Self-help guides have been around for centuries, teaching their readers how to solve every problem from weight loss to getting ahead in the workplace. In the business world, "self-help" translates into useful guides and articles that aid customers in navigating issues they might have with a product or service.
It's easy to see the appeal of self-service from a modern customer standpoint. In an age when Google has become a verb, consumers want instant answers to their queries — they don't always have time to sit around waiting for a customer service rep to take them off hold or answer their email.
But offering self-service in a way that truly enhances a customer's experience means more than throwing a quick FAQ page on your company's website. Here's how you can help customers help themselves, while still offering the level of support consumers expect. [3 Ways Customer Service Has Changed]
Why you should — and shouldn't — provide self-service
Robert Johnson, CEO of B2B customer support software company TeamSupport, said today's consumers are accustomed to searching for answers online, and as a group are more educated and self-reliant. For simple issues and common questions, it's much more efficient for both you and your customers to have an easily accessible page with all the answers.
"Companies that provide rich support media online, including visual aids such as images and videos in addition to clear instructions and how-to guides, can help customers get back to business quickly," Johnson told Business News Daily. "This improves customer satisfaction and frees up support agents, who can then focus on helping customers with more complex issues. It's a win-win situation."
Ryan O'Connell, a winemaker at NakedWines.com, agreed that customer self-service can indeed improve the customer experience, but cautioned that the wrong intentions can hurt a company's reputation in the long run.
"[Some] companies employ self-service tools to cut margins and avoid spending time with their customers," O'Connell said. "A lot of the time, a good FAQ page or troubleshooting guide accomplishes both of these things. But if you set out with the less noble objective of spending less time with your customers, you'll often [do so] without ... making the customer's life better."
Some companies' self-service tools, for example, make it nearly impossible to contact a human being, O'Connell said. Businesses should embrace the opportunity to speak with customers who want to get in direct contact and fix their problem — not run them around through a troubleshooting guide until they give up.
"If [customers] describe a specific problem and you suggest they look at irrelevant self-service options, you risk rubbing salt in the wound," O'Connell said. "People also get upset when you don't listen to them. If a customer writes in and explains that they had a great experience, and you auto-reply with a triggered email that suggests they check the FAQ, troubleshooter, etc., then you risk taking a huge fan and dampening their excitement."
Self-service do's and don'ts
Successfully implementing customer self-service requires both an understanding of your customer base and a commitment to making that person's experience with your business as great as possible. Here are a few basic best practices to follow and mistakes to avoid when setting up self-service tools.
Test your self-service system. Before you roll out your troubleshooting guide or how-to articles to all customers, test them with groups inside and outside your organization to make sure they'll be accessible and helpful to end users.
"Companies should give a wide variety of people the self-service user experience, from administrative staff to billing personnel, sales managers, salespeople and trusted customers," Johnson said. "With honest feedback, it will quickly become clear if the self-service tools are too complex, too simplistic or otherwise not ideal for users."
Enhance your self-help tools with visuals and forums. Depending on what your guides are designed to help, you may want to go beyond the basic text-only FAQ format. Vic Mahadevan, CEO of customer relationship management platform Punchh, advised including screenshots and other visuals to illustrate various troubleshooting scenarios for your users. If you're able, he also recommended developing a monitored peer-to-peer forum on your site so your customers can help each other.
"Sometimes, the best technician is another customer," Mahadevan said.
Find the right solution for you. There are a lot of ways to implement customer self-service, and some are more complex than others. If you're looking for a technology tool that will help you with customer support, Johnson advised looking for one that's designed for the type of service you deliver (i.e., B2B or B2C).
"[Companies] should look for a solution that enables collaboration so they can leverage the knowledge of the entire team and view up-to-date information across all support platforms, whether online, on the phone, via a chat window, etc.," Johnson said.
Make your contact information hard to find. Your FAQ page may cover the majority of customer issues, but you need to make yourself available to answer the small percentage of queries that aren't addressed. Making customers work extra hard to get in touch with you directly will not do you any favors when they finally reach you.
"There are countless times customers get unnecessarily frustrated because they can't find the answer they're looking for, need to contact someone, and again, can't find the information they need," Mahadevan said. "A seamless user experience is vital to customer satisfaction."
Forget to update self-service materials. The self-service guides you publish are based on your business's current circumstances and operations, and any changes that inevitably occur along the way should be reflected in that content. Johnson noted that it's important to keep customer service materials up to date at all times so customers can always find what they need.
"Customers will quickly lose trust if they visit a self-service portal and don't find material that addresses their specific product," he said.
Ignore customer feedback. As mentioned above, self-service shouldn't be an excuse to avoid contact with customers. When you incorporate self-help guides and tools, be sure that those elements are serving your ultimate objective of improving customers' lives — and if customers have something to say about it, you can't afford not to listen.
"Do customers like the service you introduced?" O'Connell said. "If not, it's OK to say, 'We missed the mark on that one and will be discontinuing/rewriting/reinventing based on your feedback.'"
"Be open to feedback and willing to make adjustments, even after the self-service solution goes live online," Johnson added. "Never be too proud to admit a mistake — the point isn't to always be right, but instead to consistently provide an excellent customer experience."