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10 Steps to Improving Customer Self-Service

Companies can’t hire enough customer service reps, and customers want answers now. Self-service tools will solve for both.

There’s nothing like a chatbot that can’t answer your questions or listening to endless on-hold music to wait for a customer service representative. These scenarios, however, are reflective of today’s customer service environment. 

Companies face a labor shortage that isn’t going away any time soon. But customers still need service, and without people and a plan, companies will burn out the employees that are left, and end up with unhappy customers.

The solution? Self-service tools that intuitively answer customer questions without need for human interaction, whether it’s automated chat-bots or interactive voice response systems that check balances, file claims, provide information, set appointments, or enable payments. Many companies buy a solution thinking it will solve this problem, but most of the time it isn’t integrated to other systems or touch points along a customer’s journey. As many as 70% of people would like a company’s website to provide a self-service application, and 40% of customers prefer self-service over actually talking to a human. But more than half of people say self-serve tools are often difficult to use. 

Creating intuitive tools that truly save time and solve problems takes more than a half-baked piece of software. 

Here are 10 ways to improve your self-service, relieve some of the burden for employees, and satisfy customers.  

  1. 1. Take baby steps.

There’s so much technology on the market, it’s easy for leaders to get overwhelmed and not know exactly where to start. Don’t get hung up on the idea that to improve service you must immediately swap out one system for another. Take small steps toward improving service by listening to what customers want and paying attention to what you ask your customers to do. Companies can segment off the pieces to develop and leverage cloud-based options, which can be more economical and faster to implement.

You don’t have to throw all of your current technologies away, especially if they’re working. Instead, focus on how you can improve what you’ve got by integrating various systems to talk to each other. And remember that not everything needs to be designed at once anymore. Intelligent Virtual Agent (IVA) software is designed specifically to be improved over time, long after the first installation and training. It will be important to continue to iterate, train, and evaluate the software and ask the human agents what issues are showing up. 

2. Plan methodically.

Rather than retreating from an overwhelming task, leaders can plan in a methodical fashion that makes the most sense for their organization. What outcome are you striving for? What is your timeframe?  Your budget?  Reach out to a trusted system integrator to understand the process and costs.  You may need to let top executives know that self-serve is an iterative process that will include milestones and business outcomes, and consequently, you’ll likely return for more funding in the future. 

3. Improve your internal communication.

In many cases, a company’s customer service staff doesn’t communicate with the teams building the technology. Those on-the-ground agents, however, can offer suggestions on how to improve their jobs and what customers need. Your best assets are the people who take the inquiries. They’re the ones on the front lines and know how tweaks could make their lives easier.

I recommend a cross-functional team to create the technology from the lens of the customer—not the company.  The phrase, ‘Think of yourself as a customer’ has never been more relevant than it is today. What would the customer need?  How would you answer them? 

Once the design is nearing completion, train the staff on how customers can self-serve, so when customers connect with agents, that rep will be more informed. Oftentimes, the real breakdown comes if the representative who answers is not aware of the time a customer has spent on the app or what they have tried to do already. So a customer must start all over again with the phone call. To avoid this, integrate the app to the agent experience, knowledge bases, customer relationship management solutions, analytics solutions, and agent desktops.

4. Make self-service tools seamless with human agents.

Smart leaders enable seamless communication between self-service tools and human agents. Say, for instance, a chatbot can’t answer a person’s question and directs him to call a customer service number. It’s important to ensure that your customer service representative can pick up where that customer left off online instead of asking for the basic details, such as his name, account number and what his question is. 

When the rep starts all the way at the beginning, it's frustrating and takes a lot of time. Instead, a chatbot link with the question can be automatically sent to the agent who will answer the question. The agent notes that the customer has been on the website and jumps right in.

When rolling out self-serve tools, think about the interaction between the tool and human agents. Have you created a customer path from the tool to the agent? If so, are you informing the agent of the time and effort a person has spent in the self-service environment? These techniques not only help a customer self-serve, but cut down on time spent with human agents if necessary, thereby improving both customer and agent satisfaction.

5. Align customer expectations with company expectations.

Sometimes, a customer wants a simpler process to solve their problem—say, switching a home security system to cellular from a landline phone—but they get mired in on-hold music and long wait times. If there is no specific prompt for “switching security systems” when dialing in for support, then a customer may press the wrong number in the phone tree and must hang up and perhaps dial again multiple times. Then, they sit through long hold prompts and music before getting an agent, who will then collect information and offer a specific package or service. 

A company can solve that customer’s problems faster—and boost customer satisfaction—by replacing a phone tree and long wait time with artificial intelligence that allows a person to vocalize their issue—change security services—and that then determines availability for a prospective appointment and offers options for new packages. The system could have taken the customer through signing up, scheduling a time before the representative comes on the line to determine the package that was right for them.

  1. 6. Don’t make customers hunt for answers.

  2. All too often, customers seek help online with a virtual chat and are sent a link to a page with a long list of links or information. Customers don't want to be presented with 25 links of different things that they have to sort through and figure out which one is going to answer their question.

  3. Smart companies do the work for customers, leveraging software that parses an exact answer to the question asked and delivers it with the answer specifically or in one simple link to an exact place on a page where they can find the answer. Delivering that kind of service often means organizing answers in a conversational versus linear manner.

7. Go further with your mobile app.

At least 90% of the world’s population has a smartphone now. Most mobile apps start off strong: a customer may be able to log in, move funds around, schedule an appointment, or fill out a short application. But most of them stop there. Anything else requires dialing a phone number to get help.

If you take a look at the total experience of the mobile app, oftentimes it still requires intervention from a person. The customer still doesn't have the answer to their question and then they may have to hold for an extraordinarily long period of time to get someone live to help.

8. Ensure your chatbot is faster than the phone.

Too many times, the chatbot is no faster than waiting on hold to get an answer to a question, especially if there is no intelligence built in. It may be the same people on the back-end processing that type of work, and most organizations are understaffed.  Often, a message will direct customers to the website for faster service. By now, companies should know that a customer has probably tried that first and couldn’t self-serve.

9. Embrace outbound self-service.

Companies can save time and money by automating outbound self-service, too, such as confirming appointments by text messages and offering the ability to reschedule via text if necessary. This is especially helpful because many people now ignore an incoming call if they don’t recognize the number. An outbound message, via voice or text message, allows easy appointment confirmations and changes and limits inbound volume, too.

10. Use analytics to understand intent.

Leaders can improve self-service tools—and traditional human assistance—by implementing software analytics that decipher customer intent and sentiment. For instance, one company determined that the phrase, “you guys” was a key indicator of  a customer leaving. If an agent heard that phrase, they could better empathize with a customer and work more diligently to prevent that customer from leaving. The same can be done with virtual assistants, enabling them to listen to what might matter most to a customer. 

Customer service isn’t an easy challenge, and today’s economic environment makes it even more difficult. This is further exacerbated by the labor shortage. Luckily, there are steps you can take to improve customer satisfaction, first contact resolution, and net promoter scores without the hassle of finding new hires. It involves identifying what customers need and how they can best get help—with little to no human contact. By creating integrated purchase or service solutions that work for both agents and customers and using an iterative plan that is outcome oriented, you’ll deliver what customers want most right now: quick, easy, and efficient integrated self service.

C1 offers consulting services that walk companies through the process of analyzing their existing customer service systems, creating a plan for improvement, outlining potential service providers, and implementing, managing, and supporting the technologies. 

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About the author:
C1 is transforming the industry by creating connected experiences that make a lasting impact on customers, our teams and our communities. More than 10,000 customers use C1 every day to help them build meaningful connections through innovative and secure experiences.