Tapping Web Self-service’s Potential
By D. Blake Cahill
times a day does a call center hear customers bemoan failed attempts
at problem-solving using Web-based self-service?
Anecdotal information says, “Way too often.”
Clearly, making Web self-service work for customers is an
important strategy in improving the customer experience across all
channels. How is it done?
By taking a multi-channel approach to support system design and
carefully building a Web self-service environment around customer
needs. Not just another
empty promise, this method has resulted in substantially increased Web
self-service use, lower call volumes and happier customers—and
Snapshot of the present: Web self-service currently accounts for a
small percentage of overall customer interactions.
Deena Cherenza of the Yankee Group reports that only 7.7
percent of all customer interactions happen via the Web self-service
channel, according to a 2005 survey.
This percentage is expected to grow to a modest 14.3 percent
over two years. In
contrast, the SSPA (Service & Support Professionals Association)
reports that 32 percent of customers favor the Web for self-service,
yet the growth in actual usage between 2003 and 2005 accounts for less
than two percent of new interactions.
And given the SSPA’s finding that customers currently
experience faster resolution of their inquiry via the phone, there is
significant untapped potential in Web self-service.
What’s keeping customers away from self-service?: Bad execution.
According to John Ragsdale of Forrester Research, after five to seven
attempts at using Web self-service a customer will never try again.
Making Web-self-service efficient from the customer
point-of-view is the key to lowering the time it takes for them to get
the help they need and eliminating frustrations that build up while
they’re hunting around unsuccessfully.
Laying the groundwork: customer support channel integration:
Integrating the content that feeds into all customer support channels
and the analytics that come out is the place to start.
The knowledge articles available to customers and agents must
address actual needs, be understandable from the customer point of
view, reflect current information and practices and be consistent
across all channels—including phone, Web-self-service, email, online
chat, kiosks and everywhere else where support is provided.
This centralized approach will both improve the self-help
experience and improve phone interactions because both agent and
customer are working with the same information.
data about which articles are accessed through which channels and with
what frequency will short-cut the improvement process. Understanding
content and cross-channel customer usage patterns makes decisions
about where and what to improve more informed.
Continual feedback provides opportunities to improve service
and the underlying systems that make support possible.
Web self-service environment must-haves: nce the right content and
measurement tools are in place, the Web self-service environment is
the place to focus. The
design goal is for a customer support approach that reflects your
unique customer experience. Here
are the top design considerations:
definitions of the
customer problems that will drive the support environment and
of use/ease of navigation
pictures versus words
of a personalized experience
of users as they proceed through Web self-service
Breaking it down: Making Web self-service easy to use reaches into
every aspect of environment design.
Starting with the organization of content and the pathways
created for customers as they navigate through various self-help
layers, the system should get customers to their solution destination
in as few steps as possible. And,
the answer must be easy to understand.
asked questions (FAQs) are standard fare yet are a point of
frustration if the questions aren’t the ones that are top-of-mind
for most users. A dynamic
FAQ section monitors and ranks the frequency with which each knowledge
article is accessed. This
continuous measurement allows for adjustment of FAQ content and
order—and suggests whether or not information provided elsewhere is
sufficient. If too many
people are asking the same question, it’s a clue that more
information on that topic is needed elsewhere.
A good FAQ section will also connect users to other self-help
tools, like search options to further investigate a topic or problem
It is also
helpful to give customers search options that are easy to use.
Natural language searches and knowledge base browsing functions
let customers with different levels of technology experience find what
they need using the means with which they are most comfortable.
Presenting different navigation options and placing them at
different junctures within the self-help environment accomplishes two
things: it gives users
multiple chances to access information as they discover what they
need; and helps educate them about what’s available and how to
access it efficiently. Deflection
tools—such as automatically presenting a customer with knowledge
content related to the subject of an email inquiry before they hit the
“submit” button—have been shown to resolve 20-40 percent of
cases that were headed for the assisted email channel.
the information itself? By
far, the best way to present content that describes or assists in
product and service use is through illustrations and pictures
supported by instructional text. The
more complicated the instruction, the more pictures will help
customers solve problems on their own.
It is often useful to create content in different languages for
both customers and agents, all with the goal of developing content
that makes consumption of information easier for customers.
a personalized experience can be as simple as offering different
self-help sections for different product categories, for example.
Taking this another step, companies can institute a log-in
process that connects customers with information about only those
products or services that are relevant to them.
Personalized Web pages that give customers access to their
individual support histories can track current inquiries or activities
(such as a work order) and connect customers to information they’ve
found helpful in the past.
users about Web self-help begins with marketing and design of the
self-help environment, and continues through agents that assist
customers via email and phone calls.
Agents can routinely refer callers to specific self-help pages
for additional support, helping customers experience Web self-help as
a viable option for problem-solving and general information.
working? The only way to
know if customers’ needs are being met is to ask them.
Simple satisfaction questions at various stages in the
self-help process will provide data to supplement the usage metrics.
Together, these measurements provide feedback for ongoing
improvements to the Web self-help environment—and the systems that
it connects to, including other support channels.
Web self-service success and the support matrix: Making the effort
to design, support and implement customer-centric Web self-service
pays off in several ways. Companies
using this approach have seen their customers gravitate to this
cost-effective channel, accounting for 80 percent of all interactions
within a two year period. And
while there are clearly costs associated with developing and
maintaining great Web self-service, the same companies experienced
return on investment after eight months of implementation.
What does this mean for the call center?
Customers that email or call tend to have higher-level needs
and use the assisted channels more appropriately.
They have fewer complaints about time wasted trying
unsuccessfully to get help—shortening calls and giving agents the
chance to do what they do best: connecting customers to the
information, products and services they need to build further customer
Learn more about
D. Blake Cahill.
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