Web Self-Service Will Make You Great

Year after year, consumer surveys reconfirm the fact that the quality of customer service is a critical requirement for repeat business. In a 2008 research study of 4,100 consumers in five continents by Accenture, 67 percent of respondents said that they moved their business to a competitor due to poor customer service, up from 59 percent in 2007.

How can contact center executives, e-business heads, and chief operating officers deliver superior customer service experiences, while meeting cost cutting directives that are sure to have descended from the executive suite in today's economic climate?

There is no doubt that a key ingredient to addressing this challenge is Web self-service. However, the current state of Web self-service leaves much to be desired. According to an SSPA tracking study, successful Web-site visits by customers declined from 48 percent in 2003 to 40 percent in 2007. That said, successful Web self-service sites leverage technology innovations and best practices to take user adoption and experience from "good" to "great". We discuss five such practices in this article.

1. Improve findability through multiple access methods

Customer queries come in all shapes and sizes - from simple informational questions to complex diagnostic or advice-seeking queries. Moreover, customers prefer different ways of looking for content, based on their information consumption styles. A "one size fits all" approach, where users are forced to wade through FAQs or process hundreds of search hits, is a big deterrent to user adoption - whether it is end-customers or contact center agents. Providing more choice in access methods (e.g. browse, guided help, etc., to complement FAQs and search) will increase user adoption across user types, query types and user intent. For example, nontechnical customers will do better with guided help, while tech-savvy customers may prefer to search. A leading GPS device producer was able to reduce phone agent workload by 66 percent through call deflection, enabled by guided-help self-service based on Case-Based Reasoning (CBR) technology.

2. Provide a seamless escalation safety net

This may sound contrarian but offering the option to escalate easily to agent-assisted service will make the user more comfortable in trying out Web self-service and ultimately boost self-service adoption. The key here is to provide a seamless escalation that retains context so that the service transaction can go forward without any repetition of questions. Implementing a Customer Interaction Hub (CIH), an approach advocated by Gartner, enables such no-repeat transition by consolidating multichannel customer interactions, knowledgebases, workflow and integrations in one platform and enabling a 360-degree view of customer interactions and transactions.

3. Sustain content performance through adaptive management

Sophisticated customer service and knowledge management systems can help automate this task through implicit (e.g., analysis of what content is consumed, what minimizes escalations, whether the content covers frequently raised topics, etc.) and explicit (e.g., customer survey) measurement of content accuracy and relevance. The system will then automatically assign content-related tasks to the right people with service levels attached to those tasks, ensuring reliable content performance and reinforcing user trust.

4. Use agent-assisted service to increase self-service adoption

This is similar to providing training wheels to kids learning how to ride a bike. Innovative technologies such as Web collaboration or cobrowsing with simultaneous phone conversation can be used by agents to coach customers on how to use Web self-service to drive future adoption. A premier US asset management company uses this approach to coach customers on how to use Web self-service to find answers and fill forms, driving future adoption and online conversion.

5. Add a human face, even if virtual

As the digital generation moves to the Web and other electronic media as preferred communication channels, offering a chatbot interface to Web self-service presents an opportunity to deliver innovative, brand-building self-service that can also help cut costs through call deflection. Again, an important requirement for success here is to provide context-aware escalation to assisted service. With a chatbot, a leading US bank was able to deflect 30 percent of phone calls to Web self-service at a 96 percent success rate, while handling a 220 percent increase in customer contacts with no additional staffing. A leading US insurance company offers chatbot self-service to answer questions from consumers and insurance agents, reducing incoming calls by 30 percent. A leading bank in Japan uses a chatbot, modeled after an actor featured in their television ads, for a unique, multichannel, brand-building customer experience. Over the years, chatbot technology has matured and incorporates multilingual natural language processing, enhanced subject-matter expertise and even emotional intelligence to take personalization and self-service experience to new levels!

A final word

Implementing these technologies and best practices, promoting the availability of Web self-service over expensive interaction channels, and providing appropriate incentives for self-service use will take Web self-service adoption to new levels, generating "killer" value that will help businesses ride out the global recession, while enhancing the customer experience.

About the Author

Anand Subramaniam is the vice president of worldwide marketing for eGain Communications, a leading provider of multichannel customer service and knowledge management software. Prior to eGain, he served in marketing management, sales support, and product management roles at companies such as Oracle, Lotus, Intel, and Autodesk.

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