Sometimes contact center professionals become so focused on agent-assisted customer service methods that they forget many customers just want to help themselves. A personalized interaction with a competent and engaging agent can be highly satisfying but it isn't always a customer's first choice.
Gartner discovered that 70% of consumers use self-service at some point in their journey to get an issue resolved*. Often that journey begins with a simple search of FAQs on a company's website. But today's DIY-ers also have more sophisticated options available to them, including chatbots and automated assistants.
To meet customer expectations, contact centers should offer a mix of agent-assisted and self-service options. Implementing self-service that is effective and provides good customer experiences (CX) requires operational discipline and customer-centric design. This article will provide 10 best practices for getting self-service right.
Why is customer self-service such an important channel in today's contact centers?
Smart self-service is shifting customer behaviors
Modern consumers are demanding, expecting businesses to always be available and wanting control over how they interact with organizations. Contact centers have to respond to these demands within budgetary boundaries. Self-service can be just the thing to balance customer expectations with fiscal responsibility. Here's how:
Self-service provides 24/7 coverage
Your customers might expect 24/7 service and you might want to provide them with that, but does keeping your call center open and staffed with agents overnight make financial sense? For many operations, the after-hours volume isn't high enough to justify the cost. Self-service is a cost-effective way to provide customers with round-the-clock support.
Self-service interactions are easy on the budget
How easy? A Gartner study estimated that an average agent interaction costs $8 while the average self-service contact costs 10 cents.*
Self-service allows contact centers to maximize agent value
Self-service methods are typically good for answering common questions and handling simpler transactions like scheduling appointments and paying bills. When these more mundane tasks are lifted from agents' shoulders, they can spend time handling more complex issues.
Self-service can scale easily and cost-effectively
Technology like chatbots and virtual assistants can handle a multitude of simultaneous interactions. This is much more cost-effective than staffing an army of agents to handle the same workload, plus chatbots and virtual agents don't need to participate in time-consuming onboarding and training, meaning they can be up and running much faster than new agents.
Self-service can be used with agent assistance for effective CX
The best self-service design includes a way for customers to seamlessly transfer to an agent for more advanced assistance. When done right, the elevation can happen without missing a beat and the agent can jumpstart the interaction by using the information the customer already provided.
Self-service AI can become smarter over time
Self-service methods that use artificial intelligence, including machine learning, can get smarter with use. This means, for example, that their responsibilities can be expanded to completely handle more and more contact types over time.
Self-service can expand on what is already happening
Since so many customers use the website or company app for assistance, they're already in a DIY frame of mind. Contact centers can leverage that by extending their self-service offerings to more advanced technologies that can solve more problems.
Overview of contact center self-service technology
And just what are these "advanced technologies?" Contact centers have some great options to choose from, many infused with artificial intelligence. Self-service capabilities have come a long way from touch tone IVRs. Organizations can now customize their self-service solutions based on customer preferences and business needs. Below are some of the more prominent, modern self-service service options.
Interactive voice response (IVR) systems have been delivering voice self-service for decades, however the technology has evolved significantly in that time period. Early IVRs used dual tone multifrequency (DTMF) technology to allow callers to interact with menus using their phone's keypad. Modern IVRs may offer DTMF as an option, but they also include natural language processing (NLP) to understand and mimic human speech. This allows callers to speak their menu selections or simply say what they need and completely bypass the traditional “selection menu”.
Virtual assistants take voice self-service to the next level - kind of like having Alexa in your IVR. Virtual assistants can answer questions and walk callers through transactions. They can also be used in conjunction with agent assistance. For example, one of our clients uses a virtual assistant to authenticate callers prior to talking to an agent, which has substantially reduced average handle time. Virtual assistants provide a more natural self-service experience and as more people use virtual assistants in their personal lives, self-service use is expected to increase as well.
Have you ever visited a website and had a bot ask if you need help? Bots are everywhere these days, even on blogs and small business websites. Companies have been successfully using customer service chatbots to provide web chat support, and they can either handle the entire transaction or escalate the chat session along with the customer information to an agent. But bots aren't limited to the web chat channel. Pizza Hut and Staples use bots in Facebook Messenger, Starbucks has a bot in their app, and Sephora has one in Kik.
Other self-service methods
Organizations can also leverage other self-service methods. For example, they can integrate a searchable knowledge base with their website that customers can use. Or they can host user or customer forums so customers can support each other by posting and answering questions.
How to create a smarter self-service strategy
Whether you're just now implementing self-service or need to refresh your current capabilities, taking a structured design approach will ensure your self-service offerings will meet your customers’ requirements and help you meet your business objectives. Contact centers should begin by inventorying what they already have in place, then identifying missing or suboptimal capabilities, and, finally, defining and implementing a new or improved solution.
Here's what these steps look like in more detail:
1. Document your existing self-service solutions
It's a best practice in process improvement and system implementation efforts to document the "as is," including key statistics. This will help you identify business requirements and give you a starting point for defining the "to be." This exercise should include answering the following questions:
- Which channel(s)? Document what channels your current self-service capabilities are in. For example, do you have a self-service IVR or a customer service chatbot on your website? This process can help you identify additional channels to include.
