The self-service nature of a site is more important than you think. According to Forrester, 72% of customers prefer self-service to resolve their support issues over picking up the phone or sending an email to customer service agents.

Consumers today expect so much, with their expectations led by the world-beating disruptors – think Amazon, Google, Uber. We want to be able to do everything online that we’d be able to do in a store or office.

If we want to buy something, why should we have to go into the shop? If we want to return something, why can’t we just print a return label from the website and drop it in a post box? If we need specialist information about a specific product, why can’t we put our question to a large customer group, or service team, on your site?

Branded self-service sites are the new normal – your corporate website isn’t just a brochure for your company, it should offer the customer enough information and functionality that they can perform almost anything they wish to. This isn’t to say you should abandon traditional service channels, social media or live chat of course – not everyone wants to self-serve all the time, but enough do, and enough of the time, that it is essential

SMBs do self-serve better than corporates


The interesting thing is that corporates offer less of this than start-ups and SMBs – legacy systems prevent corporates from being as innovative or responsive as some smaller businesses. Start-ups, run by consumers who have grown up expecting websites to be fully functional, are providing such self-service options as a matter of course.

This area of customer experience is one in which smaller businesses can demonstrate a real point of difference over their larger competitors, the corporates who are lagging. So the question about building a self-service site is not whether you should, it’s ‘why haven’t you already?’.

How to build a self-service site


Fortunately there are a lot of simple tools out there today that help you to develop self-service segments on your site. But first, work out what you need. If you want to sell your products online, you need a shopping cart, a payment gateway, mail delivery services, a returns process, FAQs, online support.

Of course, no two businesses are exactly the same. Look around at your competitors, using their sites and noting what you would like to see if you were a customer. And ask your own customers what they want!

Basically, set the baseline high. If your customers expect a specific functionality, include it.

Then you have to find the right tools. The best build a lot of the ‘how’ and the ‘what’ right into the system. An FAQ and a Contact Me page should be automatically created for you, and all within a responsive site.

You should also expect guided steps and flexibility. If you’re selling widgets as opposed to services, you’ll likely need a different type of shopping cart and a different kind of payment gateway. Should you use Shopify or eBay? Decisions such as should be guided within your system.

Then you can add on other components specific to your customers’ needs – we call these ‘Lightning Bolts’, and the ease of them creates great speed to market.

And it’s this speed that is as vital as getting the end result just right. Almost three-quarters of your customers want you to provide them with a self-service site, and if you don’t, someone else will.

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Paul Baptist is Director of Solution Engineering at Salesforce – a role he describes as ‘jack of all trades, master of some’. He’s multilingual – proficient in geek – handy with a hammer, and tweets at @paulbaptist. Read more by Paul here.