In today's digital economy, businesses everywhere have to strive to separate themselves from the competition in any way they can.
As markets become ever more crowded, that's not an easy thing to do. We've reached the point where it seems that customer service is the last great differentiator left for businesses to focus on.
Customer self-service options
One of the best ways they can do that is by deploying a wide range of customer self-service options to take some of the pressure off of their customer-facing staff. Doing so will not only provide customers with more ways to connect with the business but will also lower costs and lead to better customer experience outcomes. Besides, self-service options are practically a necessity these days, and customers have come to expect them.
Here's an overview of the various customer self-service options businesses should offer, and how they can make the most effective use of them.
1. Online knowledge bases
Ever since businesses took to the internet, it's been common practice to provide a help section on their main websites. In some cases, that takes the form of a frequently asked questions (FAQ) section, and in others, it involves long-form how-to content that's jam-packed with valuable information. Businesses that excel at this form of customer self-service often employ a mixture of the two.
One of the best ways to do that is to design and deploy a searchable online knowledge base that customers can use to find help when they need it. In an ideal scenario, much of the information that it will contain may be sourced directly from the business's customer service representatives, who are intimately familiar with the needs and common questions of the customer base.
In some cases, the best option is to use a unified knowledge base software suite that allows customer service representatives to add, edit, and curate the information that will be accessible to customers via the company's website. In that type of workflow, the business benefits from the knowledge of its employees by passing it on directly to customers.
Such systems may also be used as repositories for detailed how-to content that provides step-by-step walkthroughs for products. It's important to craft such content with care, making sure to write everything from the customer's viewpoint without patronizing or talking down to them. Companies that succeed at this often become the go-to source for information about the products they sell, offering even more opportunities to expand sales.
2. Interactive voice response (IVR)
Developed in the mid-1970s, interactive voice response (IVR) systems are one of the oldest forms of customer self-service options available. Now, almost fifty years later, they've evolved into one of the most-used customer self-service options in the world. These days, businesses of all shapes and sizes rely on IVR systems as their front-line customer service phone support gatekeepers, connecting customers with the help options that suit their needs best. It's critical, though, to deploy and use them with great care.
To make an IVR system into a high-performance customer service asset, it's essential to follow IVR best practices every step of the way. Making sure to avoid things like complex menu options and keeping automated responses short and concise is vital. It's also necessary to provide customers with multiple escape routes to reach a live representative to avoid any frustration from customers who can't or aren't willing to talk to a machine. Today, though, advances in artificial intelligence (AI) are making IVR systems more human-like than ever before, meaning that those people will be few and far in-between.
It's also important to design an IVR structure that allows for responses using a phone keypad. That's a critical part of making sure that this useful customer self-service option is accessible to all. As an added option, it's also a good idea to make use of a TTY-compatible IVR system, so it can still be used by customers with a hearing impairment.
3. Mobile help apps
In a world where the vast majority of customers are digital natives, providing customer service via a custom-built mobile help app is now a viable option for businesses. The mobile app development ecosystem has advanced to the point that doing so isn't even cost-prohibitive. Such an app doesn't even have to be complex to be successful.
For example, businesses can roll out a mobile app that lets customers check their outstanding balances, make service appointments, or even ask questions via a live chat function. If the planned functionality is simple enough, such apps can often be built using low-code app platforms that offer drag-and-drop app development tools. Of course, any business deploying a mobile app must realize that it represents a long-term commitment - because as mobile technology changes, so too must their app to keep pace.
For that reason, this is a customer self-service option that's most often used in conjunction with other online offerings, like the previously-discussed searchable knowledge base and other existing content. In a way, custom mobile help apps may be seen as an extension of a business's current digital footprint. If they, for instance, already offer many of the features their app requires on an existing website, it may be possible to rework it into an all-in-one web app. It's fast, cost-effective, and provides another self-service option for customers that want it.
4 . Chatbots
Similar to the latest IVR systems, modern chatbots now offer human-like conversation via a text-based interface. Although it may not be obvious, they're already everywhere. Businesses large and small are using them to handle routine customer queries, and even to perform an on-the-fly sorting process to route customers to live agents that can best address their problems. They can even help to channel customers seeking help through social media sites into other, more direct contact methods for the company.
Chatbots, though, aren't all created equal. Today, they're broken up into two main groupings: rules-based and AI-powered. The former is simple and effective, requiring businesses to create a pre-planned flowchart that governs the chatbot's responses. They're the direct descendants of the aforementioned IVR systems.
Mitsuku is a multi-award winning AI-powered chatbot that's so human-like, it comes close to passing for the real thing. Though it's not aimed at customer service, it's a stunning example of what's now possible with this fast-developing technology.
Businesses today most often turn to chatbots of the rules-based variety, owing to their low development costs and high success rates. Already, statistics indicate that around 67% of customers worldwide have interacted with one in the past year, accounting for up to a 30% customer service cost reduction for the businesses that use them. On top of that, experts predict that 85% of customer interactions will be handled without a human agent by this year, so the time is now for businesses to get on board with the technology or risk being left behind.
The bottom line here is that there are plenty of customer self-help options that businesses can use to keep customers happy and coming back for more. In fact, there are suitable self-help options for almost any customer service channel you can imagine. Just using the options mentioned here means a multitude of coverage types. Custom apps handle the mobile space, searchable knowledge bases take care of everyday internet users, chatbots can connect with social media audiences, and IVR systems mean that every customer with a phone can get help 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Put together, these customer self-help options make for a multifaceted approach to customer service. They provide customers with the ability to seek assistance using almost any format they like, all without costing the business a fortune or sacrificing any part of the customer experience. They also tend to work to keep costs low, helping the business to devote more of its resources to serving customers. That alone makes them worth exploring, and they're part of a strategy that no modern business should ignore.
Looking to get started with customer self-service software? Look no further. See all available options on G2.