The Rise of Customer Self-Service: 6 Ways to Empower Your Customers


Today’s customers were raised on the internet, and they know how to wield its power mightily. They don’t call travel agents when they want to plan a trip—instead, they’ll spend hours checking Google Flights for the best fares, scouring through TripAdvisor or Airbnb listings to find the lodging option with just the right infinity pool, and make a must-visit restaurant list with help from Yelp. Sure, it takes longer than just picking up a detailed itinerary from your travel agent, but the fact is, they actually like taking control of the research experience.

So it’s no big surprise that they don’t want to pick up the phone when it comes to customer support if they can avoid it. A study from Aspect found that 65 percent of respondents said they felt good when they could resolve an issue independently without contacting customer support—and that number jumped to 70 percent among Millennials. (In fact, in 2016, 38 percent of respondents felt so negative about contacting customer support that they said they’d rather clean a toilet than make a call!)

The modern consumer wants to seek out the answers independently when she has a question. She wants to tap into a knowledge base that’s filled with useful information and intuitive to navigate, and get her answer in seconds. If she’s looking for tips on how to update a subscription or change an order, she doesn’t want to spend fifteen minutes waiting on hold to talk to a customer support agent; she wants to find the answer in the FAQ or watch a two-minute video for guidance. 

But more often than not, the customer experience is exasperating, not empowering. 

Customers will struggle to sort through a poorly-organized set of web pages to find relevant content, but fail to find the answers to their questions. Or they’ll start a conversation with a chatbot, but quickly realize that the chatbot doesn’t understand the questions they’re asking, and isn’t providing useful navigation. Even after beginning with your self-service options, they’ll still end up contacting a customer support agent—and by this point, they’ll be even more frustrated than they started out.

So rather than let your customers struggle, how do you build a self-service experience that will help them quickly accomplish their goals? Here are a few tips for building a best-in-class self-service experience for your online customers.

  1. Discover the most frequently asked questions and make the answers easy to find.
    Let’s say you run an online pet store. Take a look at your past customer tickets to understand the most commonly asked questions: Do they want to know which treats are organic? Or what is the best type of treats to be used to train your dog? Surface the most relevant content that will appeal to the biggest group of customers and give it prominent placement in your help center—if a question is asked by the majority of users, you can showcase it before users even ask a question. If you’re using a self-service platform, you can track user questions to recognize your content gaps so that you can develop new content to increase your self-service rate.sketch
  2. Guide your users to your knowledge base.
    Building a comprehensive knowledge base is important, but you don’t want to leave your users to wade through all of your FAQs on their own. An AI-supported self-service platform can understand your customers‘ questions and provide relevant content “snippets” that will successfully resolve their issues. This can be used for even very specific questions: For instance, the meal delivery solution Hungryroot is able to field questions such as, “how much sodium is in this product?” and provide the right answers without having users contact a live agent. 
  3. Provide step-by-step support to resolve more complex issues.
    While some customer issues may relate to product knowledge, others might be about the subscription or purchasing process. Particularly for customers who have or are considering paying for a subscription or membership, it’s essential to provide them with a clear onboarding path. An AI-driven self-service solution can separate out questions related to payments or subscriptions, and provide a step-by-step guided process for completing a task such as canceling a subscription or requesting a refund, as the meditation app Calm has done. As a result, they’ve achieved a 42 percent self-service rate for subscription-related questions, and a 47 percent self-service rate overall.
  4. Provide mobile support.
    Customers are as likely to be accessing your website or app from mobile devices as they are from their desktop computers, so your self-service options should be readily available across all of their devices. Build a mobile-friendly self-service experience that customers can access from their choice of device—they shouldn’t have to whip out their laptop to get to a resolution. 
  5. Make sure that your self-service experience does not come to a dead end.
    Hopefully, your self-service solution is delivering the right results, but you shouldn’t simply assume that your customers are happy—ask them. With every text snippet you deliver, include a survey: “did this answer your question?” If it didn’t, route the customer to the best support channel immediately.
  6. Make it easy to talk to the right person on a live support team when needed.
    If you want to optimize for customer satisfaction, a self-service solution is useful, but it’s equally important to make sure that, for those times when a customer can’t find the answer independently, he has the option to talk to a live support agent. And when you do this, make sure that you’ve gathered enough information from the customer to route him to the right support team: A customer with a question about a repair under warranty should instantly be routed to your Warranty team to discuss the issue, not put on hold or asked to sort through a menu of service options.

Millennial customers and their Gen Z counterparts are loyal to brands that provide them with a positive customer service experience. If your brand is able to facilitate a seamless, quick transaction or provide relevant information for their needs, they’ll be more than satisfied. Companies that have implemented self-service solutions often see support ticket requests drop by as much as 50 percent, which gives them more bandwidth to provide personalized, high-touch customer support for those customers who do require a more involved support interaction. That means you can meet customers with the exact type of customer support they need and deliver a best-in-class customer experience, whether that’s a streamlined self-support channel or an emergency support call to a specialized support agent. 

Empower your customers to solve their problems through the channels that are best for them—whether self-service or agent-supported—and you’ll see your customer satisfaction levels skyrocket.