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How to make customer on-demand self-service a success story

on-demand self-service

Does customer on-demand self-service mean impersonal service? It’s a valid concern for marketers and customer experience managers because how you make customers feel is important.

After all, according to Forrester:

‘…emotion plays a critical role in differentiating brands and has a bigger impact on brand loyalty than effectiveness or ease of use, regardless of industry.’ 

And yet, all three factors do matter. That’s why Forrester’s Customer Experience Index—a measure of how successfully companies deliver customer experiences that create and sustain loyalty—is scored based on effectiveness, ease, and emotion. 

The goal for any business is to ensure that customer interactions offer value in an easy to access way that’s also enjoyable—or leaves customers feeling good. 

When it comes to providing customer self-service, the concept may in fact be appealing to many customers who prefer to be in control, however, it depends on the context and the quality of the self-service experience. If a website or online portal doesn’t actually meet customers’ needs or offer increased convenience, it could actually add to their frustration.

How well you introduce on-demand self-service options will determine whether you can keep customers happy.

What is self-service and when do customers value it? 

Self-service is providing support that helps people to find answers and solutions to queries themselves or complete a task without assistance. On-demand queries require making self-service options available when and where needed.

Digital tools make self-service easier to deliver, through informative websites, apps, and customer-facing web interfaces that connect to companies’ back-end systems. Examples of self-service channels include web content such as online forms, online account portals, FAQs, online tutorials, on-site search, AI chatbots/virtual assistants, and customer forums. 

Not all customers want to self-service on their own—but many do.

When Accenture studied the changing expectations of customers, they found people want more digital interactions, do more research, evaluate providers more often, listen more to reviews, and are more impatient. Almost 90% use online channels before buying from a company and nearly two-thirds said they use online channels across sales, marketing, and service because of their speed and convenience.

If you can leverage digital tools to help people achieve their objectives without fuss, at any given moment, you’re on the right path. 

That doesn’t mean self-service is a cure-all. More accurately, your customers want a seamless omnichannel experience and self-service channels are some of the most valued. 

Salesforce research shows that 40% of customers won’t do business with a company if they can’t use their preferred channels. Top choices for communicating with a company include email, phone, and in-person—but many people also want to communicate via online chat (45%), online portals (43%), knowledge bases (41%), online forms (36%), and text (31%).  

Introducing self-service options should be done in a way that augments existing channels and broadens the opportunities for your customers to get satisfaction.

Benefits of well-designed self-service options

If customers are able to find information they want quickly, without having to speak with a customer service representative, it’s a win for your business on many levels.

You’ll be able to reduce the time and resources required to help customers with simple tasks they want to handle on their own. That increases efficiency and lowers the impact on customer service channels that require staffing and means you can invest more energy into making other interactions better. 

Great on-demand self-service via channel of choice boosts overall customer experience. It seems counterintuitive to say that a lack of personal contact helps build good relationships—but it can when self-service delivers on customers’ expectations and your brand promises (making their lives easier, for example). 

High-quality and personalised online content, great user experience, and a sense of accomplishing their goals means self-service can create feel-good emotions that underpin best practice customer experience.

Positive emotions may arise more from reducing customer effort than token attempts to ‘delight’ them. Gartner found that 96% of customers who had high-effort experiences reported being disloyal, compared to only 9% of customers with low-effort experience. 

What constituted high-effort?

  • Having to contact a company multiple times
  • Non-personalised service
  • Having to repeat information

What kind of self-service guidance do customers need?

Self-service is most effective when it surfaces essential information or simplifies common tasks that customers need to manage. For example, how to use or modify a product or service, return an item, pay a bill, or apply for a new service or claim. 

There are two elements to great self-service: content and how that content is accessed. Both need to be top-notch to make the experience engaging.

Let’s take your company website, for example. A mobile-friendly interactive site that presents relevant information in an easy-to-find manner is now a business imperative, especially given the amount of other marketing channels and communications that funnel customers to a company site. 

These statistics from Think with Google are revealing:

  • 61% of users said that if they didn’t find what they were looking for right away on a mobile site, they’d quickly move on to another site
  • 79% of people who don’t like what they find on one site will go back and search for another site
  • 50% of people said that even if they like a business, they’ll use it less often if the website isn’t mobile-friendly

Customers will feel frustrated, think you don’t care, and take their business elsewhere if your self-service channels aren’t designed with their needs in mind. 

It’s no use having a comprehensive FAQ section that takes ten clicks to reach and only works in some browsers. Conversely, putting FAQs on your home page won’t help unless they provide satisfactory answers to the right questions.

Connect self-service to your ‘big picture’ customer experience 

It’s also important that self-service options are complemented by helpful interactions across the entire customer journey. 

For instance:

  • Promoting self-service options through channel of choice
  • Consistent messaging and self-service experiences across multiple channels
  • Personalising self-service options and content based on a customer’s history
  • Making it easy to escalate issues and deal with a knowledgeable customer service representative

Through their Customer Service Barometer survey, American Express found that while more than six in ten consumers said self-service was their go-to for simple enquiries, as the complexity of issues increased (such as payment disputes or complaints) customers wanted to speak to a real person.

The key takeaway is that a well-designed self-service that’s offered as part of an integrated approach to engaging customers across all of your business’ touchpoints is certain to deliver a great customer experience.

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