How to Deliver Superior Online Customer Service
Three self-service mistakes to avoid.
Posted Nov 15, 2007
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It's essential to make it easy for customers to find answers to their questions on your company's Web site. Making knowledge available to customers online can result in high self-service success rates and significantly reduced contact center workloads. Failure to provide great online self-service increases the likelihood that customers will abandon purchases and have an unsatisfactory experience with your company. This poor customer service causes chronic customer frustration and drives up costs, since more questions will have to be answered by phone and email. Three mistakes in particular can undermine the effectiveness of the Web as a self-service channel: Mistake #1: Being Content with Content Companies mistakenly believe that the presence of lots of good content on the site is sufficient. This belief is problematic for several reasons. First of all, it doesn't matter how good your content is if customers can't readily pinpoint the specific piece of knowledge they need. In fact, an overabundance of content can actually create problems -- since it makes the "haystack" even more overwhelming in proportion to the "needle" the customer's looking for. Second, it's critical to align all that information with the customer's actual needs: The completeness of any site's content is subjectively determined by the customer -- not by internal content authors. Third, an overemphasis on initial content can result in insufficient attention to ongoing content management. Customers' information needs are always changing. So the mechanisms by which online content is modified over time is ultimately more important than the initial content itself. Mistake #2: Trusting Search Another common misconception is that the search function is the best way to connect customers with knowledge. In fact, on many sites, a search box is the only way for customers to pinpoint the answer they seek. This is a mistake. Research indicates that Internet users generally try once to enter search terms and then only look at a couple of documents on the first page of returned results. If they don't find what they need at that point, they quit. They assume that either the information they want isn't there or that the search tool is weak. They rarely make the effort to improve their search terms. Customers prefer to browse -- especially if they have a tangible sense that they are getting "warmer" as they do so. They also prefer to peruse a list of answers based on an intelligent prediction of their needs. When presented with a choice between search and a predictive list, 80 percent of customers choose the list. To boost self-service success, make relevant answers available via browsing and lists, rather than search alone. This can be done through the use of readily available artificial-intelligence (AI) technologies that automatically "learn" what customers want based on how they collectively click their way through the site. Some companies have even found that the right list of "Top 20" answers can satisfy 85 percent or more of all online self-service queries. Of course, it's also good to optimize search results so that they provide relevant content even when customers misspell words or use unexpected search terms. But even the best search technology can never match the power of predictive answer lists and AI-enhanced browsing. Mistake #3: Thinking Inside-Out Finally, companies fail to view the search for information from the customer's point of view. They project their own intimate knowledge of their products and their business onto their customers -- who don't have that same knowledge. This "inside-out" perspective results in sites that frustrate customers, rather than sites that make it easy for even novices to find what they're looking for. For example, many companies segment knowledge in terms of "Product A," "Product B," and "Product C." Customers, on the other hand, may think in terms of "installation," "operation," and "maintenance" -- rather than specific products or model numbers. Customers also typically look for answers in the context of an overall objective -- such as making a purchase or getting a job done. They need to be able to find answers while they're filling their shopping cart or viewing some portion of an online manual. Rather than isolating answers in some specific area of a site, give customers easy access to content from anywhere on the site where that content may be relevant -- including marketing and shopping pages. Web sites have come a long way since the early days of static pages displaying Frequently Asked Questions. But it's too soon for companies to become complacent about the online experience they provide. By better understanding how customers look for information -- and by applying that understanding in order to more effectively give them the answers they seek online -- companies simultaneously offer competitively differentiated service and cut costs. About the Author As head of applied research, Doug Warner leads active researchers contributing directly to RightNow's innovative technology. Since joining RightNow in 1999, Doug has been granted five U.S. and international patents on artificial intelligence and information retrieval, with numerous others pending.
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