- Why was this implemented? What was the goal? There was a business reason for implementing any current solutions. Determine if that business reason still exists and ensure any modifications or replacements continue to support the business requirement.
- How are you measuring effectiveness? If the answer is, "we aren't," determine why. There may be a technical limitation that needs to be addressed as part of your refresh.
- What are your current results? It's important to establish this baseline to identify opportunities. Plus, you'll want to compare the results of your refreshed solution to the baseline to see if things are improving.
- Collect feedback. To figure out what is and isn't working about your current self-service solutions, ask key stakeholders including customers, agents, and your IT team. If you're new to self-service, poll your agents for ideas and / or collect customer feedback.
2. Use the documentation to determine your updated or new contact center self-service strategy
All the work you put into documenting the "as is" can now be used to develop your new or updated strategy. You can leverage observations about strengths and weaknesses to create a strategy to make self-service work better for you and your customers. Also, answer these questions:
- Have your goals changed? If so, what are the new goals? Every initiative your contact center takes should be tied to business goals. Are you counting on self-service to reduce labor costs, increase customer satisfaction, or make it easier to absorb volume swings? This is also a good time to establish more tactical goals like self-service success rates.
- Are there new or different options you should include? If so, what are they? You might want to upgrade to an IVR that has conversational AI capabilities, deploy your customer service chatbot in additional channels, improve the hand off from self-service to agents, or design better performance reports. Make sure to do your homework to identify what self-service capabilities are available - technology is always advancing and creating new possibilities.
- Are there better ways to measure effectiveness? What are they? It's important to design self-service right. Otherwise, it can create terrible CX. Your measurements should assess performance against business goals, measure the effectiveness of each specific solution, and determine the impact to customer experience and satisfaction.
- What do stakeholders think of the new solution? Getting feedback from customers, agents, supervisors, IT team members, executives, and other stakeholders will gain buy-in and help you further refine your strategy.
3. Use the following 10 contact center self-service best practices to design and execute your new strategy
Now that you have a finalized strategy, it's time to implement your new or refreshed solution. Use the following 10 self-service best practices to help ensure success.
Best practice 1: Don't bite off more than you can chew
You don't have to implement everything at once. In fact, a "big bang" approach has a lot of risk. Instead, start small with a pilot. Then assess results and use them to refine your solution and expand the implementation.
Best practice 2: Communicate with all stakeholders throughout the process
Don't end your communications with the strategy. Be transparent to stakeholders about implementation results, even if they aren't so positive. In particular, keep agents, who might feel threatened by self-service, informed about progress. Explain to agents how their roles might change and train them up to handle those more complex interactions. Additionally, find ways to include them in the implementation, perhaps by training customer service chatbots.
Best practice 3: Select the right types of interactions for customer self-service
Start with a list of your more common contact types - you want to get the biggest bang for your buck. Then identify interactions that could be handled by self-service. Good candidates are predictable, non-emotional, and simple.
Best practice 4: Don't try to "get rid of" customers at all costs
With self-service, it can be tempting to lock customers into your self-service solution, especially if reducing agent interactions is one of your goals. Avoid the temptation - always give customers a visible way to back out of self-service and get to agent. This is a more expensive design but it will alleviate customer frustration and help increase adoption.
Best practice 5: Provide customers with guidance and context
Your goal is to make customers highly successful with their self-service efforts. One way to do that is to guide them to the right support method - self-service or agent assistance - for their particular issue. Additionally, provide prompts during interactions to help customers along the way.
Best practice 6: Create a smooth path to an agent
Not all self-service attempts will be successful. In fact, our research shows that half of customers who begin in self-service channels are transferred to an agent. Contact centers should plan for this and design a seamless transition path, including making the data already provided by the customer available to the agent.
Best practice 7: Don't use self-service AI just because you can
Contact centers might want to use shiny new bells and whistles just for the sake of it, but AI won't be the right solution for every situation. Develop use cases and then identify the most appropriate technology.
Best practice 8: Measure, report and analyze, repeat
The best solutions are the ones that are consistently analyzed and optimized. Self-service isn't a "set and forget it" thing. Use insights from reporting and analytics tools to constantly improve performance. Additionally, regularly collecting feedback from customers and agents will provide further ideas for enhancements.
Best practice 9: Reduce management effort with a tightly integrated solution
Self-service solutions that are integrated with other systems, such as CRM applications and back office software, will ensure the entire transaction is automated and doesn't require any manual intervention. You should also look for a tool that provides consolidated reporting so you don't have to spend time, money and effort on piecing information together from different systems.
Best practice 10: Choose a solution that provides more flexibility and scalability than you currently need
Once you optimize your self-service channels and have them working just right, you don't want to have to change solutions when your business grows or your requirements change. Choose a solution that can scale and evolve with your business.
The payoff when self-service is done right
When self-service is well-designed and implemented, everyone wins. Customers get 24/7 support and the ability to solve their own problems. Agents can do less mundane tasks and flex their problem-solving muscles. And contact centers can reduce costs and increase their volume capacity.
For more information and helpful advice, watch our on-demand webinar, Contact Center Self-Service Strategies.