Driving Consumer Confidence in Self-Service

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We all know 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 ten 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 in order to satisfy both customer and company. In fact, a new report by Jupiter Research reveals that static self-service content actually exacerbates cost-intensive agent call volumes. “Fleeting success of initiatives results from poor self-service inquiry resolution and a narrow view of the concept of contact deflection.”1

To create a positive Web self-service experience, truly consumer-minded businesses are embracing a new vision: empower your 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 that customers interact with your business.

For example, a leading network service provider adapted its existing database of problem cases into a self-service tool. They imported 5,700 cases from the original knowledgebase. Before going live they 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, more than 50 percent of North American consumers still prefer to speak directly with a human being for customer service.2 These are valid and necessary concerns: While cost cutting may be a key driver for adoption of Web self-service or more automation, you certainly don’t want customers to feel they’re being short changed. Users of e-support solutions find that while these solutions provide the lowest cost of resolution, much of what is available is unimpressive.3

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

Self-service as a continuum

First, it’s important to remember that Web self-service isn’t a one-time deal. Doing it right involves an ongoing process of learning and improvement. Implementing self-service solutions for customer service involves not only time and attention to cultural inhibitors, but a mature, proven, and well-defined knowledge management solution.

These tools should also provide the ability to analyze incoming trends so that you can adapt routing paths and content as you learn more about evolving customer needs.

Document business processes

Inconsistent or poorly documented business processes cultivate customer service problems. Without established processes, it’s difficult to know what to modify or what impact modifications will have. E-service solutions must be able to discern the root cause of the problem to provide an effective resolution. Accurate analysis of problem types and root causes is required to build a body of knowledge that customers can refer to in self-service tools.

Formalizing these processes will also smooth the way for using Web self-service as a revenue generating tool. Establish processes for steering customers along a logical purchase path.

Put yourself in the customer’s shoes

One great way to understand the customer experience is to try the self-service tools yourself. Are the help prompts clear? Is the site intuitive? Even seemingly minor usability improvements often translate directly into higher completion rates. A good first step is to determine how to phrase content to best fit customer expectations.

Changing one unclear menu choice from company jargon to wording that customers would understand can help you avoid abandoned transactions and dissatisfied customers.

Look beyond speed

Often companies 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, customer adoption of web self-service will eliminate many common problems from ever reaching the contact center. This would cause more live agent calls to be of a complex nature, resulting in a decrease in first call response rates. Declining first call response rates, coupled with declining call volumes overall, may indicate improvements in early problem prevention and call deflection. This is why it’s important to have some context beyond mere statistics to truly gauge effectiveness.

Determine where self-service will have the best impact

Another important consideration is what to automate. Web self-service may not be right for every transaction. For example, customers often prefer to compare products online, but feel more comfortable talking with a live operator when applying for credit or addressing a billing concern. Pinpoint problem areas and fix those first. A software company might be able to reduce call center inquiries with preemptive emails alerting customers of available software patches to fix a known bug. Also, give customers the choice to opt out of the automated system and speak with an agent if additional help is needed.

Be sure that any information already provided by the customer is transferred with them. Nothing is more irritating than being asked by an agent for account information after you’ve already entered it in the automated system. Conversely, demonstrating your keen awareness of your customers’ personal preferences and needs can mean the difference between mediocre and memorable customer service. This is easier than it sounds. Most companies collect a plethora of data on customer interactions. They simply have no effective means to apply this knowledge to good use or don’t share it with the call center and self-service applications.

Feed your knowledgebase

According to Gartner, less than half of the electronically stored knowledge used in a contact center is contained in the corresponding knowledge base. This places a major constraint on automation levels. Companies must ensure that existing knowledge content is properly updated and available to automated systems.

Apply processes across channels

Self-service shouldn’t be limited to a single channel. Whether customers prefer phone, email, or the web for their channel of communication with an organization, there should be self-service options available to them. These options should include the same combination of transactions and information so customers have a consistent experience. Knowledge should also be spread across each channel to ensure up-to-date information.

Personalize content

Personalized support can have a terrific impact on customers’ perceptions. For example, a software vendor recently created personalized support sites for 20 of its top-tier customers. By giving its most lucrative customers access to customized content and proactive customer support, the company improved customer satisfaction rates. This approach also increased response times from live agent because high-level support agents have more time to spend on priority issues.

Choose the right operational metrics

Some companies obtain baseline metrics internally and use these as a starting point to gauge improvement. This is often a better measurement than industry averages. A note of caution: Metrics are a useful guide, but overemphasizing operational metrics without some added context may lead to suboptimal behavior. As an example, demand for higher and higher call volumes is likely to encourage agents to end calls faster, regardless of whether they’ve fully satisfied the customer’s needs.


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.

1 Online Self-Service: The Slow Road to Search Effectiveness, Jupiter Research, February 15, 2006

2 Customers Want Live, Speedy Support, Forrester Research, January 13, 2006

3 Self-Service E-Support Provides Lowest Cost of Resolution, Gartner, June 1, 2005

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Vikas Nehru is the Director of Product Marketing at KANA. His 12 plus 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. Prior to joining KANA, he spent a decade working in many diverse areas of the CRM software industry. Vikas uses his experience to help deliver world-class customer service solutions.

Driving Consumer Confidence in Self-Service
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About Vikas Nehru
Vikas Nehru is the Director of Product Marketing at KANA. His 12 plus 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. Prior to joining KANA, he spent a decade working in many diverse areas of the CRM software industry. Vikas uses his experience to help deliver world-class customer service solutions. WebProNews Writer
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