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Article 7 min read

Customer self-service support: why companies need it and how to do it right

See how customer self-service support and agents can work together to provide an exceptional service experience that keeps your customers coming back.

By Emily Miels

Last updated July 29, 2021

To offer superior support, customer service teams need their systems, tools, processes – and most of all – people to work in harmony. But in lieu of personalised service, a customer self-service portal is your stand-in and it needs to be just as good as your agents.

This harmonious approach is important because 69% of customers want to resolve as many issues as possible on their own using customer self-service options, according to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report.

Of course, customer self-service examples don’t replace human support, as many customers still prefer speaking to a live agent when they have an issue. Rather, the two should seamlessly work together to provide an exceptional service experience that keeps your customers coming back.

Solving for speed and complexity

Time and complexity are key factors in choosing between customer self-service and an agent. Our Customer Experience Trends Report revealed that half of customers choose a channel based on how fast they need a response, and about 40% choose a channel based on the complexity of their issue.

With that in mind, customer self-service examples are ideal for people who have simple queries and want a fast response, while those who have more complicated issues may need live assistance.

When customers prefer customer self-service

Many customers want the ability to resolve problems on their own. A report from Microsoft found that 86% of customers expect a self-service option. Here are a few customer self-service examples where customers may opt to help themselves:

  • For a quick answer to a simple question. Customer self-service resources – blogs, FAQ pages, videos, chatbots – are all capable of resolving straightforward issues without intervention from an agent. Customers get their answers without waiting, and agents don’t answer the same question hundreds of times a day.
  • When wait times for representatives are long. Most of us have experienced the dreaded ‘Your call is important to us’ automated message that repeats over and over as we sit on hold. When COVID-19 shutdowns began in March 2020, many customers spent hours on hold with airline and credit card companies. These long wait times are frustrating, so customers often prefer using customer self-service portal options instead of waiting a long time to speak to an agent.
  • When support is needed after hours. Customers expect 24/7 support, but it isn’t feasible for most companies to have agents available all the time. Such customer self-service examples allow customers to get the help they need outside of business hours without the cost of hiring additional employees.
    The goal for providing customer self-service in these scenarios is to streamline interactions, especially to resolve simpler issues, saving both customers and agents time.

The goal for providing customer self-service examples in these scenarios is to streamline interactions, especially to resolve simpler issues, saving both customers and agents time.

When customers rely on live assistance

Customers may require extra guidance when issues are more pressing, emotional or anxiety-inducing. Here are some situations where customers may turn to phone, chat or messaging support with a live agent:

  • For urgent or ‘high-stakes’ issues. If your child is sick or injured, for example, you’ll want to speak to a real-life medical professional – not a bot. When something is high-stakes, we tend to gravitate toward people to alleviate anxieties. A Harvard study found that simply having the option to contact a support agent directly (whether the customer did or not) significantly helped to relieve apprehension.
  • For complex issues. Some situations are ambiguous and complicated. In those cases, AI often isn’t suited to adequately respond and often leaves customers feeling dissatisfied. In these customer self-service examples, since they’re not operating off a preprogrammed script, humans can provide more creative solutions and go the extra mile when necessary to increase satisfaction and resolve difficult issues.
  • When unable to access technology. According to the Pew Research Center, 15% of adults in the United States don’t own a smartphone and 23% don’t have a computer at home. Even if they do have access to technology, many still feel uncomfortable using it and don’t fully embrace customer self-service. These consumers will likely prefer direct contact with agents regardless of the nature of their issue.

When situations are more nuanced and emotionally charged, a human touch is often necessary. In cases like that, live agents provide the extra support customers need to feel confident and taken care of.

3 helpful self-service examples for customer service teams

Many customers prefer to start with customer self-service because it’s convenient for simple issues. They can then get an agent involved if necessary.

A customer self-service portal is also a useful cost-effective solution for businesses. Research from Gartner showed that live channels, including phone calls and emails, cost an average of £5.75 per contact, whereas self-service solutions cost about £0.07 per contact.

By offering customer self-service examples, you’re freeing up agents to handle more complicated situations. It also empowers you to serve more customers and save your company thousands of pounds. To get started, consider implementing one of these three self-service solutions to work in tandem with your customer service reps.

  1. Chatbots

    Chatbots communicate with customers across chat, messaging, email, Slack and more. Bots use AI to understand user requests and provide a response based on programming.

    Chatbots are always online and great at answering basic questions, gathering information and handling low-priority tickets to save your support team time. Case in point: Trustpilot, an online review platform, reached a 10% customer self-service resolution rate by using Zendesk’s Answer Bot as their first line of defense for deflection.

    If an agent is needed, chatbots can quickly connect the customer to live support. They may also transfer important background information and provide context, so the agent can quickly get up to speed with the customer’s request.

    Chatbot self-service support

  2. Help centres

    Help centres, also known as knowledge bases, are customer self-service portals that provide quick access to key resources, tutorials and information for both customers and support agents. They should be searchable and easy to navigate.

    This type of customer self-service portal option is great for customers who want to research and troubleshoot issues on their own before contacting support. They can read in-depth guides or watch instructional videos at their own pace, rather than having to wait for an agent to walk them through it.

    Help centres should also include contact information for your support team or use a bot/live chat integration; that way, through a customer self-service portal customers can get in touch with a human rep if they’re confused or need additional assistance. Agents can use knowledge-base articles, too, to answer customer questions and remain consistent in their responses.

    Help center self-service support

  3. Communities

    Communities are online forums and groups that allow customers to ask and answer questions publicly and share knowledge with others. These responses are generally saved and searchable so customers can view previous enquiries if they have a similar issue.

    Much like customer self-service examples such as help centres, communities allow customers to dig in and problem-solve both basic and more complex issues when it’s most convenient. Because answers come from their peers and fellow users, customers enjoy a sense of camaraderie and human connection there as well.

    Your customer service team can monitor discussions and respond directly when necessary to avoid escalations. Given that the forum is open, agents can often assist multiple people with the same issue at one time.

    Communities as self-service support

Blend customer self-service options with human support for the best results

Customers are happiest when they’re able to choose how to connect with you when they have a question or issue that needs to get resolved. By offering both customer self-service portal options and live assistance, you empower customers to get the answers they need in the way they want them, and set agents up to provide the best customer service experience possible.

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