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In customer service–as in all business matters—the best kind of advice comes from professionals like you who are dealing with similar issues to the ones you are facing.

How many of us have cracked our knuckles, put on our pith helmets, and tried to fight our way through the jungle of conflicting information on a website? How many bicycles or bookcases have we tried to build without adequate instructions? And how many times has a simple question entered into that seductive Search box led us to outdated or otherwise useless answers rather than the help we need?

In other words, helping customers self serve is an important customer satisfaction issue!

In this article, we’ve gathered advice and tips on Customer Self-Service from the point of view of small and medium sized businesses who are growing rapidly and facing challenges around content management, demonstrating return on investment, and communities.

We’re offering some best practices, tips, and techniques to Wow customers with self-service options–from four pros who are using them successfully in their own organizations.

What exactly IS self-service?

Self-service not just your Help Center—it’s all the content you make available to your customers when they want to find information on their own, or when your frontline support team is unavailable. The most common ways a customer locates information independently from a website are:

  • FAQs
  • Public Help Center
  • Community forums (such as Question & Answer forums)
  • Videos
  • Manuals
  • Step-by-step tutorials.

…And what ISN’T it?

Self-service is not a way to foist support off onto the customer—like a self-service grocery checkout! The benefit to customers of thoughtful self-service options is immediate satisfaction—sometimes even a better experience than in-person contact or an email.

Self-service can provide a better service experience in many cases. For example, tutorials are much richer and in-depth than email, and incorporate visuals that support the information and make learning easier. The customer looking for an answer can get it much faster than waiting on hold or waiting for an answer by email.

Madelyn Taylor, Community Support Manager, Rdio, on using self-service techniques to help customers learn more effectively:

“We want people to be able to access visuals, step-by-step directions, and associated helpful links. We also focus on getting the right information into the knowledge base so that a small team can still manage all the support. And the customer gets a more efficient, deeper learning experience because of they have the complete picture.”

Self-service reduces costs!

When they can help themselves 24/7, regardless of your business hours, your customer is reducing service load on your team and thus bringing down the cost of service overall.

These are the surprising facts: A service phone call costs about $33, and an email costs $10! Contrast this with the $1 it costs the company when a customer self serves! That’s a win all around!

As your organization grows, self-service (even with maintenance and curation) is much less expensive. It’s even possible to grow the business without a commensurate growth in staff.

Madelyn on managing a lot of customers with a small team:

“Right now Rdio has five support people supporting hundreds of thousands of listeners. That’s a good ratio. We think scaling support while we grow the business is phenomenal.”

ROI: Measuring effectiveness of self-service touchpoints

To measure success, you need to understand whether you are investing self-service efforts in the right areas. This means quantitative and qualitative analysis.

Jay Kershner, Director of Customer Service, Fitbit, on how he uses metrics:

“We measure the effectiveness of self-service with Google Analytics. We track visitors and see who’s viewing what articles. We try to understand the concrete value of the portal, find which articles are most liked, and which we have the opportunity to improve.”

Graham Murphy, Support Manager, Desk.com on why statistics matter:

“The analytics game–if you aren’t doing it, you should be. Is there a high bounce rate? That could mean there’s not enough context or interest. Check the ratings of the articles. Look at categories to measure whether self service is working. For instance, we can see that 47% of our answers this month could have been provided through self-service. So that permits us to evolve our content and lower that percentage.”

Madelyn Taylor on being persistent:

“When you track Google Analytics over time you’ll get amazing data.”

What metrics should you measure?

  • How many people are viewing the information you make available?
  • What is the ratio of assisted transactions to customers? In other words, as the customer base grows, are people finding more of their own answers?
  • When customers find the content that should answer their question, what is the positive-to-negative rating ratio–do people find the content helpful?
  • What percentage of self-help sessions lead back to assisted cases? If this percentage is high, the content is not providing the help your customers need and you can improve content.

Best Practices in Self-Service: The Top Ten (+ Bonus)

1. Curate your content thoughtfully and organize it clearly.
2. Provide a feedback mechanism, (and listen to the feedback.)
3. Review content frequently to make sure information is up to date and useful to customers

Graham Murphy on iterative improvement to content:

“Make sure you’re flagging cases that have a need for self-help content. Keep a list and keep writing up those articles. Iterative improvement is the key. It’s not easy to write effective, successful documentation. It’s important to remember, though, that it saves time in the long run. Just keep at it, even one a day if that’s all you can do. Just start.”

Madelyn Taylor on persistence:

“Just keep working at it. At Rdio, we manage content through Google spreadsheets. We pay attention and have built our knowledge base slowly into a really useful tool.”

4. Moderate forum discussions; it is important that the brand has a strong presence.

Graham Murphy on the importance of moderation:

“Advocates can help provide support for you, as long as you moderate your public forums–you don’t want a free-for-all with no company presence. A forum is a great way for customers to help each other and themselves.”

Madelyn on the community to find important topics to cover:

“We use the community Q&A component to help grow our library of knowledge base articles. We want people to interact with each other in a public place with a public knowledge base of questions that they can search. We very actively put content on public site, and then watch the service requests drop.”

5. On your website, guide the customer to self-help options. Provide a single entry point for help options, don’t confuse them with too many choices.

6. Always keep Search front and center, easy to find and easy to use.

7. Offer one final try to match the request with suggested answers before an email submission.

8. Recognize the user; don’t bother them by collecting extraneous information as if they were strangers.

Dan Stern, VP of Customer Wow at Desk.com, on barrier-free self-service:

“Self-service options are not the place to make customers jump through hoops to get information. Save that for registrations or resources like ebooks. Customers who are looking for information on your site are focused on one thing: getting what they need. They will feel more kindly disposed toward brands that make that as easy as possible to do.”

9. Use links within the product or application that point to self-help choices, and keep that information current.

Dan Stern, on keeping content current:

“It’s worth repeating that having information that is accurate and up to date brings your service load down. Watch your metrics over time. Make sure that your agents have a clear process for reporting issues that need to be clarified or added to the content library.”

10. Provide mobile self-help options.
11. Provide an easy and clear escalation path. Don’t make it difficult to contact you directly.

What’s Self-Service Worth?

It’s clear that you will need patience and vigilance to establish the ROI of self-service. By perseverance, tracking metrics, and monitoring your customers’ Searches on your site, you can reduce service load considerably over time. And that means happier employees and happier customers. And that’s what it’s all about.

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AltaFlux Corporation

By AltaFlux Corporation

AltaFlux understands what you and your organization need to excel, and can deliver rapid innovation to unleash your full workforce potential. Together, we can empower your business by streamlining, transforming, and optimizing your key HCM and talent processes with industry-leading SAP SuccessFactors technology—enabling you to adapt at the speed of change.