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What Is Customer Self-Service?

How help centers, portals, and communities deflect more cases while improving the customer experience.

Your self-service channels are an important first line of defense in customer support. When a customer needs help recovering an online account or an update on their order status, they often turn to your help center, customer portal, or community before reaching out directly.

When it comes to setting up and maintaining self-service channels, here’s what every service leader needs to know, and how customer self service software can help.

What is Self-Service?

Self-serviceopens in a new window definition: a fast and easy way for customers to find answers to simple questions about products, services, and policies. Key self-service channels include your help center, customer portal, and customer community.

Self-service channels are a win-win for customers and companies. Customers like them because they provide convenience, flexibility, and always-on support. In fact, 65% of customers use self-service channels for simple matters.

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65 %
of customers use self-service channels for simple matters.

At the same time, customers don’t need to reach out through high-touch, high-cost channels, like your call center. Sixty-six percent of service professionals say self-service channels reduce case volume. That means agents get time back to focus on more strategic work.

66 %
of service professionals say self-service channels reduce case volume.

Want to get more from your self-service channels?

Read this executive brief from Frost & Sullivan to discover how to:

  • Scale your help center while delivering a customized experience
  • Power your customer portals with business process automation
  • Leverage your data to inspire community

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The three key self-service channels

Each self-service channel serves a different – and important – purpose:

  • Your help center, also known as a knowledge base, is often the first step on the customer’s journey. Customers visit your help center to find answers to common questions. Examples include how to manage a subscription or review your privacy policies.
  • Your customer portal is a branded website where customers can access information and complete actions. If you’re a bank, customers may go to your customer portal to order a new debit card. Or if you’re a retailer, your customers may log in to your portal to see their order history and loyalty status. The goal is to give customers a seamless, timely, and personalized brand experience.
  • Your customer communityopens in a new window is a digital gathering space for peer-to-peer support. Customers come together to share ideas, answer questions, and solve problems. Customers feel like brand insiders and subject matter experts, which drives loyalty.

Knowledge articles, how-tos, and frequently asked questions (FAQs) are common self-service content. If a process involves many steps, you may also create diagrams or videos for more context.

Your self-service channels are either unauthenticated, authenticated, or a combination. Unauthenticated self-service channels share public-facing content. This content can help anyone who uses your product or service. There is no need for a user to create an account. With authenticated portals, a user logs in to receive more personalized information. An example would be a retail account. A customer logs in to update their shipping address or check their loyalty status.

How to optimize your customer self-service channels

Your help center, customer portal, and customer community all need a different strategy. Consider these best practices.

Help Center

A great start is to repurpose existing agent knowledge articles for common requests. Topics may include how to update payment information or set up device verification. Update the language to put the steps into the customer’s perspective, rather than the agent’s.

You’ll also want to optimize your help center content for search to ensure that it gets enough traffic. Work with your search engine optimization (SEO) team to identify top keywords. For example, a local food delivery service may find that the phrase “how do food delivery services work?” is very popular. They then update relevant knowledge articles with this phrase to boost traffic.

Beyond SEO, make sure to tag your help center content for searchability on your site. Customers get frustrated when they type a query into your search bar only to come up with an error message.

While it’s common to keep some content public, there are benefits to authenticated help centers. Customers log in for more personalized support. You can use your data to share relevant resources. You can also gather more data about your customers based on the content they review. This will improve targeting and ensure customers receive a personalized experience.

It’s also important to stay ahead of the curve for future customer requests. Watch emerging search trends, like the value of setting up two-factor authentication on an online account. Check out resources like Google Trendsopens in a new window and AnswerthePublicopens in a new window for help. Review your contact center analytics to uncover new patterns and recurring requests across support channels as well.

Be sure to give your help center a spring cleaning. Retire outdated knowledge base articles and redirect them to more relevant, up-to-date resources.

Remember to apply chatbots to your help center for more support. Chatbots use artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze case data and surface the right content to customers.

Customer Portal

Customer portals take self-service a step further. Authenticated customer portals use customer data for a more relevant and personalized experience. When customers log in, they gain access to personalized content to resolve issues and complete actions on their own terms, from anywhere.

