Moving up the customer self-service maturity curve

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It’s become clear that when customers have problems, they prefer to use self-service to solve them. And why not? When well-designed and delivered, it honors their time by delivering solutions anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Self-service benefits the company, as well. Most simple issues are quickly and easily solved, removing some of the contact volume from customer service and thereby saving costs. This also allows customer service agents to focus on the more challenging and interesting cases. And because self-service allows customers to quickly find answers at a time and place most convenient to them, it can have a positive impact on customer satisfaction and Net Promoter Scores.



So what’s the problem? For some companies that have yet to embrace self-service it’s where to begin, followed closely by purposeful deployment of the other self-service capabilities. There is a path from the basic to advanced that will support both customer and business success with self-service.

Starting point: knowledge management

Knowledge management should be considered the beginning all for self-service. In fact, it’s really a foundational process for customer service, period. By embracing knowledge management, organizations can ensure information is created and maintained in a standard manner and not lost due to organizational change. It can serve to educate new customer service agents, as well as support the veteran staffers. It then serves as a cornerstone in other customer self-service efforts.

Knowledge bases offer step-by-step solutions to problems. Search and filtering capabilities help customers zero-in on what they’re looking for. By personalizing the search experience, a company can further assist the customer’s search by promoting results based on what products or service the customer possesses. Articles for common or new issues can also be “pinned” to feature them more prominently.

Companies take knowledge management to the next level by formalizing article lifecycles using a process like Knowledge-Centered Service (KCS®).* New solutions are sourced from solved customer cases and online communities, and using workflow go through an authoring and editing process. That same process ensures edits when necessary, and article retirement when appropriate.

Cutting edge: automation, workflow, and chatbots

While following a series of steps in a knowledge article is helpful, it’s easier to just answer a few questions or press a button. For self-service, automation creates an opportunity to significantly reduce the customer effort.

Replacing a lost credit card. Registering a product warranty. Resetting the television set-top box. These are a few examples of common customer issues that can be automated using workflow. By answering a few questions, these requests can be routed through the appropriate processes and to the correct departments for resolution.



Knowledge base articles and automated solutions are great when the customer knows exactly what will solve their problem, but what about when that’s not the case? Enter the customer service agent that never sleeps: the chatbot. The best-performing chatbots use conversations that are designed to ask specific questions, diagnose the issue, and lead to potential solutions (which might be a knowledge base article–remember, knowledge management is a key component to customer service). When the ‘bot lacks an answer, it should respect the customer’s time and either transfer to a live agent, if available, or offer to create a case with all details collected for follow-up by a live agent.

Leading edge: personalized video

Those familiar with social media have at some point encountered brief videos celebrating a birthday, “friendship anniversary,” or some other life moment. Machine learning gathers the relevant information (including photos), draws some conclusions, and passes things over to an automated process that creates a personalized video.

I recently encountered the use of this technology for customer self-service in the most unlikely of places: health insurance.

For those not familiar with healthcare in the United States, it is a complex system. Patients (the customers) can be easily confused by the reimbursement process between care providers and insurance companies. Patients must dig into perplexing policies to understand their coverage and benefits. It’s very easy to get frustrated when trying to determine why a doctor’s visit was not covered.

My health insurance company recently implemented a video explanation system. With one click, an animated video is built on-the-fly explaining the results for the selected medical claim. The details of the claim are displayed in the video–provider name, amount, and procedure–and it explains if the amount was applied to the deductible or if a co-payment is expected. The brief videos completely answer the most common questions around the claims process.

Growing self-service

Offering customer self-service is a must today. Customers expect it, and its lack is a hit on customer experience.

Lacking any form of self-service, start with and build-out a knowledge management culture to enjoy the benefits it brings to both customer and agent. Look for opportunities to automate resolutions to common problems using workflow and chatbots. And always be on the lookout for new self-service capabilities like personalized videos; it might exactly the thing needed to explain complex scenarios in simple terms.



Looking to the future, Gartner predicts customers will create their own automation to solve problems–amazing! Until that time, there are many proven technologies to investigate and offer to customers to reap the benefits of self-service.

* KCS® is a service mark of the Consortium for Service InnovationTM.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Paul – I think you’re absolutely right that tools need to be provided to make customers’ lives easier. (25 years ago, they were called ‘owners manuals…’ ) .

    I am not convinced, however, that people ‘prefer’ self-service – at least not in a larger context – and I suspect that the Forrester research ignored one key element. How different would the results have been if, for example, their question asked: “Given the alternative between having a professional who can effectively and efficiently look after your issue, or a self-serve option, which would you choose?”

    Although organizations may position their self-service platforms as CX enhancements, most are implemented for economic reasons. Not all, of course. ATMs, for example, are a great study of self-serve technology that was a win for everyone. Retail self-serve checkouts, on the other hand, are a great example of a cost-cutting exercise disguised as a CX improvement. The people who prefer self-serve checkouts don’t use them because they enjoy checking themselves out. They do it because it saves time. And it saves time because the retailers have cut out the staff who would normally be working the checkouts.

    Gartner’s prediction is probably right, but I’m guessing that the first company that reverses the pendulum and begins enhancing their human assets will also see a very positive impact

  2. Excellent points. I would offer that most people (myself included) ONLY prefer self-service when it’s convenient and works. If I had immediate, 24X7 access to a concierge, white glove-type experience for a product or service, I would ALWAYS go to the human who could assist me. As with your self-service checkout example (could we get a consistent UX for that?!), the reality is most businesses are trying to reduce costs using self-service–and they should be striving for the ATM experience.

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