People now expect to get answers immediately. When it comes to customer support, modern customers are no longer satisfied with picking up a phone for resolutions. This route takes too long and results in a poor customer experience.
As an example, imagine you order something from a company website and track it in the mail because you are super excited to receive it and start using it. When you check the tracking it shows that it’s in the mailbox waiting for you. Then, to your disappointment, it’s not actually in the mailbox when you go to grab it.
After waiting a whole week to see if it will arrive you decide to call the company’s customer service department to see if you could get a replacement or a refund. When you call you are immediately hit with an automated response asking you to hold while you wait for an agent to become available. Even worse, once you finally get in contact with an actual human being you are then transferred around until you can finally talk to the right person.
This is incredibly frustrating and you’d be justifiably upset.
Having good customer care is essential to any thriving business and those who do not invest in meeting customer demands risk falling behind. And that demand now calls for customer empowerment through self-service.
For reference, 88% of US consumers expect companies to have an online self-service support portal.
So, what is self-service and how can your business give customers this option? This guide will give you all the information you need to know.
Customer self-service explained
Essentially, self-service is when a business offers web support and customer-initiated, interaction-based technologies to customers and reduces the need for them to speak to a live agent. Self-service empowers customers to be able to find solutions for themselves and to do so in a timely manner. It is most popularly used in situations that are relatively easy to resolve.
A classic example of self-service technology is banks offering online banking services through mobile apps. The good news for businesses is that there are so many self-service tools available that they can implement for customers to use. Artificial intelligence and digital self-service tools have really revolutionized the way businesses are able to provide good customer care and customer support.
Why self-service matters
Self-Service can be a great way to boost the customer experience. It prevents people from having to deal with things like long wait times or unpleasant exchanges with customer service representatives. Ultimately, customers expect companies to value their time so the faster the service the better.
A major benefit of self-service is that it is typically available 24/7, whereas the average customer service department is only open during regular business hours. This means that customers can get customer support on their own time, which reduces the pressure of having to find time if they are at work or have other obligations during those hours.
Giving customers access to self-service tools also allows agents time to focus on more complex issues and ultimately saves on operating costs. Agents who have the ability to give individuals more of their time and energy can work on their customer care skills and improve those traditional support services.
Just as important, customers actively want to seek out answers on their own. The Harvard Business Review found that, across industries, 81% of all customers attempt to take care of issues on their own before reaching out to a live representative.
Customer self-service examples
Customers who think that a company has given them the tools and resources they need to be successful in their endeavors are more likely to be loyal to that company. After all, customers who feel empowered by a company will often return time and time again because they know they will have a great customer experience, regardless of whether they have an issue that needs to be resolved.
If you want to use self-service tools to empower your customers but are not sure where to start then keep reading.
- Facilitate phone calls with conversational IVR
IVR stands for interactive voice response and is a computer-operated phone system that can interact with people. Conversational IVR systems accept voice commands and are powered by AI technology, combining Natural Language Processing (NLP) and machine learning. This technology can recognize and understand full sentences and respond in turn, making for a more naturally flowing conversation.
Conversational IVR allows people to engage with a self-service model that will continue to learn as it takes in information. An example of a conversational IVR system that is widely used is the CVS customer service line. Anytime you call in to CVS to renew a prescription you are interacting with an IVR system. Also, if you need to speak with someone then it can quickly transfer you to an actual person.
- Drive customer support with AI-powered chatbots
AI-enabled chatbots are an excellent alternative for those who prefer self-service over talking to live agents. Chatbots are designed to be able to operate essentially on their own, although they can escalate any complex issues to a customer service rep if and when needed. Much like IVR, chatbots operate with Natural Language Processing (NLP) and machine learning, so they can process online chat conversations via text and improve as they continue to interact with people.
Chatbots can more seamlessly simulate a conversation and streamline the customer service process. They are also very accessible, as they can usually be located very conveniently on a company’s website or on a mobile app. Over time this technology has become more sophisticated and natural in its responses, where it feels like someone is chatting with a helpful assistant.
- Bring in a Virtual Agent
Virtual agents are another self-service tool that is powered through artificial intelligence and can offer a wide range of support options for people. Virtual agents are computer-generated virtual character that delivers customer service through chatbot functionality. While the terms chatbots and virtual agents are often used interchangeably, there is a difference between the two. However, they are both fully capable of responding to inquiries and providing information about products or services.
Virtual agents are different from chatbots in their capabilities and the level of customer support they can give. Chatbots are a little more simple in the sense that they respond more to set keywords and questions they are programmed with and responses are slightly more limited. Virtual agents are more complex in the way they interpret conversations and respond to customers. For example, a virtual agent can actually cancel an order, whereas a chatbot might provide a link for you to cancel the order.
- Build a useful knowledge base
A knowledge base is an incredibly useful resource for customers to be able to seek out answers on their own. Essentially, a knowledge base is a self-service online library. It’s a system that digitally stores information about a company, such as a product, service, department, or topic. It can also range in holding types of content, like FAQs, manuals, and troubleshooting guides. Knowledge bases respond to user inputs and the software narrows down a solution to bring them the information they need.
This is a relatively easy way to provide customers with the latest and most relevant information, without requiring customers to make phone calls. It also cuts down on the chances of customers receiving the wrong answers, as live agents are subject to human errors. To build a knowledge base you need to gather and determine what information you need, customize pages, make it easy to read and understand and continue to update it.
It’s an enhancement, not a replacement
Self-service does not have to replace a traditional customer service department, but it is definitely part of the future of customer care. It can easily complement your customer service team and can benefit both the team and the customer. Customers want to see companies actively working to constantly improve services to make their experiences better and if they can help themselves first with self-service then they would like to have that choice.
If you do decide that this is the right path for your company to take then it is best to do your research first, so that you ensure the best care for your customers. Investigate what types of questions your customers tend to ask, what issues they often have, and how they prefer to communicate with your company. There are so many ways to offer self-service, but you need to determine what works best for your company and the type of customers you have.