According to the findings of the 2016 Global Technology Survey by John Ragsdale, VP of technology and social research for the Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA), 87% of TSIA members plan to invest in self-service, with a goal of making service and support more effortless in the next two years. And rightly so. Successful self-service has many benefits. Take for example WatchGuard Technologies, a global leader in multi-function security appliances, which saw its case deflection go from 3 to 11 percent within 4 months of deploying intelligent search on its customer support portal.

I had a chance to interview John and asked him to share his recommendations on what companies could do to improve the self-service experience and why companies that use intelligent search have an edge.

Mike: What recommendations do you have for companies that are looking to take their self-service experience to the next level?

John: This is a big topic, and companies are in many stages of maturity with self-service. I think the overall trends and Pacesetter practices are:

  • Merging the customer portal and the online community. In the increasingly collaborative world of customers, online communities are just another great source of content, and should be organized as a part of the larger customer portal, not a separate entity located on another part of the website with a separate user name and password. All resources that customers need to better understand products and self-solve should be easily located in a single location, with a single sign-on.
  • Introduce unified search. I recommend unified search more than any other technology in speaking with service leaders. The ability to index and search the entire corporate content store – meaning knowledgebase, community forums, product documentation, release notes, learning management systems, CRM, Q&A test plans, etc. – with a single search string is incredibly powerful. In the hugely complex matrix that is corporate content, expecting a customer to know where to look to find knowledge is unrealistic. Leverage unified search to bring everything together into a single search results page, with filtering options to drill down into exactly what you need.
  • Introduce context when possible. There is growing interest in imbedded help, making self-service available from within software applications, so the system knows exactly what field or process the customer needs help with. Context can also apply to self-service by only showing content related to products and versions the customer is using – not anything that matches. Anything we can do to reduce the noise in search results, the more successful self-service will be.

Mike: Based on your research, what sets companies that use intelligent search apart from the rest?

John: I’d say the companies that tend to “get” the importance of intelligent search, which to me implies intelligence to truly understand what the customer is asking, regardless how they phrase the question, tend to be companies with fairly successful knowledge management programs, looking to take the program to the next level. Also, I’m hearing this as a growing requirement from large firms that have grown through merger and acquisition and have hundreds of data repositories. It is unrealistic to consolidate all of this into a single repository, and who has time to decide what is valuable and what is not? Intelligent search not only learns the language of the customer (and the employee!) over time, making results more and more relevant, but it also learns which content repositories are more or less likely to have the nugget of knowledge you are looking for.

Not only can a “best of breed” intelligent search solution locate the needed information faster, but it also can automate knowledge maintenance, identifying top used content, seldom used content, duplicate content, and even content that could be helpful if it were rewritten.

I continue to see lack of knowledge maintenance as one of the primary reasons knowledge management initiatives fail, so automating that process can turn around a troubled KM program almost overnight.

If you’d like to learn how Coveo for Salesforce brings intelligent, self-learning search to support portals, watch this on-demand webinar, which includes a discussion on how leading organizations are turning their online help site into a true self-service engine that learns what helps members succeed, then delivers it.

To learn about the 16 technology categories recommended for highly productive, scalable support teams, download TSIA’s Support Services Technology Stack Report.