“Customer self-service” really means more effort and thought about your customers up front

I’ve written a lot about CRM and customer service. Bad service can sabotage even the best CRM strategy, but adapting service to cope with the evolving customer and, more importantly, evolving customer expectations is difficult. It’s doubly difficult in businesses where the view of service persists that it’s a cost center. (Hint: it’s no longer a cost center – in fact, it’s the key to your ability to retain customers and maximize their value to your business over their entire customer lifecycle. Change your thinking now – you’ll thank me later.)

A great place to start centers on what Paul Greenberg termed “doing the basics” in a blog post many years ago (my apologies for not being able to find it – but it was a long, long time ago). That means that when people have a question around something basic about your business, they should be able to find the answer on their own on your web page. Where do I send payments? Where are you located? What’s your return policy? Your hours of operation? How can I reach you over the phone or through other channels? This stuff is really basic. But a lot of businesses don’t have this kind of bread-and-butter information easily accessible on their website, thus forcing customers out of the self-service mode and into the “I gotta call these guys” mode. Then, support does start to become an expense.

The next level is characterized by something that happened in the office today. It’s when a company analyzes its own unique business, spots common service issues, and makes it easy for customers to resolve them on their own. Specifically, I’m talking about SurveyMonkey, in this case. The team developing this year’s SugarCon sent out a one-question poll to attendees of this year’s event and last year’s asking about a potential location for 2014.

Sangita Patel, the extremely competent woman running registration, set up the poll – but for detailed information, you have to pay. She didn’t want to pay out of her own pocket, especially since there was an account in-house already, so she wanted to transfer the poll to that account.

Did she have to call an agent to make the switch? No. SurveyMonkey included the “how to” about this on its web page. A few simple steps later, the survey was transferred to the right account and Sangita was on her way – a satisfied customer, and one satisfied with the expenditure of very, very little on SurveyMonkey’s part.

When we talk about customer self-service, too often we think in terms of the customer off-loading work from our service organizations. In reality, we need to do the work for the customer by anticipating when and where our processes could cause confusion or uncertainty, then developing ways for the customer to solve his or her own problem. That’s why SurveyMonkey gets a “Bravo Zulu” for their ability to project ahead and give customers the tools to solve basic problems.

Heard of any other examples of businesses thinking the right way about customer self-service? Let me know in the comments section.

–Chris Bucholtz

2 thoughts on ““Customer self-service” really means more effort and thought about your customers up front

  1. I think you need to take it a step further though. I don’t think it’s enough these days to simply know what the common issues are and have answers to questions stored somewhere in an FAQ or “How do I…?” section of the website. I’m sure we’ve all been on a website (banking, eRetail, maybe even your utility website) where you just needed to know one piece of information or how to complete one specific task and couldn’t find the answer (so you probably called the contact center).

    Sorting through FAQs, using a site search or navigating the site to find an answer takes too long or is too cumbersome for modern consumers. Fast and easy. That’s what everyone wants. I think this is where new Virtual Agent technology (think Siri for websites) represents the logical next step in online help. Allow the customer to just type in a question to get an answer rather than force them to work to find it.

    Curious about what others think. Are “how to” sections or FAQs still adequate?

  2. It is great if you can see the full list of questions and answers. I have had some bad experiences trying to guess the right search terms in order to pull the right information out. And this can be an issue with self help where there is a lot of jargon. The answer might be there – but can you guess the magic words!

    @Scott – I love the idea of a virtual assistant. – oh – in fact you sell this as a service?

    Well here is my shameless plug http://www.saleslifecycle.com

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