Great support agents have one thing in common: they happily go above and beyond to help their customers resolve an issue. Which support agent doesn’t feel good when wrapping up a support call with the caller gushing words of relief and gratitude? But delighting customers isn’t a great measure to ensure customer loyalty. Research suggests that the key factor that positively correlates to customer loyalty more than any other is low customer effort. And what could be less effort than the ability to self-serve, i.e. to access a support portal from any device at any time?
The demand for self-service is so great (76% of customers prefer it) that customers who are forced to interact with a support agent via phone are 10x more disloyal. These statistics leave you with only one option: To implement a support strategy that (1) creates a self-service platform that guides your customers to effortless success, and that (2) enables your support team to provide immediate support for the 24% of your customers who prefer phone interactions or for issues that need escalation. Little known fact: your existing help content can do both. All you need is a self-service strategy.
Signs of an effective self-service strategy
The implementation of a self-service strategy as outlined below, should:
- Provide a low-effort support channel for customers.
- Increase customer loyalty by allowing customers to successfully self-serve.
- Deflect support tickets by providing a guided self-service experience.
- Reduce mean-time-to-resolution by allowing agents to quickly find complex solutions for customers.
- Provide analytical data to leverage in the decision-making process to optimize strategies.
Implement a self-service strategy
The key element of a successful self-service strategy is low effort. The steps below outline how to provide low-effort self-service solutions to your customers.
Step 1: Take inventory of your customer support calls
Before jumping into creating a plan, identify when customers call support. You need to find out where customers experience the greatest friction in finding solutions and any related obstacles. Give yourself some time to collect this data (depending on your call volume, one to two months). Instruct your support agents to ask specific questions when on a support call and to record the answers:
- What issue was the customer trying to solve?
- How often did the customer attempt to solve the issue?
- Did the customer attempt to solve the issue through other channels before calling support?
- Where did the customer look for solutions to the issue?
- Where did the customer look first for a solution? (Important!)
- Which channels did the customer use to try to resolve the issue (phone, web, chat, etc.)?
- Which channel would the customer have preferred to use to resolve the issue?
- If the customer looked for solutions via any of your channels, did the customer find a partial solution or a solution addressing a similar issue?
Step 2: Assemble a self-service strategy team
The self-service strategy team is responsible for identifying the most effective self-service channels and designing strategies for implementing a low-effort self-service experience for your customers. Creating a self-service strategy is a cross-departmental effort. The self-service strategy team should include subject matter experts from various departments--such as content strategists, user experience designers, information architects, technical writers, success agents, support agents, engineers and product managers and any other expert who will directly or indirectly contribute to help content.
Step 3: Survey your self-service platform
Just throwing help content into a content management system or into a knowledge base does little to ensure your customers actually are successful in solving their problems, let alone solving them with as little effort as possible. When surveying your self-service platform, ask the following:
- Can your platform organize content to address problems that need a multi-tiered approach?
- Can your platform link micro-procedures to create a comprehensive procedure?
- Can your platform pull content from different areas to create problem-specific procedures without creating duplicate content?
- Can your platform effortlessly guide your customers to solving problems that require complex solutions?
If the above sounds a bit like a learning management system, you are not far off, but learning management systems provide little benefit except for guiding customers down a solution path.
Even if you answered yes to all of the above questions, your platform likely is not capable of providing a self-service experience that ensures the loyalty of your customer base--especially if your customers aren’t even aware of your self-service channel.
Step 4: Identify your self-service channel
The data gathered during your initial inventory should reveal where your customers prefer to find information. If your customers are a typical representation of customers in general, they likely started their attempt to resolve an issue by searching in Google. Google search results are your first opportunity to provide an effortless self-service experience. Instead of letting your customers roam random third-party forums or review sites, your self-service strategy can lead them directly to your help content. How? Leverage a web-based self-service portal such as MindTouch to house your help content. With MindTouch as your customer engagement and success tool, you immediately win the first hurdle by instantly linking your customers to your self-service platform.
Step 5: Implement your self-service strategy
The most important components of an effective self-service strategy is to eliminate obstacles for customers. Remember, customer satisfaction is directly correlated to low effort, i.e. getting to the desired result as quickly as possible.
- From the support call inventory data, review those questions that revealed dead-end or high-effort interactions for customers. Make content that could have guided customers to a solution a priority.
- Write content. If customers could not find problem-solving content, put your self-service strategy team to use and start creating content you know your customers need. Establish an authoring workflow (such as this MindTouch authoring workflow) and assign writers, editors and reviewers as necessary to ensure content is vetted by all subject matter experts.
- Eliminate obstacles. The following obstacles will keep your customers from becoming successful product adopters and loyal advocates:
- Non-SEO friendly content
- Content behind logins
- Unstructured content mazes
- Dead-end knowledge base articles or PDFs
- Partial solutions
Analyze your content. If you have identified the issues your customers are trying to solve most commonly, design linked content paths that guide customers to solving those issues. Leverage your self-service strategy team and decide which solution paths should contain which content. If necessary, create new content to fill in missing steps. Your self-service content should have the following characteristics:
- Content can be easily found by Google
- Content is web based
- Content is responsive on all devices
- Content can be created as microcontent
- Content can include visual media
- Content can be linked
- Content can be updated real-time
- Content can be measured
- Content is easily navigated
- Content can be easily moved
- Content can live in one place in a hierarchy but be plugged into several procedures
- Create guided paths. Aside from providing all of the above benefits out of the box for content, MindTouch has devised the perfect solution for guiding customers: MindTouch Paths. With MindTouch Paths, help content can be organized hierarchically and yet be used as a step in a guided path (or in several paths) without having to create duplicate content or chasing customers down a rabbit-hole. Write micro-procedures and combine them with other micro-procedures to create self-service paths your customers can traverse with as little effort as possible.
Step 6: Allow agents to access your self-service content via your ticketing system
The benefits of an effective self-service strategy extend beyond your customers. If you integrate help content into your ticketing system, your support agents will reap the benefits of immediate accessibility to complex solutions. Imagine a customer calls in with a problem that requires a complex solution:
- Without help content integration:
To research the issue, the support agent has to put the caller on hold for an extended period of time. Since the issue is complex, the agent may have to look for information in several places (some of it is in PDFs, some in emails, some in an internal database, etc.). The interaction is anything but low-effort, and the customer on hold is getting increasingly impatient and swears to not buy again from this company.
- With help content integration:
Depending on your ticketing system, your strategy team decided to either embed a MindTouch Search-in-place Touchpoint or to integrate Geniuslink for Salesforce or Geniuslink for Zendesk. Your agent, as he speaks to the customer, searches for a help solution from right within the ticketing system. Almost instantly, the support agent not only finds part of the solution, but the entire path containing all necessary procedures to solve the customer’s issue. The interaction demands low effort from both the support agent and the customer. The customer is impressed by the swift resolution and happily buys from the company again.
Step 7: Test and audit your self-service strategies
As with any strategy in place, set up test and audit schedules to ensure that your strategies remain effective while you take action to continuously improve the self-service experience:
Once you have put your self-service strategies in place, let customers field test the self-service experience. Ask them how easy it was to solve a problem on their own and adjust content and paths as necessary.
Schedule future audits to periodically inventory the health of site and content and to measure the effectiveness of your implemented strategies.
Leverage user event data to better understand your customers’ behaviors. Use MindTouch Reports or business intelligence tools like GA or Salesforce Wave to allow for informed decision-making when iterating and optimizing your self-service strategy.