Expect self-service to help, not cure.

Investing in self-service is a great way to improve your customer service experience. Customers like self-service because they get instant and often, very thorough answers to their questions and don’t have to wait for anyone to respond. I’ve written about the best practices for self-service before, but I didn’t cover an important aspect of self-service is enough detail. The important aspect that I missed was the fact that self-service will never eliminate the need for people to contact you.

Your company can have absolutely the best self-service system in the world, but people will still need to contact you. No matter how much you address, there will still be a problem or something someone does not understand. Someone’s problem will be slightly different and they will require some help. Some people just need more hand holding than others. There will always be different configurations. And perhaps most importantly, no self-service system is ever fully complete. There is always something that can be added or clarified.

With that in mind, though, a well-designed and extensive self-service offering can greatly reduce the number of inquires that come into your helpdesk or call center. If the self-service options are simple enough, and most importantly, useful enough, customers will use them. People don’t enjoy having to contact customer service, so if the option is there, they would rather find the answer to their question through self-service. Again, the self-service offering has to be well designed. It needs to be easy to navigate (searchable), well maintained, useful, and relevant. If it isn’t, customers will get discouraged and have to contact your company for help.

You can and should expect your self-service offerings to reduce the number of inquires and requests you receive, but you should never expect for it to eliminate them to the point where you can begin laying off a majority of your customer service department. Track your support volume for a couple of months before you implement a new self-service offering and then track it for a few months after and compare the data. Chances are, you’ll see that the time and money you invested in those self-service offerings was well worth it.

4 Responses to “Expect self-service to help, not cure.”

  1. Ankit Gupta said:

    Aug 30, 08 at 1:28 pm

    What about companies like Google? They offer a lot of services that they don’t provide a direct method of contact for. Google Checkout is something that online retailers rely on, and they don’t even have a way to pick up a phone and talk to someone about it. They do have discussion groups where you can post, but it doesn’t guarantee a response from Google, especially an instant solution.

    How do some companies get by without it?

  2. Service Untitled » A friendly auto-response from Skype. - customer service and customer service experience blog said:

    Sep 02, 08 at 9:05 pm

    […] email does a great job at nicely pointing people to its self-service options (see my post on self-service from last week). It isn’t pushy, but it does let customers know that great self-service is […]

  3. Service Untitled said:

    Sep 02, 08 at 9:08 pm

    Ankit,

    Great point and here is my opinion.

    As sad it is to say, those companies just don’t seem to care about the service provided (or lack thereof). If Google was concerned about customer service, they’d provide for a way to get in touch with them to get issues resolved. I’ve heard they have limited email support if you dig deep enough, but I’ve never used it personally. Google is not a customer service company and does not seem to be interested in becoming one.

  4. Susan V. said:

    Sep 08, 08 at 12:05 pm

    Aspect Software agrees with you – self service can be an extremely valuable tool for customers and businesses alike. When done right it is intuitive, easy to navigate, and provides customers with the right information. It must give customers a quick and simple way to opt out and reach a live agent when human assistance is wanted or needed. And, if the interaction is via telephone, customer data should be transferred from the automated system to the agent along with the call. This prevents customers from having to repeat information. The Aspect Contact Center Satisfaction Index (http://www.aspectindex.com/) finds that one quarter of consumers who are asked to repeat their information after being transferred to an agent say that they will do less business with the company. Self service is good for basic transactions, can be used to gather product and services information, and can sometimes provide an increased sense of privacy. However, at the end of the day customers want to, and will most likely always need to, speak with agents for more complex transactions. When a company implements a well-designed self-service system, they generally see a change in the nature of agent-assisted inquiries – they become more challenging and take longer to resolve. Therefore, rather than focusing on cutting agents, companies should put their efforts into training agents to better deal with complex issues. It would win-win for all parties. Customers would be more satisfied and companies would be securing customer loyalty. After all, research shows that a consumer who is satisfied overall is four times more likely to conduct future business with a company.