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In this post I’ll be looking at the growing importance of self-service. I'll look at some brands that do it well, and some that don't, and offer advice as to what self-service entails.
Research recently carried out by Zendesk indicates that over 50% of customers want self-service and 67% prefer self-service to speaking to someone.
Combine this with the fact that self-service is cheaper than web chat, which itself is significantly cheaper than a running a call centre, and it's definitely a trend we'll see continue online.
With customer satisfaction rising as we come out of the financial slump, many companies will be riding this trend and getting their customer contact in order.
Customer retention is the new black
But let’s begin briefly with the broader picture. Customer service has traditionally been viewed as starting with a negative. The challenge is to use response time and self-help to remove the negative, and begin to use regular contact with customers to enhance a product or service.
Customer service is now intrinsic to customer retention, seen as cheaper and more sustainable than customer acquisition in these difficult economic times.
Reasons for the importance of customer service:
- Unless customer questions are variously deferred, siphoned and remedied, the tidal wave of enquiries will cripple your workforce or go unanswered, leaving unsatisfied customers.
- Getting it right, giving customers an experience in-keeping with the product you provide, will differentiate you from most of your competitors.
- Product development depends on knowledge of your customer base. Without an appreciation of what’s missing, or what’s not working, it’s hard to get that next innovation just right.
- Good customer service is likely to swell your marketing efforts, with word of mouth and social mentions increasing as a result of good service.
With all that out in the open and starting to be taken seriously by lots of companies, self-service is demanded more than ever.
SAAS solutions also the new black
Increasingly, understanding and tackling customer service is being made easier by a variety of SAASs.
Any company that uses tech to communicate with customers can consider a ticketing system, possibly linked to CRM or social CRM, and possibly with addition of a self-help area on site that delivers articles, FAQs and a place for communities to develop.
The platform is no longer a particular supplier, as ‘back in the day’ many companies would rely on a favoured tech vendor. Now the platform is simply the cloud, and more generally the web.
Who is setting the self-service trend?
I think of this rightly applauded new site as a giant self-service machine. Granted, most of it is in the form of FAQs and information, rather than forums, live chat etc, but it is done supremely and to avoid costly phone calls.
Sky is the epitomy of a community based around, at times, a complex set of products and technology. Sky's super users are kept sweet, as they solve a large amount of problems and queries on the Sky Help Forum.
Super users are nvited to meetings and given product access, all to keep them ahead of the game.
On top of this brilliant community, the CMS makes recent relevant info is surfaced, and contact details are still available. Sky will also be using some software to proactively search for brand mentions, and hunt down problems before they get out of control or cause bad PR.
Who is falling behind?
Arguably, the sectors most associated with aggrieved customers e.g. travel, utilities, telecomms - these have the hardest task when it comes to keeping customers happy.
If, like Sky, they aren't ahead of the game, the customer backlash is hard to avert when things go wrong. United Airlines is often included in lists of poor customer service, and it's certainly a company that could benefit from improved resources online.
What does self-service entail?
Data to monitor FAQs and response time
Salient data and usable analytics should allow companies to scale their customer service efforts efficiently.
This can be highlighting a particular user bugbear that is flagged up often, and adding an appropriate FAQ to a help centre. This step is vital in reducing customer contact and allowing them to help themselves.
Data also means keeping abreast of response time (typically the most important metric for active customer service) and success rate (perhaps a difficult but important metric for self-service).
Updating the content provided to your customers is vital.
If you are integrating a self-service centre and community into your website, there are a couple of considerations.
- The interface should fit with your brand.
- The content should be easy to update in-house.
These are often competing needs. More SAAS's are starting to give the option of customisable help centres. Here's a shot of CharityWater's FAQ section:
The Nielsen study quoted earlier also shows that in Q2 2013, 26% of self-service users were on mobile compared to 17% during the same period a year earlier.
If mobile usage is only increasing for customer service, you have to be sure your various platforms work for the mobile customer.
Self-service in the round
Support, service and engagement are sides of the same coin. To that end, the three prongs of a help centre are
- A knowledge base – library of articles and info.
- A community –the ‘customer service nirvana’ of your customers helping each other.
- A customer portal – personalised view & history for each customer, to allow them to jump back to previous solutions, contact, billing.
Self-service could be thought of as one way to describe parts of working for a company. SAAS’s have come far enough that many companies are solving internal issues such as supply chains or invoice approval with customised ticketing software in the cloud.
So, as self-service is demanded by always-on customers to whom immediacy is all, expect SAAS solutions to proliferate.
As an example, having CRM linked to your social CRM, linked to your ticketing system and website CMS/help centre won’t be an exceptional or messy set-up in future.
It will just be part of the new trade off in data and business – offer your data up to the cloud, and receive some powerful customer-delighting functionality in return.