Now’s the time to perform some customer self-service spring cleaning

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With so much attention on COVID-19, it’s understandable if the arrival of spring was missed. As the season to traditionally perform some home deep-cleaning, it’s also a great time to thoroughly review customer service’s workings, especially self-service offerings.

Entering into this historic period, most companies had already embraced one or more forms of customer self-service. It is, after all, table stakes for providing a superior customer service experience, with many customers starting their search for a solution online.

In addition to its importance to customers, offering self-service solutions to common problems offers benefits to businesses. It can reduce costs because agents aren’t tied up with simple, high-volume work that can instead be addressed with knowledge base articles, chatbots, and automation. As businesses shut down or as customer service departments transitioned to work from home, self-service became even more critical to bridging the gap.

But self-service–in a pandemic or not–is no magic wand. Like any customer service tool, that investment can quickly become worthless. When that occurs, it can even be harmful to the customer experience because incorrect answers frustrate rather than benefit the situation. In fact, Gartner found that providing self-service and adding channels can make it harder for customers to find solutions, with one of their pieces of advice is to “Manage self-service capabilities like a product, not an IT project.” That’s why periodic clean-up is critical.

Measure impact and usage

It’s clear self-service can help increase customer satisfaction as well as save agent time and operational costs. Beyond those benefits, more specific measurements should also be regularly reviewed. For starters, each self-service channel should be individually evaluated for effectiveness. Examine such topics as impact on service levels, the volume of live service requests (calls, emails, chats, etc.) offset, and how self-service customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores differ among channels and from live service.

Besides the impact on the typical service center metrics, ongoing usage must also be monitored. Which individual solutions and the channels they are delivered in–knowledge base articles, chatbot interactions, automated solutions, etc.–are experiencing the most and least usage? (As Gartner pointed out, “Greater access to more channels just complicates the problem-resolution journey.”) What types of solutions are customers searching for? This will help guide maintenance and improvement efforts.

Close the gaps

Like many facets of business, what works today might not tomorrow. For this reason, solutions offered up by self-service must be periodically reviewed for applicability.

A knowledge base article, for example, might be tied to a current product release, but when that product is updated or modified, is the solution still correct? Has a more efficient means of solving the issue been discovered or the problem permanently resolved? Even after a thorough “spring cleaning,” set periodic review dates for all solutions–knowledge base articles, chatbot conversations, automated solutions, etc.–to ensure information intended to help customers doesn’t end up frustrating them instead.

Solutions that rely on business rules, connected systems, and workflow might also change. Automated solutions that fire off backend processes should be periodically tested to ensure the expected results are occurring and not failing. Changes and improvements elsewhere in the business may break some forms of customer self-service, resulting in customers’ requests getting lost.

Retire and remove

Just as self-service options must be validated they are functioning as intended, there are times a solution is no longer needed. This might be due to product obsolescence, replacement by a newer model, etc. When reviewing usage reporting, a solution might also be found to simply no longer be used by customers.

In these cases, eliminate those that are not utilized by customers or are unnecessary. A lengthy list of knowledge base articles is more challenging for customers to browse, and protracted, inappropriate search results may cause them to choose incorrect solutions, further aggravating the situation and pushing them to seek live service via live channels.

And if self-service channels just aren’t being used, shutter them. The more challenging and frustrating it is for customers to use self-service, the less confidence they will have in it, the less likely they are to use it in the future, and increases the chances of them relying more on agent-assisted service.

Don’t wait for spring

Even before the world changed, self-service was a requirement and not an option. Customers expect it, and providing solutions online to customers around the clock reduces the workload on the customer service team. The trap many fall into is neglecting the dynamic natures of both business and customers: self-service isn’t something that can simply be set up and forgotten.

Spring may be the traditional time to thoroughly clean a house, but it doesn’t mean some form of it isn’t occurring year-round. Similarly, self-service tool maintenance should be regular and continuous. Solutions will fail over time (and frustrate customers along the way) without regular evaluation. Self-service channels’ utilization and solutions’ helpfulness should be measured (as well as their impact on reducing the burden on live customer service channels) to verify the impact on service level and CSAT goals. With ongoing care and tuning, self-service will help ensure continuous customer satisfaction in the most efficient manner possible.

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