Changing Consumer Behaviors Make Self-Service Growth Inevitable

In the past, most businesses thought of CRM solely as a database that stored vital contact information about customers. Today, this definition doesn't do justice to the growing field of customer engagement and satisfaction. As anyone working within the marketing industry knows, CRM spans every touchpoint a company has with its customers—from email campaigns to surveys to online analytics and even social media. With the rise of growing data collection capabilities, CRM is evolving to house invaluable information about customer preferences, conversations, and behaviors using data garnered from emerging self-service technologies. Coupled with these services, CRM is poised to become a powerhouse of unrivaled customer data that fuels business decisions and improves user experience.

Customer behavior is also changing rapidly. Consumers who have long relied on the telephone for their communication needs are quickly being replaced by a younger generation that is more comfortable texting than dialing. These new customers are likely to use a self-service option that mirrors how they engage socially via email, text, and chat, finding the information they need without physically speaking to another person. As customer engagement patterns change, so will CRM system capabilities.

Breaking Down CRM and Helpdesk Silos

Siloed approaches only get businesses so far, since FAQs and generic helpdesks do not reflect how tech-savvy consumers engage with each other. Seamless self-service hinges on understanding how your customers prefer to communicate and creating avenues for them to do so. The first step in seamless self-service is providing self-learning services, followed by integrated chat, then elevated speaking with customer service agents. This tiered approach reflects the preferred communication modes of today's emerging customer base.

Not only are self-learning services catered to how consumers wish to engage, but they can also reduce operating expenses for businesses. Fewer customer service staff are needed to help customers using this medium, and typing out answers or speaking on the phone occupies valuable time compared to object-oriented help approaches. Additionally, companies spend exorbitantly to learn more about their customers. Surveying, polling, and other means to gather data have been laborious and expensive, but self-service collects meaningful data while reducing overhead.

The Rise of Self-Service for Customer Engagement

Prior to the emergence of self-service technologies, companies seeking to learn about their customers typically relied on polls and surveys, which were flawed for a number of reasons. Too few consumers answered the surveys for the results to be considered statistically significant or reliable, and customers' responses reflected a snapshot of their opinions, not their behaviors over time. Self-service support helps companies learn what users care about and where they care about it in real time, rendering the survey approach moot and unnecessary. By seeing what customers asked and what answers were valuable to them, businesses gain valuable information that is more reliable than self-reported measures.

Existing CRM tools, such as HubSpot, Google Analytics, and Salesforce.com integrations, measure conversion rates, frequency and duration of visits, and where customers click and hover, but they do not illuminate what customers are thinking as they navigate a site. Self-service technology goes beyond these tools to help companies understand what customers are thinking and where they became confused, adding insightful and actionable data to CRM systems.

Jake Wobbrock is an associate professor in the Information School at the University of Washington. He is the cofounder, president, and CEO of AnswerDash, which helps companies offer selection-based, self-service answers on their Web sites, Web applications, and via mobile devices.

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