The pandemic exposed two significant insights about the state of customer service:
- A poor customer experience coupled with pandemic-fueled emotions can push customers to the brink of tears; and
- Customers don’t have much faith in conventional self-service options.
Research released by software company Pegasystems found that the pandemic created extraordinary challenges that intensified customers’ longstanding frustrations with service, such as having to repeat information to multiple agents and being passed to different departments to resolve an issue. Some 7,200 consumers polled said they found bad service to be so irritating that nearly 27% felt it had ruined their day—and one in 10 admitted that poor service interactions caused them to cry or almost cry. Not surprisingly, 77% of customers said they would take their business elsewhere if they received poor service.
The global study, conducted by research firm Savanta, surveyed 12,700 business leaders, agents and customers to understand how the pandemic is impacting the current and future states of customer service. Resolution Revolution noted that businesses are making progress by adding more digital service channels to keep up with customer demands. Yet, companies’ channel expansion often comes at the expense of service quality by creating more inconsistencies and increasing customer frustration.
While most survey respondents (82%) said they are willing to use self-service, almost half (46%) still don’t expect it to work.
Nevertheless, Pegasystems reports that the desire for self-service is more vital than ever: 45% of customers said they are more likely to use self-service today than before the pandemic. However, while most survey respondents (82%) said they are willing to use self-service, almost half (46%) still don’t expect it to work.
Customer-Friendly Self-Service: A Few Bites of Wisdom from the Experts
There is no doubt that self-service can be a game-changer, especially in unpredictable times. Done well, self-service reduces customer effort, boosts loyalty and eases your human agents’ workload. How can you ensure that your self-service options are customer-friendly and effective? The following are self-service best practices with bites of wisdom from Pipeline contributors.
Present solutions, not just more channels
Companies have been rushing to add channel choices for customers, but more is not always better. In fact, too many channels make the customer’s end-to-end journey more complex.
Only 9% of customers say they can fully resolve their issues via self-service, according to Gartner research, which also points out: “Migrating customers to self-service is long overdue and will alleviate cost and employee pressures, but simply adding more channels or functionality will have the opposite effect. Instead, service leaders should focus their attention and investments on the end-to-end resolution journey and migrate key contact types to self-service channels.”
Focusing on prioritizing resolution cannot be emphasized enough, says Paul Selby, Product Marketing Director for Customer Service Management at ServiceNow. “Any cost savings from self-service are lost, and customer satisfaction is negatively impacted if customers are unable to find answers.”
A chatbot, for instance, can encourage customers to self-serve on your website by helping them zero in on the information they need. “Using a conversational approach, a chatbot can quickly triage what the customer is looking for, answering policy questions by offering up articles from the knowledge base, pointing customers to the appropriate options to initiate a return or exchange, and providing the status of a return or exchange in progress,” he says.
Make answers to common questions easier to find
Effective knowledge management is the foundation of a successful self-service strategy. But how do customers access the information they need? Selby suggests promoting the most relevant content to make it easier for customers to find online.
For instance, a retailer that operates on a seasonal cycle may find that customer inquiries about product returns tend to spike immediately following the holiday season. During this time, the most frequent inquiries would include questions about return and exchange policies, how the returns process works, how to package items for return and how long an exchange or credit will take.
“Consider pinning or promoting these and other relevant topics on your customer service website so they are that much easier for customers to access,” Selby advises.
Apply SEO techniques to your knowledge base
Many customers prefer to Google solutions to their issues rather than navigate the company’s website. It’s a familiar, intuitive and quick way to get relevant results. “The problem is most contact centers are using traditional knowledge management (KM) solutions that were never intended for external use, let alone optimized for Google search,” says Tim Passios (“Knowledge Management: Four Selection Criteria to Increase Customer Lifetime Value”). The result: missed opportunities to help customers self-serve. “To remedy this, contact centers should look for KM solutions inherently designed to automatically structure content so it’s optimized for search engines, especially for Google,” he explains. “These solutions also incorporate natural language processing techniques so they can more accurately infer meaning from ambiguous content searches, including those with misspellings and partial words. Increasingly, these solutions are leveraging natural language processing to analyze user sentiment, which can be used to identify where customers are struggling most to reduce effort and, ultimately, churn.
“Modern KM solutions should also include guided content navigation,” Passios adds. “This enables the solution to serve up suggested, dynamic content even when the user doesn’t know exactly what they’re looking for. The result is improved ‘discoverability’ and, ultimately, a better self-service experience.”
Take a preemptive approach to customer inquiries
What would delight customers even more than a quick response to their questions? With a preemptive approach to customer service, companies provide answers before the customer asks. Consider this: You’re booked on a flight later in the week. Departure day arrives and, instead of having to call or check the airline’s website or app, you automatically receive a message letting you know the current status of your flight.
For airline passengers, “what’s my flight status” is a common question, but not one that they would ask two weeks before their flight; they ask it on the same day, explains Conversocial CEO Ido Bornstein-Hacohen. Similarly, other common questions like “where’s my baggage” and “I’d like to buy additional baggage” are the types of inquiries that should be automated because they generally occur within specific time frames.
You can’t always remove the need for customers to get in touch, but you can point them in the right direction from the start rather than making them navigate their way through various websites and menus to find the solution they need.
“Taking it a step further, let’s say the flight is delayed. You could send an update to make the customer aware of the delay and provide some contact information should they need any further assistance,” he says. “You can’t always remove the need for customers to get in touch, but you can point them in the right direction from the start rather than making them navigate their way through various websites and menus to find the solution they need.”
Provide a seamless transfer to assisted service
What happens when self-service fails to solve a customer’s issue? It’s essential to provide a clear and easy way to reach a live agent (whether via phone, text or chat), along with a seamless transfer of the necessary context about steps the customer has taken so they do not have to start all over again once they reach an agent.
Think about when those escalation points might occur in a self-service interaction. Take a chatbot, for instance. Besides mapping out how the escalation process would work, industry CX veteran Shellie Vornhagen advises including situations and points in the interaction where you would want to proactively suggest that the customer engage with a live agent.
Time to Level Up Self-Service
According to the Pegasystems study, companies have a massive opportunity to enhance their self-service capabilities. The survey found that 75% of customers want businesses to improve self-service, and 56% say they visit a company’s website before calling.
“The pandemic served as an accelerator for many organizations to fast-forward their customer service strategy deeper into digital,” notes Jeff Nicholson, global leader, CRM Strategy, Pegasystems. “Today’s challenge, however, is that many traditional approaches still lack the journey-centric technology needed to achieve fast resolution via a customer’s preferred point of contact. Just being present on a range of channels is no longer enough. The next great opportunity is to up-level the quality of service on all channels so they can consistently resolve the same critical customer issues.”