How does your digital self service strategy look these days? 

More customers are doing their problem-solving online than ever before, with Gartner reporting that 70% prefer self-service tools. Even for those who prefer to pick up their order in-store, the opportunity to connect with their favorite brands digitally is a significant one. They may research, place orders, and even discover ways to get a refund through digital customer service via a brand’s phone app or website.

Yet nearly all organizations that responded to a survey of more than 600 tech practitioners said that they struggled to provide truly relevant enterprise search results to their users. Do you find yourself in the same boat? 

Customers can’t resolve issues when they can’t find answers, and this can lead to contact center bloat. To help you avoid this, we’ll describe the current self-service landscape, and tie those observations into six best practices for designing a digital self service strategy that drives results. 

Why Is Digital Self Service Important?

It’s not just younger generations who want digital customer self service. According to the TSIA 2020 Channel Preference Study,  customers overwhelmingly prefer a self service option, no matter their age. In fact, 71% of all respondents agree, including 60% of Baby Boomers, 72% of Gen X, and 77% of millennials and Gen Z respondents.

For those who prefer digital channels for service, it’s even more important that you get their problems resolved promptly the first time – since they won’t be coming into the store for a face-to-face resolution.

What does digital customer care look like today?

Most brands offer some form of self service, whether it’s that “chat with a rep” button or something far more innovative, but more than 9 out of 10 organizations are using a search box of some kind to help customers get their problems solved.

TSIA also revealed in their 2019 Knowledge Management Survey the following interesting trends:

And while 51% of organizations do provide real-time suggestions during the creation of a case, just 21% personalize the FAQ experience to the individual customer.

What does this tell us? For as much as businesses have been embracing search for customer self service, there’s still much to be done. No matter how long you’ve been helping your customers help themselves, these strategies for digital self service aim to delight consumers in every industry and at every stage of the shopping journey.

How Can Self-Service Technology Be Improved?

So what can you do to provide a better customer experience when they seek self service support? We’ve got a few suggestions. 

1. Understand the customer self service journey

Before you can wow your consumers, you have to know where they are. A big part of that is getting into their shoes. You may think you know what the journey looks like, but there’s more to it than figuring out how they shop and what their preferred method of payment will be.

Start by asking, “what are they even doing here?” It may seem obvious, but unless you take the time to see what resolutions they are searching for, you may be adding content to your website that takes up space, distracts, or makes it harder for them to find the real reason they are visiting.

You’ll already have a list of common support issues, so use that documentation to build out the solutions that meet the most common needs first. (You can always improve on your self service options as you go.)

A workflow shows an example customer service journey.

From there, add in solutions that are known questions, such as password resets or order lookups.

Finally, pay attention to search. You should definitely look at the things they are searching for, but pay attention to those searches that come up empty. If you’re not meeting a need, this should be priority one. Use search analytics to identify gaps in both content and self service opportunities.

You actually learn a lot from your customer by following them along the path of getting their problems solved. If you pay attention, you can do more than just get their issue taken care of. You can also gain insight into how to cross-sell, giving them a better overall product experience, too.

Take a moment to consider your customer’s journey
Template: The Blueprint For Your Customer Journey Map

2. Emphasize content findability and discoverability

If you’re like most companies, most of the good information a customer needs to find won’t be stored all in one place. It will be held in individual silos, such as product manuals, your employee intranet, and support articles. It’s likely that content is then delivered on different service channels.

The big challenge will be in connecting all these relevant sources into an easily searchable interface that’s intuitive enough for almost any customer to use. It should look like any search box they’ve used before but could have additional features, like answer previews and predictive text.

A graphic illustrates the concept of a unified index.
A unified index brings together and makes searchable a wide variety of popular systems and programs.

(Here’s a tip: The same findability and discoverability that works for your consumers also make for a great support agent experience. If you’re using self service for your shoppers and not for your customer service reps, you’re missing out on an incredible opportunity to ease frustration and improve productivity. The same principles work for both!)

