic conversation with a user.
The introduction of artificial intelligence and machine learning has entirely changed the game. Intelligent virtual assistants (IVAs) can be implemented to provide more dynamic and tailored conversations through database and content integrations. Rather than simply spitting pre-written, contextually loose answers to customers, well-implemented IVAs use natural language generation (NLG) and rich messaging to deliver more meaningful responses. They work in a similar way to conversational IVR: Analyzing customer input through sentiment monitoring, automatically retrieving the answer from its connected resources, and providing a response that is personalized, contextually appropriate and conversational.
Speed is the obvious benefit to IVAs – but their intelligent capabilities enable more than just support efficiencies. Many AI integrations can engage in duplex conversation to pivot between issues quickly. With embedded language recognition, they can also seamlessly translate foreign inputs and respond with communications that are in the user’s native tongue – enabling businesses to scale support outside their geographical boundaries.
Self-service: Best practices
Exceptional customer self-service is a learning curve – but there’s one universal truth: Your customers are prepared to solve their problems independently. Those who enable them to do so stand to gain higher CSAT scores, lowered labor costs and improved margins. But, before beginning your self-service journey, here are some critical considerations to make:
Assign resources to content: Regularly optimizing and producing fresh content is the key to successful customer self-service. New issues, trends and expectations emerge every day. If your existing resources are finite, or don’t provide long-term, sustainable solutions, this needs to be reviewed. It’s generally advised to assign a dedicated content moderator to continually assess and improve help center resources. This will ensure knowledge bases – and the tools that pull from them – are unified, consistent and accurate.
Consider content mediums: Long-form written content is not always the answer to your self-service woes. Customers want speed and low labor – regardless of the medium. Solutions therefore need to be quick, and cater to product specificity. With more hand-intensive or complicated products, customers tend to prefer to see people doing the activity through video content rather than written word. If you aren’t able to consider or deliver on this demand, they will likely look elsewhere for a more visual solution.
Make use of search behavior: Search intent and analytics are essential for driving the impact of customer knowledge bases. By monitoring customer trends and search volumes in real time, businesses can proactively create content that serves emerging customer needs early – rather than being stretched by sudden surges in call volume. Customer care leaders should also understand the first-time resolution rate (FTR) of specific content in their library. If users are visiting a specific page, but still calling in – that’s a sign that content may need a rework – or at the very least, a rethink.
Use channel prioritization: Self-service will never replace human interaction entirely. Customers still turn to the phone when things get heated – and businesses need to be prepared for this reality. With a well-implemented help center, companies can prioritize and direct customers toward the support channel with the best success rates based on the landing page or query. By steering the journey in this way, customers achieve faster, better resolutions and businesses continue to keep costs optimized.
Maintain a broad customer service strategy: Brands looking to truly serve their customers on all fronts should see self-service as part of a broader customer service strategy – not a standalone. Full reliance is the future, and many smaller firms are already moving in this direction. However, those looking to meet expectations in the current market should look to move to a modern model that offers a customer-centric experience across assisted, self-serve and automated support.
Why Harte Hanks?
Looking to begin or optimize your self-service strategy? Harte Hanks can help. Backed by over 40 years of CX excellence, we help brands to deliver clean, accessible and effective self-service solutions. Blending powerful search analytics, intent tracking and peerless tech implementations, we can help you keep a finger on the pulse of your customer base and serve fresh, engaging content to meet their needs precisely.
So, what makes our approach to self-service standout?
We are highly experienced in building self-service platforms and customer knowledge bases across a variety of industries. Our rich background means that we’ve built a library of best practices, enabling us to move quickly and deliver effectively – without needing to reinvent the wheel or build from scratch.
We aren’t just a technology partner. By providing the full customer care infrastructure, including outsourced agents and support teams we can keep a finger on the pulse of your program and tailor content based on emerging trends in customer interactions. This connected experience enables us to deliver end-to-end customer support, continually improving knowledge base resources with first-hand insights and immediate program improvements – while also delivering quality agent interactions where necessary.
Drawing on predictive, data-led trends, we shape the customer pathway to support faster answers, quality resolutions and lessened agent labor. Our sophisticated algorithms spotlight help center articles in real time, based on intent, popularity, user-voted helpfulness, search activity and more. This data-driven approach puts trending answers in quick reach to de-escalate issues and serve customers’ most immediate needs.
Self-service with a friendly, personalized twist. Our botting, SMS and messaging programs are equipped with context-aware intelligence to add pace to interactions and meet customers where they are. Using proprietary AI, natural language processing and account data, we help customers hold real-time or asynchronous conversations based on recent purchases or viewed products, keeping the experience reactive, authentic and helpful – all without human engagement.
A knowledge base means more than just an FAQ. Our market-leading content production teams regularly deliver dynamic content for our clients’ self-service platforms. We create content, including articles, videos and infographics to serve emerging audience trends in search and interaction data. We continuously monitor and optimize existing knowledge base materials based on the success of metrics including: resolution rate, time on answer and user-voted CSAT scores.
Connect with us today
Ben Chacko is the managing director of customer care for Harte Hanks, a leading global customer experience company that provides CX strategy, data-driven analytics, and actionable insights combined with seamless program execution to better understand, attract, and engage customers.