Six ways to get the most out of the customer self-service habit

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If you do something enough times, then it starts to become a habit. And that’s what seems to be happening with digital self-service right now. Having been forced to interact with businesses digitally during the pandemic, many people have decided they quite like it. In fact, research by Macro 4 suggests that 61 per cent of UK consumers have become more comfortable with digital communication since the pandemic, and 60 per cent now prefer self-service to calling customer service.

A well-designed customer self-service portal or app is a place that customers are happy to visit to log service requests; exchange correspondence; check up on their accounts; and carry out transactions such as placing orders or paying bills. Useful information is accessible via links to ‘how to’ guides, videos, and FAQs, with forum areas that let customers share experiences and swap advice to get the most out of a product or service.

Advantages for the customer and the business
Self-service empowers customers to do more for themselves, at their own convenience – there’s no need to wait until the contact center is open, or hang on the line for an agent. And, by reducing inbound call volumes, it cuts wait times for people who need assistance from an agent, while delivering major cost savings to the business.

Agents can be prioritized for where they deliver most value – resolving more complex issues or intervening in chatbot conversations if customers are having difficulties or becoming frustrated. And freeing agents from mundane queries also makes their work more fulfilling, helping to combat the high staff turnover rates associated with contact centers.

With digital technology progressing and customers becoming more open to using self-service, here are six tips to help you reap the greatest benefits within your own organization.

1. Start with the business problem
It’s important to focus on outcomes, and not get distracted by the latest shiny new technology as an end in itself. What is the overall vision for your business and how can self-service help you achieve it? Look inside the organization and be honest: what are the problems that customers are experiencing with your website today? What are the calls to your contact center that could be addressed by a better web portal? Be driven by the data to help you prioritize and fix the biggest issues. Look outside the business, too. How are the digital leaders in your industry improving their digital offering? What do you need to offer to compete as one of the best? Don’t be afraid to imitate, but only if it works for your own business model.

2. Rethink the process
Digitizing processes is an opportunity to reimagine the way you operate. Don’t automatically replicate the current business process on a new channel. Approach the issue with a digital-first mind set: if you were starting from scratch with the technology available today, how would you do things differently to create a better experience for your customers? For example municipal councils in the UK have re-imagined the process for reporting illegally dumped trash in the local community: now, instead of calling the contact center, local citizens can use a self-service app that automatically logs the precise location of the offence using location mapping technology.

3. Empower your people
The best innovation will come from within your business if you give your people the chance to flourish. Find individuals with intellectual curiosity and encourage them to bring you ideas on how to change and improve your digital offering. Ask the people who are speaking with your customers every day to tell you about the customer frustrations they hear and to explain what customers are asking for. Bring together digital and business teams to discuss the issues and brainstorm solutions. Again it is important to set aside old assumptions about how things should be done. If you allow employees to question the status quo and embrace new ways of thinking you can bring the ‘disruptor’ mentality to your business and become a digital leader.

4. Focus on ease of use
It may seem obvious but if self-service isn’t easy or doesn’t provide the answers customers are looking for quickly, then they will lose patience and switch to other channels such as the phone – or even to another supplier if they feel they will get a better experience. So make your self-service portal simple, with an appealing, intuitive design that keeps customers coming back. Take care that the initial process of signing up for the service is as frictionless as possible, because if that’s cumbersome, people will give up at the first hurdle. Don’t force people to wait – streamline authentication and registration so that they can get started straight away.

5. Make self-service part of an integrated multi-channel approach
Self-service is just one part of your wider communications landscape encompassing all touch points along the customer journey. Customers expect to switch seamlessly between channels, and to facilitate this you need one place to record and access all customer information, including the history of transactions and interactions conducted through every channel. This would allow, for example, either a human agent or an automated chatbot to pick up on previous interactions the next time a customer makes contact. And, if at any point a customer feels that self-service isn’t helping to resolve their particular issue, they could easily escalate the problem using their channel of choice.

It can also be helpful to create buyer personas for different demographics. It’s important to recognise that the way your Gen Z customers want to interact with your business may differ from the needs of your older customers, for example. Having a clear set of customer personas in mind will help you plan and deliver a range of channel offerings to meet their needs. Self-service won’t be right for every customer, or every interaction.

6. Remember the job’s never finished
Customer expectations are rising and digital leaders are continuing to raise the bar. Self-service is part of the ongoing digital transformation process and will therefore always be work in progress. The pace of change can be overwhelming but it’s important to keep monitoring new developments and assess how emerging technologies can improve the customer experience.

AI, analytics and real-time customer communications management are just some of the technologies that have the potential to change the game. They enable companies to orchestrate hyper-personalized, human-like interactions at an unprecedented scale. And blending human and AI-driven interaction provides greater scope for the human touch that customers still crave; customers are more open to communicating with a web or voice-activated AI chatbot for routine queries if they know that they will be passed on to a human automatically if they need more help.

Above all, remember to ignore the hype and keep focusing on outcomes, as I mentioned in point 1. Review your usage data, including when people drop out of self-service or switch to other channels. And use these insights alongside qualitative measures such as customer satisfaction scores to understand how customers are using and benefiting from self-service. Listen to what the numbers are telling you and don’t be afraid to change direction. It’s a natural part of the transformation process.

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