Empower Your Self-Service With Knowledge, Guidance and Personalization

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Everyone knows the frustration of poorly designed automated systems. You email customer service only to receive an automated response that doesn’t answer your question. You spend 10 minutes answering endless questions in an automated phone system only to be transferred to a live person who asks the same questions over again.

Simply automating systems does little more than aggravate customers. Rather, automation needs to be personalized and handled correctly to satisfy both customer and company. In fact, a report by Jupiter Research (Online Self-Service: The Slow Road to Search Effectiveness, Feb. 15, 2006) reveals that static self-service content actually exacerbates cost-intensive agent call volumes. According to Jupiter analysts, “fleeting success of initiatives results from poor self-service inquiry resolution and a narrow view of the concept of contact deflection.”

To create a positive web self-service experience, truly consumer-minded businesses are embracing a new vision: Empower customers with the same knowledge and guidance available to call center agents. Analysts speculate that by 2010, this self-service model will account for 58 percent of all service interactions. When designed correctly, these systems have the potential to transform the way customers interact with your business.


Rise in use


For example, a leading network service provider adapted its existing database of problem cases into a self-service tool. The company imported 5,700 cases about the company’s voice over IP, wireless LAN, high-speed Internet and other communication solutions from the original knowledge base. Before going live, people spent several days editing and massaging the data to ensure accuracy. Using templates within their new web self-service application, they created rich linking capabilities to make it easy for users to quickly locate the information they needed.

The company assigned five knowledge owners, who regularly create and edit content. The self-service tool streamlines the entire content creation process, enabling individuals from across the enterprise to easily add content with the appropriate quality control.

The support team no longer faces high volumes of repeat questions, as customers are able to quickly glean answers themselves. Today, 60 percent of customers with support issues find their answers through the support self-service tool.

This example shows the immense promise of self service, but what if your customers aren’t receptive to automated systems? After all, according to Forrester Research, more than 50 percent of North American consumers still prefer to speak directly with a human being for support issues (Customers Want Live, Speedy Support, Jan. 13, 2006).

These are valid and necessary concerns: While cost cutting may be a key driver for adoption of web self-service and other automated solutions, you certainly don’t want customers to feel they’re being short changed. According to Gartner, users of e-support solutions find that while these solutions provide the lowest cost of resolution, much of what is available is unimpressive (Self-Service E-Support Provides Lowest Cost of Resolution, June 1, 2005).


Vigilance


One bad service experience is all it takes these days for a customer to switch providers. Ultimately, self-service tools must bring added convenience to customers or they are unlikely to be adopted.

Put yourself in the customer’s shoes.

Demonstrating your keen awareness of your customers’ personal preferences and needs can mean the difference between mediocre and memorable customer service.

To better understand customer experiences, many organizations are making a serious commitment to usability and web analytics. These metrics help organizations design automated interactions from a customer-centric view€”and understand why and how customers interact with their self-service systems. For example, changing one unclear menu choice from company jargon to wording that customers are familiar with may help avoid abandoned transactions and dissatisfied customers.

This testing provides businesses with valuable insight into such areas as how customers use the knowledge provided; how information should be parsed for user consumption; what other kinds of information customers are looking for; and what trends emerge that could be useful for future product development.

Analytics efforts should go beyond mere numbers. Expert evaluations and usability tests should identify the usability flaws that prevent customers from completing their goals. Overemphasizing operational metrics without some added context may lead to suboptimal behavior. As an example, companies often gauge customer satisfaction by time-to-completion of support calls. However, timeliness doesn’t always equal quality. Develop an optimum balance between agents’ timeliness and the quality of response.

Likewise, many businesses associate rising first-call response rates with improvement. However, if customers adopt web self-service, many common problems won’t even reach the contact center. The ones that do will be more complex, and first-call response rates will decline as a result. It would be a mistake to consider that a decline in service. In reality, a decrease in first-call response rates, coupled with declining call volumes overall, could indicate early problem prevention and call deflection. This is why it’s important to have some context beyond mere statistics to truly gauge effectiveness.

Forward-thinking companies are giving their customers access to a wealth of internal knowledge that was previously only accessible to customer service personnel. When deployed correctly, these knowledge bases prove an effective means for positive web self-service experiences. Arming customers with the same automated guidance used by call center agents enriches the support experience, resulting in increased self-service adoption rates, reduced queue times and more accurate and consistent problem resolution. All you have to do is follow up these deployments with regular usability testing and sophisticated analytics to ensure that your customers are getting the best experience possible.

Vikas Nehru
KANA
Vikas Nehru is the vice president of Products at KANA. His more than 12 years of experience as a senior marketing and product management professional in the enterprise software industry have been instrumental in leading the direction and strategy for KANA's innovative channel management and self service applications.

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