What Is Self-Service?
To create a self-service Web site that helps customers help themselves, you can support customers through various means like field-based contextual Help, validation messages—which often appear too late to be of real help—instructional text—which users often don’t read—FAQs, and user’s manuals. As customers try to accomplish their tasks, they first rely on the contextual Help and instructional text that appear on a specific page within the context in which they’re working, then on FAQs and Help on the site.
However, if there is a mismatch between the workflow a site presents and what customers want to do, if a site’s terminology is hard to understand, or if completing tasks requires so many steps customers cannot easily accomplish their goals, customers lose confidence in a Web site as a self-service channel and quickly look for other ways to get the answers they need—for example, in-person support from a family member, coworker, or support staff at work or a Web site’s Customer Support number.
Characteristics of Customers
- are time constrained—Their attention is broken and distributed over many activities. The less you make customers think about additional, unnecessary elements when completing their goals, the better. When customers use your Web site, they are highly motivated to complete a specific goal quickly and efficiently.
- don’t know about your company—They’re not familiar with your business operations, your internal company jargon, or your company structure. Using your customer’s language in your user interface helps customers to serve themselves better.
- scan content—They look for trigger words—“words and phrases that…contain the essential elements to provide the motivation to continue…,”according to Jared Spool’s article on UIE, “The Right Trigger Words.”
- want quick answers—They value ease of use and ready access to information.
- are not like you—They have different PC setups, speak different languages, and might have slower connections to the Internet.
- love simplicity—In an increasingly competitive marketplace, customers are demanding simpler products. Of course, customers continue to want new capabilities, too, but not if they impinge on ready access to key functions. Customers hanker after products that truly help make their lives easier.
Your Product Is Not Your Customers’ Focus
As much as you might like your customers to focus on your products, they are unlikely to do so. However, customers value any product that
- makes something easier to do than it currently is
- is easier to use than a competitive product or method
- provides a clear value proposition—what’s in it for me?
- has a quick pay-off in terms of convenience or other benefits
Business Benefits of Usability—Reduced Support Costs
The four most common business benefits of usability are:
- higher revenues through increased sales
- increased user efficiency
- reduced development costs
- reduced support costs
Let’s focus on the fourth item in the list—reduced support costs. In his article titled “A Business Case for Usability,” David Travis wrote: “Companies benefit from reduced support and maintenance costs in the following ways:
- “A product or Web site that is intuitive to use means that documentation can be eliminated or at least minimized.
- “Usability testing will flush out the uncertainties customers have about a product, which can then be addressed in the page content—for a Web site—or the packaging—for a product. Providing a fix for these problems means that customers will not have to call or email Customer Support with simple questions about the product.
- “A product that is simple to set up is less likely to be returned. For example, research shows that over 60% of mobile phones returned as faulty turn out to be working perfectly—the returns are wholly due to usability problems with the handsets. (This costs the mobile industry in the UK over £54m per annum.)”
The Bottom Line
If you can provide an easy ways for customers to serve themselves via the Web, Customer Support can focus on handling more complex enquiries over the phone or even use some of their time to sell products.
Different Kinds of Customer Support for Different Problems
As technology continues to develop, there are ever more channels companies can use for communicating with their customers—for marketing, customer service, information alerts, and technical support. Used well, technology can make it possible for a business to reduce costs, service user requests faster, and build stronger relationships with customers. But, if you try to force customers into using channels that don’t suit their needs or don’t choose the right service options for each channel, the results can be self-defeating.
Creating a Win-Win Situation
The benefits of a good match between channel and customer service task are obvious: a business can service user requests faster and do so via a channel their customers prefer.
For example, migrating some customer support tasks to the Web makes sense for business, because it takes a burden off Customer Support and potentially lets support representatives have richer dialogues with customers. It can also save a business money. For example, having airfare receipts online makes it easy for a business traveler to submit expense reports, while saving the costs of either having staff service requests for duplicates of receipts or printing and mailing paper receipts to everyone. A company might provide other types of information through more than one channel. For example, a mobile customer might want to keep track of phone usage on the phone and on the Web, depending on which was more convenient at the moment.
Understanding Customers and Customer Service Tasks
Evaluating technology usage from the standpoint of whether technology can empower customers requires a deeper understanding of customers, customer service tasks, and customers’ dialogue with your company. To make the right technology choices, we need to understand three different elements: customers, customer service tasks, and business goals.
Who Are Your Customers?
You need to answer the following questions about your customers:
- Who are your customers, and how do they interact with your company now?
- What kinds of support do they need to be satisfied customers?
- Where, how, and why do customers use your products or services?
- What channels do customers use most often when communicating with you?
- What information do your customers need and when?
- How do customers interact with you now, and how would they prefer to interact with you?
Customer Service Tasks
Each customer service task is unique. Examples of customer service tasks include paying a bill, transferring monies, applying for a service, booking a flight, redeeming reward points, and so on. You should get answers to the following questions:
- What does it take to complete each customer service task effectively and efficiently and promote customer satisfaction?
- How often do customers need to complete each task?
- How urgent is each task? Does a task require immediate attention? Does it stop a customer from continuing to use your product?
- Does a task require product knowledge?
- Would a customer need help from an expert?
- Does a task have a high value in building customer relationships?
Business Goals for Customer Service
To understand your company’s business goals for customer service, ask these questions:
- What are your business goals for customer service, and how can better use of your online channels help you meet them?
- When and how do you want to have direct communication with your customers?
- Which customer service tasks are business priorities?
- Which customer service tasks offer opportunities for cross-selling or improving customer relationships?
Technical Requirements for Customer Service
The last consideration is technical requirements. Has your company put the right business processes and technical data structures in place to support the customer service tasks? If not, the misinformation or crisscrossed orders that might result can damage rather than support your customer relationships. A business cannot support customer service tasks via its Web site unless the business is operationally ready to support them.