3. Prioritize search in UX Design

We’ve mentioned that data silos aren’t ideal for getting your customers to their desired resolution. For that reason, the UX design of your self service portal should seek to help customers get in, get help, and get on with their day.

With that goal, search should be prioritized above all other forms of self service. After all, search is the best way to know what customers need. That little text box can collect customer feedback, and, when your self service platform is connected throughout your digital experience, you can collect insights about the customer journey over time.

A screenshot shows a search results page from Tableau's website.
Using Coveo and Salesforce, Tableau is a great example of prioritizing search to create a customer-centric digital experience.

Even if you don’t do anything else to improve the customer experience, make that search bar accessible, obvious, and available everywhere your customer plans on browsing.

Optimize your site’s user experience
Ebook: The Ultimate Guide to Site Search User Experience

4. Embed recommendations wisely

By the time a customer seeks a resolution, you’ve likely collected a good amount of data on them. Information like their past purchase history, any warranties or coverage plans they have in place, and their location. This data is enough to save time and frustration by giving your customer proactive and personalized recommendations on what they might want to do next.

From filing a support ticket against their protection plan to simply getting product help for the last item they ordered, knowing more about your customer can be the key to providing outstanding self service, provided you put that data to work. There are a few places on the website where these recommendations are most likely to be well-received, but the best might be amid the case creation process with an AI-powered tool like Case Assist

A screenshot shows how Case Assist helps streamline a case submission workflow.

By having the recommendations pop up or prefill as the customer types, you can save them time in having to come up with the right words and keep them from clicking aimlessly from page to page in search of help. They’ll be more likely to solve the problem on their own, which means one less case for your live reps to resolve.

5. Enhance the experience with AI

Artificial intelligence (AI) seems like something from the future, but it’s fundamentally changing the way customer service issues are resolved today. AI learning takes the data that a customer and customers share over time, then uses algorithms to anticipate what they may seek out the next time, so as to be more proactive than reactive with each search query or engagement.

All of this sounds very promising, and it is, since it can track an individual customer’s experience from end-to-end, research phase to repeat purchase. AI looks at what solutions ended up helping a customer, as well as what situations could have been handled better.

AI can fit into all the nooks and crannies of your self service experience: imbue search with Natural Language Processing, make recommendations smarter with Machine Learning, and bring chatbots to life with conversational AI.

6. Establish metrics, evaluate, and adjust

Perhaps the best part of today’s self service technology is that it evolves over time and uses its “rinse and repeat” nature to its advantage. How exactly does this happen? Again, it’s all in the data and how it’s put to good work. Underpinned by AI-powered search, you can track, measure, and evaluate how successful your self-service experience is.

After you’ve used the self-service solutions for some time, measure to see just how many and what kind of issues led to a complete case deflection. Can you see successes here? Are you saving money over having your live agents handle every little issue? Or are known questions being answered, while novel issues are being uncovered and resolved?

Look at these numbers in the context of your overall business goals. The ideal trend is for customers to self serve on the easy answers, while your contact center uncovers bigger problems and builds long-lasting customer relationships. In turn, this leads to a rise in customer satisfaction, meaning your self service experience is accomplishing what you set out for it to do.

Missing One or More of These Tactics?

Each piece of the self service puzzle is critical to giving customers the experience they expect while also helping you to lower costs and gather valuable data. Ideally, you should be able to start right away with these strategies by using Coveo’s customer self-service solutions and robust AI-powered relevant search. Since the best self-service portals can have a little of everything, including chatbots, a search bar, support articles, and even educational videos, it will be up to you which aspect you prioritize first.

To get a better idea of the customer service wins that are available when you shift your self-service to one that embraces data and machine learning, check out our 6 Techniques for Customer Self-Service Success ebook, which includes more about each of these strategies, fun facts and stats, and examples of companies who have made customer self-service work for them, even as customer expectations have changed over time.

Set your customers up to win
Ebook: 6 Techniques for Customer Self-Service Success

Learn how you, too, can reduce customer service costs, deflect more cases, and delight your customers with Coveo’s AI-powered search platform. 

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Coveo AI lifts CSAT as customers & ​agents find what ​they need

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