As smartphones and websites make it easier to find information or solve simple problems without customer service interaction, research shows more and more people prefer to do so. By enabling this ability and making channels more conducive to such self-help, companies give their customers (and potential customers) what they want. The following article by Scott Clark appeared in CMSWire and looks at the ways self-service trends are changing customer service.
Do Consumers Prefer Self-Service?
Research from CGS, a global provider of business applications, enterprise learning, and outsourcing services, indicated that consumers would prefer to be able to handle more tasks themselves that are traditionally handled by professionals. Although 61% of consumers said that they threw away a household appliance in the last year instead of fixing it themselves, almost half (42%) indicated that they would be interested in an AR experience in which an expert guided them through the steps to fix an item either via a phone or tablet. 32% said that they would prefer using AR with a representative to assist them instead of taking the item to a store to be repaired. This is indicative that consumers often prefer self-service when provided with the opportunity.
It’s not that customers just want to handle things themselves — what they are really after is convenience and speed. When it comes to customer service, they want solutions to their problems, or answers to their questions — and they do not want to have to put forth much effort in order to do so, nor do they want to spend much time on the task. A study by SuperOffice revealed that 88% of customers want a response from customer service within 60 minutes, while 30% expect a response within 15 minutes. Brands that provide a method for customers to immediately obtain answers to their questions, in real-time, will gain customers that leave feeling satisfied and happy after an almost effortless experience.
The need for speed and convenience is not exclusive to IT and customer service. Research from SOTI indicated that U.S. retail consumers prefer speed and convenience when shopping with limited human interaction. 73% of those polled were in favor of self-service technologies which improve the retail shopping experience and reduce interactions with staff, up 10.6% from last year. Additionally, 76% said that retailers that use more mobile technology (both self-service and used by sales associates) enable a faster shopping experience, up from 67% last year. These stats are not surprising, because as far back as 2017, Harvard Business Review reported that across industries, 81% of all customers attempt to take care of issues themselves before reaching out to a live employee.
AI Powered Chatbots
Bill Donlan, EVP Digital Customer Experience at Capgemini North America, shared with CMSWire, that in order to accommodate shifting consumer behaviors, brands across many industries are implementing “next-gen” contact centers that focus on leveraging self-service digital channels. “They can do everything from presenting customers with compelling offers, upselling and cross-selling purchases, building brand loyalty, and offering self-service channels for case and problem management,” said Donlan.
Donlan said that investments are being made in AI-enabled chatbots to support self-service functionality. These chatbots are effectively being used more often to support hybrid and fully automated self-service. “These tools have matured dramatically, and now, combined with knowledge and collaboration tools, can provide an effective means to solve customer queries quickly.”
Wayne Butterfield, director at ISG Automation, a unit of technology research and advisory firm ISG, said that there have always been two types of customers: DIFM (Do it for me) and DIY (Do it yourself). Those who are inclined to be DIYers are those to whom self-service is appealing. “However, with the advancement of chatbots, which offer the experience of being served but generally without human involvement, the scope of self-service is increasing,” said Butterfield.
Along with a traditional Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) page, more brands are beginning to offer a knowledge base or knowledge repository as a self-serve customer service library where customers can find answers to their questions without having to talk to a live customer service agent. Customers enjoy the satisfaction that comes when they are able to solve their problems by using a knowledge base. In fact, a Forrester survey indicated that customers prefer knowledge bases over all other self-service channels.
The knowledge base/repository should be easily accessible, and it should include the previously mentioned FAQs, self-help articles, video tutorials, documentation, tutorials, and references. When combined with community/collaboration tools, a knowledge base “can lower call center operating costs and improve customer satisfaction as many customers appreciate the ease of use within these channels,” said Donlan.
When creating or designing a knowledge base, brands should begin with the same UX and/or design thinking principles that they have used to craft their website, mobile app, or product — with discoverability at its core. An efficient navigation system, along with solid SEO practices and an effective search function will enhance the usability and value of a knowledge base. Web analytics should be used to evaluate the effectiveness of the knowledge base, along with customer feedback and incoming service tickets that are about issues that are covered in the knowledge base (i.e. if a service ticket comes in that is about something that is covered in the knowledge base, that is indicative that the customer was not able to find the solution themselves, or did not think that it was available).
Mobile-Centric but Still Omnichannel
In 2020, according to a report by Perficient, 68.1% of all global website traffic came from mobile devices — up from 63.3% in 2019. Additionally, research from Statista indicates that 72.7% of all phones in the U.S. are now smartphones. Finally, according to a report from Nextiva and research from Microsoft, 79% of millennials are more inclined to purchase from brands that provide a mobile-responsive customer support portal.
