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Growth Through Self-Service
Online self-service portals can become high-performance growth engines amid challenging economic times.
Posted Mar 4, 2009
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A vast group of customers are dissatisfied with their self-service experiences on Web sites of technology companies, according to a recent survey. The survey found that 55 percent of consumers rated their self-service experience as about the same, worse, or much worse than it was two years ago. In addition, 65 percent of consumers have switched providers because of poor service or products.

Despite these problems, a robust online self-service and support portal is a competitive necessity, a key strategic differentiator and a growth-engine opportunity. Companies that do not take the steps necessary to enhance their sites will find themselves falling behind organizations whose online self-service support capabilities are more aligned with customer needs and preferences.

To create robust online self-service, companies should:

Start simple

To build a successful online support service, companies with online portals should first focus on common support tasks that can be completed simply and quickly. The site must be based on an information architecture that provides direct access to the site's most helpful user functions. It also needs to have features that facilitate successful completion of user tasks. These include sign-on authentication, a clear path for users to provide feedback, easily accessible links, and multiple methods for submitting requests. To design a highly relevant and compelling user experience-an all-important goal in customer service-designers must understand customers' intentions, how they use the site, and why they visit it.

Ask your users for answers

To build a strong content base, companies should leverage new Web 2.0 technologies. This approach will allow them to draw on the aggregated knowledge of their customers by:

  • Using blogs and forums;
  • Supporting wikis for user/site developer collaboration on issues;
  • Providing tools for rating, tagging, or flagging helpful information; and
  • Offering Really Simple Syndication (RSS) Web feed formats, such as forum entries or news headlines.

These methods can enable users to receive updates on issues that interest them personally. Companies can create a site that helps confirm that their customers can access the exact information they seek, and that the information provided will be up to date and accurate.

Be fast

Providing information quickly is as important as delivering the right content. Users want their problems to be solved by the first customer service person they contact. Given this, two key capabilities need to be delivered:

1) Search engine optimization to help bring customers to a company's Web site; and

2) Robust site search to help enable a company's customers find what they need quickly.

Search engine optimization (SEO) involves editing and organizing content and links on a Web site to increase its potential relevance to specific keywords on general search engines. This enables customers to view a snapshot of their results when searching general search engines. The second capability, robust site search, employs dynamic filtering of results and navigation aimed at helping customers sift with ease through data they find most useful. These searching tools also allow companies to track searches to see which ones are not receiving results. Also, this tool can help companies provide user-generated tagging of data to enhance the search function. This makes it possible for users to rank the usefulness of search results.

Leverage tools

Leading companies do not fight incumbent niche providers. They figure out ways to use them to add value to their sites and customers. There are several examples of using outside tools to push information to user desktops and homepages. They include embedding YouTube videos, allowing information to be bookmarked on homepages, and providing Google and Yahoo gadgets to push information to user desktops and homepages. This adds value for users. This sort of usage, which leverages common tools to help address customers' needs efficiently, aims to enhance user experiences and increase portal flexibility.

Evolve

To stay current and relevant as products and customers' needs continue to evolve, companies must change. Successful support organizations often try to get smarter and seek incremental changes to their products, services, and processes, and make these enhancements easily available to their customers via online support portals. These groups allow and encourage their customers to post new product ideas, and they invite their customers to vote for the best.

Such groups also track the problems in their product lines through the information they gather from their support sites and third-party sites. They monitor the chatter on such sites about their company and its products. They proactively respond to it. They also pull key knowledge back into their sites. And they use this data to solve those problems in their next generation of products. In this way, products and services become more closely tied to customers' needs and desires.

About the Author

Brian Sprague is a senior executive with Accenture's Customer Service and Support Practice. He can be contacted at brian.m.sprague@accenture.com.

Please note that the Viewpoints listed in CRM magazine and appearing on destinationCRM.com represent the perspective of the authors, and not necessarily those of the magazine or its editors. If you would like to submit a Viewpoint for consideration on a topic related to customer relationship management, please email viewpoints@destinationCRM.com.

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