Helping Customers Help Themselves

Like it or not, self-service is now a key component of successful customer support. Because it achieves the goals of both customer satisfaction and reduced costs, the pressure to move significant amounts of support to the Internet is coming from all sides: business managers wanting to cut costs and customers desiring to get immediate help and the satisfaction of solving problems themselves. What this means is that support organizations must not only be experts at answering the phone, but also at preventing users from picking up the phone by providing an online environment that will solve their problems and meet their goals. Most of the changes that occur as a result of a support organization's dual role bring obvious benefits, but these benefits also pose new challenges. The following changes require support organizations to adapt and establish best practices as they tackle the new challenges of supporting both assisted and self-service. Routine inquiries are moving to the Web, freeing up agents for more complex calls As customers solve problems themselves, the Internet and IVR systems are becoming the first level of support, and the call center is handling calls that are more complex. This requires a trained support individual or a robust knowledge base to resolve incoming calls. Organizations should spend time developing a knowledge base with solid and easy-to-find answers to problems that agents can deliver to customers regardless of the skill level of the agent. Support organizations are becoming "Web publishers"
Most content that is available to CSRs answering calls should also be made available to self-service customers. Support organizations must now include knowledge workers and content experts in a never-ending effort to publish content to the Internet. Several software knowledgebase tools designed specifically for the support environment specialize in publishing solutions to the Web, without having to know HTML editing and without having to solicit the aid of Webmasters. The best tools also provide the ability to secure portions of the content from unauthorized viewing, avoiding duplicate authoring for both public and internal use. Customers' expectations are high for self-service Customers expect the same level of service from the Internet as they get from the phone, with the added benefit of not having to wait for a phone representative. Customers expect to be able to open a ticket or case on the Internet and get same-day service. Support organizations must formulate best practices to deliver same-day support and encourage customers to help themselves, allowing the organization to better allocate resources rather than staffing to peak call times. As customers become more technically savvy, they expect the content on the Internet and the content presented by support representatives to be consistent. The need for support organizations to "author once" and use the same content for Web, email, chat, and phone becomes imperative. When customer self-service is consistent and reliable, consumers tend to be more satisfied. The customer can access information unassisted, leading to improved self-confidence in the product and company, and thereby enhancing customer loyalty. Customers who have unsuccessfully tried to help themselves may be frustrated and angry by the time they reach a support representative. This is exacerbated when the support representative suggests the same steps the user may have already attempted. It is important for the support representative to be able to view the customer's self-service session history and avoid repetitive and redundant suggestions. New opportunities to communicate with customers Although the number of self-service activities continues to grow exponentially, the number of customer calls coming into the call center is not always decreasing. Self-service is addressing a new audience of customers that would not normally pick up the phone--and little is known about these customers. Gathering metrics on these customers, including the questions they are asking and the products and topics that they are searching, is key to understanding this customer group. The opportunity to communicate with these customers via 24x7 self-service is every bit as important as via the phone--sometimes even more so, because a competitor's Web site is a click away. Not only is the content needed to address these consumers' issues, but there also is an added responsibility to organize the content in a way that is logical and findable. Support organizations that supply content to self-service Web sites, also must become usability experts. This means testing the self-service site on prospective customers before posting, then continually testing it every time changes are made. Even the smallest changes in labeling can confuse users, so whenever possible, make changes only to those items that add real value. By providing an easy-to-use and content rich self-service environment, support organizations will meet the challenges that self-service brings and enhance the overall customer experience. About the Author Marcia Bales is the director of product planning at Primus Knowledge Solutions, a provider of knowledge interaction management software solutions. Bales has more than 10 years of leadership experience in the software and Web-application industry. Previously, she was the executive producer of at Sierra On-line, a division of Vivendi-Universal, and was responsible for the release of 20-plus Web-enabled software applications.
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