For the best experience, keep personal information in a secure account page. This should only be accessible after the user has logged in. Enable multifactor authentication for an added layer of security. Use AI to analyze search behaviors to continuously tailor the experience for customers. Make it easy for customers to access a record of purchased products or services and display relevant articles and topics.

Be sure to clearly label and tag every piece of content. Add links to other support channels and include a “contact us” form in your portal’s footer.

Customer Community

Customer communities build camaraderie and collaboration. They are a place for customers to come together to discuss product capabilities and offer peer-to-peer support. To participate in discussions, customers log in with a unique username.

One word is synonymous with successful customer communities: engagement. To make your customer community more engaging, gamify your approach. Incentivize customers to take part in discussions by showing a leaderboard. Customers receive points for answering questions. As points accumulate, the customer moves up the leaderboard. Offer badges for behaviors that customers can show off on their profiles as well. For example, if a customer answers five questions, they receive a badge.

Don’t keep your customer service team on the sidelines. Instead, have them contribute to the conversation. Encourage agents to share expertise, ask questions, and join in on discussions. Track what customers are saying and jump in if there are issues. After all, communities help businesses surface trends and potential concerns.

Some brands may choose to have discussion threads publicly available for key topics. In these cases, add SEO keywords and tags so that search engines index your community.

Use automation and AI for next-level customer self-service

Automation and AI make self-service channels more intuitive for customers. Automated workflows guide customers through step-by-step directions to complete an action. Service administrators can create these simple, customer service automated workflowsopens in a new window to streamline time-consuming processes. On the back end, AI reveals key insights and recommendations, populates information, and triggers processes.

For example, if a customer wants to report a stolen credit card, the steps for doing so appear on the customer’s screen. The steps walk the customer through how to file a report and put a hold on their account.

To keep things simple, use the same automated workflows that agents follow to help your customers. Be sure to update language so that the steps are from the customer’s perspective.

You can embed AI-powered chatbots into your self-service channels for customers to have an extra option for personalized support. More organizations are using them than ever before. In fact, there was a 67% increase in decision makers who say their organizations used chatbots between 2018 and 2020. Chatbots use AI to analyze the request. If the chatbot is unable to answer, it collects qualifying data to escalate the case to an agent. The agent is able to jump into the same chat message and pick up where the bot left off to work one-on-one with the customer and resolve the issue.

Why you should connect customer self–service to your CRM

While self-service channels are often the first step for customers, there’s always a chance customers might need more help. As they move to other channels, such as phone support, a connected experience is key. When data is available on a single screen, the agent picks up where the customer left off. They can review past articles and chat history. This creates a seamless experience for the customer, who doesn’t have to repeat information.

To gain a complete view of your data, connect self-service channels with your customer relationship management (CRM) platform. This will give your teams a complete view of your customers across their interactions on various channels. Access to this data helps your team create consistent experiences, no matter how the customer reaches out. The benefit is that you nurture loyalty, from onboarding to support.

Another benefit is that you can incorporate agent knowledge articles and workflows into customer-facing materials on your self-service channels. This saves your team from having to create brand-new content and also saves on setup time and admin costs as you repurpose existing processes.

Self-service channels are also important to your organization’s broader business strategy. Data from your self-service channels can reveal patterns in recurring requests. If you use self-service channels well, you gain firsthand insight into what customers are saying about your product or service — data you can use to make improvements.

How to measure success

To find out how helpful your self-service content and channels are to your customers, use prompts and survey questions that ask customers for their feedback. Then use intelligent analyticsopens in a new window to identify opportunities for improvement.

Organizations should look for the following improvements from self-service channels:

  • Higher case deflection
  • Higher customer satisfaction
  • Higher customer satisfaction
  • Lower support costs

Your performance can inform ways to improve the customer experience. For example, if it takes customers too many steps opens in a new windowto find an answer on a help center site, adjust your tagging strategy. This will ensure the right content always surfaces first in your search results. Whenever customers are immediately able to find what they need, satisfaction increases.

Create the best self-service channels

With self-service channels, customers get fast answers to their questions. Businesses deflect more cases while improving customer satisfaction. Agents are able to stay focused on more strategic work rather than on routine requests. That’s the secret to delivering excellent customer service at scale, anytime, anywhere.