I write a lot about the importance and value of providing customers with self-service options. For one thing, customers prefer it. For another, self-service options cost pennies to deliver versus more costly live interactions like telephone or chat and are available when your service center might be closed.
A reader of one of my recent articles that included a mention of self-service had a contrary opinion about customer self-service. He wrote:
We can not let a software or bot talk with our customers because each time acustomer contacts us, he/she will have a separate or a completely new problem and letting a bot solve the issue is not acceptable by customers.
Perhaps the commenter had a prior poor experience with bots or customers had specifically indicated self-service was not preferred. It’s also possible his company favors engaging directly with customers to provide personal or “white glove” service. It’s definitely important to know your customers, the engagement channels they prefer, and ultimately the best way to provide service.
That doesn’t mean customer self-service capabilities aren’t useful. In fact, if they are available as part of a robust customer service management platform, those capabilities can be highly beneficial when focused inward to empower staff.
It’s true the most common use of chatbots in the news these days relates to using them for customer service. Backed by machine learning and artificial intelligence, chatbots deliver fast solutions for many simple questions and interactions. And it’s a growing part of customer service: Gartner has predicted that by 2020, 25 percent of customer service operations will employ some form of chatbot.
Used internally, these same chatbot-delivered solutions can assist agents helping customers. A customer service representative who doesn’t know the answer could query the ‘bot and relay the response to the customer. In this manner, the customer still has a person-to-person engagement with the company, never knowing the agent is relying on a virtual assistant for help.
A cornerstone for customer self-service is knowledge management. With solutions to problems written in easy-to-follow, step-by-step articles and stored in a searchable database, it is very common to find a knowledge base of some type on company’s websites. It’s also a very common practice by companies for customer service agents to consult the knowledge base when working with customers for solutions they don’t often encounter or when they don’t recall the answer.
Just as with the chatbot example above, a company’s knowledge bases could be only available internally. Also like the internal chatbot, an agent working with a customer could search the knowledge base for possible solutions. When found, they can then recite the solution or email it to the customer.
Automated self-service takes common issues and automates the task or tasks necessary to deliver a solution. This often involves workflow to take information provided by the customer and deliver it to another system or process to complete the customer’s request. Those secondary systems are typically disconnected from the customer service management system agents are using to track customer information and cases. Some common examples of automated solutions for customers include:
- Tracking a shipment
- Requesting replacement items (product manual, credit card, etc.)
- Registering a warranty or making a warranty claim
These same automated solutions can still be built for internal use. Collecting any information needed by the customer, the agent can enter the data just as the customer would and trigger the process, relaying any response or information that results. This would save the agent time accessing and performing the steps manually in those other secondary systems.
Online communities make it possible to connect fellow customers as well as with customer service to interact. Conversations are often on the topic of solving problems, but also include sharing ideas that are useful for better understanding customers and developing new products. Those offering verified solutions might be awarded points and badges, raising their stature within the community.
If used internally, many possible uses arise. A community would help agents in collaborating on ideas for unsolved problems. They could share trends they were seeing in customer issues, which could in turn help drive the development of new chatbot solutions, knowledge base articles, and automated solutions. Agents with higher point totals and badges would be regarded as go-to resources (and might help advance their career within the service center). All of this would also help build camaraderie amongst the team.
In the end, customers just want solutions. They want fast, efficient responses. They want to return to a state where everything is working.
Perhaps your customers have given self-service the thumbs down. They might prefer a personal touch through one-on-one interactions. That doesn’t mean self-service capabilities would not be valuable to your customer service team. Used internally by your customer service staff, self-service tools can take them to new levels of performance, knowledge, and teamwork.