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Customer, serve thyself: Online self-service in the customer service mix

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15th Oct 2013
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Satisfied customers are the foundation upon which an excellent brand is built. Contact centres have traditionally been seen as the front line to developing good customer relationships through excellent customer service. Our recent Benchmark Report highlighted the increase in popularity of online customer self-service, which is now the first port of call for 72% of customers. This means that brands’ digital customer service offering is now at the fore of customer satisfaction. Customer self-service works holistically as part of the customer service mix - adding value for both customers and agents.

Today’s customers cite “valuing my time” as the most important thing a company can do to deliver a good online customer experience and 69% of customers equate good customer service with a quick resolution of the problem. When customers want answers they want them quickly and these tech-savvy but ‘time-poor’ individuals are taking a DIY approach to solving their issues. They choose to ‘self-serve’ and find the information they need without the getting in touch with the company’s customer service team. This can happen directly through information and FAQs on the company’s website as discussions between customers on social media or forums, or elsewhere online. Self-service is in their time and on their own terms without the need to wait for their call to be answered or email to be responded to.

This is a huge opportunity for brands; provide an engaging, thriving and above all useful self-service interface and you will reap the benefits. 91% of customers said that if a self-service platform provided the information they needed that they would use it. This sort of system as a first port of call for customers provides an excellent support for contact centres. Self-service is the fastest and most cost-effective customer support for both parties. It also frees up customer service teams to dedicate their time to high-value customers or those with more complicated inquires, offering better quality service to those than need it most.

Customer forums hosted on a brands own site can also harness the knowledge of informed and enthusiastic customers helping each other. This not only provides a knowledge base for customers seeking answers, but also builds a network of passionate brand advocates. The key to successful self-service, as with any customer support system, is to do it well.

But to do it well the essential starting point is to define what ‘it’ is you want to achieve and to set out clearly what the goal of a self-service system is. Whether the intention is to reduce the number of support tickets being submitted, or to foster relationships and engagements amongst your customers and employees, the intended outcome needs to be understood.

To develop and continue to improve an effective system, ongoing measurement to understand how it works both for customers and the customer services representatives is vital. To begin to understand the impact of self-service on customer support Zendesk has developed a new metric—the Self-Service Score. The average score in Q2 2013 was 4.1; for every four customers that attempted to solve their own issues via, one chose to submit a support request.  Increasing the ratio of self-service options to support requests indicates better customer service and satisfaction with the self-service system. It’s also extremely important to track the content that is being used most by your customers online, and the topics that drive the most contact with customer service agents. Knowing this will help you decide what content you need more of, which topics need more comprehensive self-service content and which topics should be given the greatest prominence due to popularity.

You should also be measuring how customers are accessing that content. From Q2 2013 figures, one in four users accessing self-service content did so from their mobile device, a 50% increase since last year. Brands need to be ready to deliver a great self-service experience across devices and customers should receive the same level of service whether they’re on a laptop, tablet, or phone.

Your employees should also be encouraged to engage with self-service content, forums and comments; it shows that you are listening to them and care about customer behaviour and feedback. But more than that, with self-service forums building a community of informed advocates employees should engage with that community, enhancing the customer-brand relationship and adding value to the forums. It shouldn’t just be the customer support team interacting either, encourage everybody to get involved with sharing solutions.

It is this involvement and engagement that it key. It’s no secret that even an excellently designed and fully comprehensive self-service solution is useless if nobody is using it! An easy to navigate platform in which the most important and popular sections are given the greatest prominence will provide a crucial part of the user experience. Making sure that customers can find what they are looking for sounds like common sense, but from our research only 52% of customers looking online to help themselves found the information they wanted.

If your system is easy to navigate and search that is half the battle, but you must also ensure that the customer knows that the self-service resource is available to them. Brands must drive users towards this as an option to reap the greatest benefits, self-service should be highly visible and well promoted across your site. Only when a system is used and useable across platforms, engaged with by customer and brand alike and measured to ensure it is effective and meeting goals does it become a fully integrated part of your customer service offering.

Investment in excellent self-service is an investment in your customer support team, but it is also an investment in your entire online offering. 45% of customers in the US reported that they were very likely to abandon an online purchase if they couldn’t find the information they needed. They are customers in the age of instant gratification. Whether it’s 24-hour shopping, music downloads in a matter of seconds, or answers to any type of question - people want to be able to find it online and they want to find it quickly. The answer to solving this is simple – help customers to help themselves and your brand and contact centre agents will reap the benefits.

Nick Peart is marketing director, EMEA at Zendesk.

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