Most organisations understand that great customer experience is pivotal to staying competitive. They also recognise that in an increasingly connected world, that experience has to be digital. Key to both is ensuring that their self-service portals are as compelling as possible, says Greg Gatherer, Account Manager at Liferay .

Strategic customer experience leaders also recognise that customer-facing solutions, like web portals, must include self-service elements in order to be a truly effective and valuable tool. In fact, research shows that 69% of consumers first try to resolve their issue on their own, showing just how important self-service is.

Additionally, Gartner estimates that 85% of all customer service interactions will start with self-service by 2022. Despite that, less than one-third of companies offer self-service options such as a knowledge base.

That suggests a deficit of understanding when it comes to the advantages self-service portals afford the user, and how to implement them correctly.

Why self-service matters

It’s not difficult to see why so many customers prefer self-service options either. Self-service customer support is often more convenient, faster, and more flexible with respect to customers’ unique time, energy, and resource availability.

Because customer self-service channels tend to require much lower customer effort inputs than other customer service channels, users are drawn to them. People are always likely to choose the option which requires the least amount of energy on their part. This is actually far from the cliché of “just wanting to speak to a human”, as most would rather solve a problem themselves.

But customer preference isn’t the only reason to invest in a self-service portal. Well-implemented self-service can provide long-term benefits such as:

  • Decreased number of support calls
  • Faster support response times
  • Greater volume of support handled
  • Increased customer satisfaction

But self-service can only provide those benefits if it is, indeed, well-implemented.

The right kind of implementation

Since customer portals (such as websites and apps) should already be a customer-facing channel businesses are actively using, adding self-service is the most obvious and advantageous tactic to provide additional value for customers and to enhance the existing tool. Many businesses actually already have the knowledge and services to support self-service, they just need a focused strategy to bring everything together in an effective customer-facing solution.

The first step in creating such a solution is for the organisation to assess the content it already has available. Since self-service is designed to equip customers to find the information they need without any assistance, the knowledge content, whether that be articles, videos, or images, must be ready first.

The organisation should also have a full understanding of current customer journeys. That means finding the answers to questions such as:

  • How many customers use the customer portal multiple times a week?
  • What information are customers looking to find in the customer portal?
  • Where are the points of conflict during a typical customer journey when a customer will reach out for help?
  • What questions do customer service representatives find themselves answering over and over again?

Having established the answers to these questions, and created content in line with them, organisations can start adding functionality to their customer portals. So, for example, they might include knowledge bases that include a browseable and searchable database of topics, articles, tutorials, and other relevant information or forums, which encourage knowledge exchange between customers and promote open discussions.

Organisations should also include features which make it easy for users to manage their accounts, which can include editing personal information, notification preferences, as well as allow them the option to close accounts.

Digital assistants, such as chatbots, will also be critical in providing instant self-service to customers. Especially with the advancements in AI, these digital assistants will only become more effective.

Beyond building

Of course, organisations can’t just build self-service functionality into their customer portals and hope that people will start using it. They also need to put effort into ensuring that customers are aware of the benefits of self-service and that it is available as an option.

Additionally, they can’t assume that self-service will work in every instance. When customers have highly complicated or unique questions and situations that require human expertise or if they prefer to speak to representatives instead of searching for the answer online, then the organisation’s support team should be ready to jump in.

Addition, not a replacement

Ultimately, self-service does not give businesses the license to simply ignore their customers, until it’s time to cross-sell or upsell. Self-service is meant to elevate the existing customer service experience, not replace it.

But as customers move towards a fully connected world enabled by technology, the demand for immediacy, connectivity, and simplicity in every interaction on their buying journey will only grow stronger. Companies that are able to provide relevant and agile customer experiences will be the ones that differentiate themselves from their competitors, and a compelling self-service offering is critical to that.

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