Mobile customer service support is expected by customers today. “Most interactions initiated by mobile devices are self-service and mobile-centric by nature, so customer self-service tools should offer the omnichannel service experience to meet customers where they already are,” Donlan explained. This isn’t to say a customer experience strategy should be mobile-first, but rather, it should be mobile-centric.
Microsoft research indicates that 66% of consumers have used at least 3 different communication channels to contact customer service. Self-service needs to be omnichannel in order to allow customers to have a seamless, positive experience. Brands should craft an omnichannel experience that takes advantage of mobile functionality to enhance the entire experience through a mobile app or mobile responsive website.
“The continued roll-out of mobile phone apps, and the capabilities enabled by them, alongside the increased penetration of the smartphone use across all geographies and demographics, is a big driver in the world of self-service, making it easier to self-serve than make human contact,” said Butterfield.
Social Media Customer Service
It’s vital to know which of the social networks a brand’s customers are primarily using in order to most effectively use social media for customer service. The use of social media monitoring tools enables brands to more effectively monitor the social networks for mentions of the brand, its products, or services. This way, by using social listening, brands are able to keep up with customer service requests, as well as respond to customer feedback in a timely and efficient manner.
According to research from SmartInsights, as of October 2020, social media usage is at an all-time high, with 3.96 billion users worldwide. A recent GlobalWebIndex report revealed that from January to March 2020, consumers were on social networks and their associated messaging apps an average of 2 hours and 22 minutes per day. Additionally, the report showed that up to 50% of social media users research products and services via social networks. Social media has a huge impact on customer experience.
Social media is often the preferred customer service channel for customers, and can be more cost-effective for brands. “The cost of social media contact can be notably less than the cost of a traditional contact and more customers expect this channel to be available to them,” Donlan said. Most brands already have several social media presences, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, YouTube, and Snapchat. By actively using their social presences to enable customers to obtain quick responses, brands are putting control back into their customers’ hands.
Self-Service Best Practices
While every brand will have self-service practices that are unique to the specificities of that brand, there are several aspects that all businesses share. The biggest thing that has been reiterated again and again is that the self-service functionality must be easy to locate. If customers cannot find it, then it may as well not exist. If the self-checkout at Walmart was hidden in the back of the store, obviously there would be many frustrated and annoyed customers who would then place additional burdens on cashiers. Make customer self-service easy to locate across all platforms: website, mobile app, kiosk, brick-and-mortar store — it’s omnichannel, after all. This may involve website/navigational redesigns and even SEO initiatives, which will enable customers to get directly to the self-service area from the SERPs.
Jim Kane, director of digital strategy and solutions at technology research and advisory firm ISG, said that there are several key elements to make customer self-service effective. Most importantly, he noted, is that the experience should be as close to effortless as possible. “The self-service technology must be intuitive, easy to use and, most importantly, achieve the goals of the customer.” As was discussed in a recent article on improving the Customer Effort Score, customers now demand a convenient and effortless experience throughout all touchpoints, making the reduction of customer friction and pain points a key part of modern marketing.
Along with demonstrating a reason for the customer to adopt the new service-service offering, Kane said that the results of using the self-service offering must be trusted, and more importantly, it must “lead to a positive outcome, otherwise, the calling customer will not use the self-service again and revert to the normal offering.” Using the example of the grocery store self-checkout again, if a customer ends up having to have an associate come over to finish the transaction, they may as well have gone to a live cashier to begin with.
Brands should prepare support staff to be able to handle more complex cases, as customers with simple or basic issues will have been likely to already have resolved them through self-service options. “Self-service also results in more complex cases being handled outside the self-service technology. This means case managers (i.e., customer service agents) have to be more highly skilled and experienced to resolve customer issues,” explained Kane.
The only thing worse than not paying attention to what customers are telling you through customer service inquiries, surveys, and feedback, is taking no action based on what has been said. Brands work hard to obtain genuine customer feedback, then fail to use the actionable insights they have gained to improve the customer experience. “When customers are prompted to take a survey, it is really important to monitor and take action on the feedback to make improvements to the self-service/customer call center offering,” emphasized Kane.
As customers demand more effective and efficient customer service experiences, self-service is being increasingly viewed as a viable alternative, and customers are embracing it. By providing AI chatbots, a knowledge base, mobile-centric customer self-service, brands can enable customers to find solutions to their own issues, while saving live agents for more complex customer service issues.