Rushing off one flight to get onto another with a one-hour layover that turns into four hours once you get to the check-in counter for your connecting flight. With the kids getting restless and the layover potentially going from four hours to seven, it’s easy to feel flooded with emotions.
But don’t worry, you tell yourself, help is available! Reach into your pocket for your phone and search for the customer service number of your airline.
Yet when you do, you then tell yourself this mustn’t be right. The countless search results don’t show a phone number, just the self-service options.
I know I left you stranded there, but it’s just one of the stories I’ve encountered when companies deduct from the customer experience (CX).
The customer is integral to any business, and we should develop self-service options around the customer for transactional issues such as hours of operation or shipment status. However, emotional and/or challenging concerns must still be directed to your customer service team, which helps customers get what they want based on their terms.
It goes without saying that the call center agent is still the hero, and self-service options are their sidekicks, providing fast, convenient, and 24/7 solutions to customers. They allow companies to improve customer satisfaction, reduce wait times, and free support agents to concentrate on more complex tasks.
The following are the five main self-service options to consider.
1. The IVR System
IVRs are the automated telephone systems that enable callers to interact with a computer-operated system via dial tones from keypads or voice commands. They can direct calls or offer self-service options.
…we should develop self-service options around the customer for transactional issues such as hours of operation or shipment status.
IVRs can be the most helpful or as irritating as nails on a chalkboard. Ever called the customer service number to receive the message, “tell me how I can help in a few words?” You say, “check account balance,” and the IVR says it’s transferring you to planet Pluto. And how many times have you pressed the advised number or said “Operator” to reach a live agent before it actually does?
Drawing from experience with IVR implementations, adding new options, and testing, to name a few, I’ve noticed that these points help to improve its functionality.
- Mapping the flow. This method is essential for improving usability, identifying potential areas for improvement, conducting testing and optimization, and encouraging collaboration among team members.
- Simplicity. Make the IVR system straightforward and user-friendly with specific and understandable prompts. Avoid using technical terms or language that could confuse customers. Limit the number of options to reduce customer frustration.
- Speak to an agent. Usually, callers know that pressing zero will take them to a live agent, so try to create some familiarity for the customer as some folks will always prefer to speak to a person rather than go through the various prompts.
- Personalization combined with self-service. Utilize customer information, including purchase history or past dealings with the business, to tailor the self-service experience and present information relevant to the caller, such as shipment tracking or payment status.
- Monitor and continuously test. Conduct periodic testing and evaluation of the IVR system, considering customer and agent feedback. Monitor the performance of the IVR, call volume, wait times, and abandonment rates to identify areas needing improvement and optimize the system for better performance.
The new shiny toy coming off the assembly line is Conversational AI. This innovative technology allows humans and machines to communicate using natural language. This technology can imitate human-like conversations using machine learning (ML) algorithms, natural language processing (NLP), and speech recognition.
The first time I experienced a Conversational AI-directed interaction, I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up. In this demonstration, the technology performed a verification of the caller’s voice and passcode. Then it transferred funds from one bank account to another.
I listened to the level of empathy, tone of voice, and filler words, such as umm, ah, and so on, as the Conversational AI interacted with the caller. It wasn’t human, but I couldn’t tell the difference.
Chatbots are computer programs that employ NLP and ML to communicate with customers via text messaging. They offer helpful information, respond to queries, and perform basic transactions.
A well-planned and tested chatbot can help customers get what they want quickly. The same best practices for an IVR can be followed when developing a chatbot for a website or social media.
Several platforms are available to develop these bots today, such as Microsoft Bot Framework for more involved bots, a simple bot using power virtual agents (PVA), etc. When considering a platform examine the following:
- Bot’s purpose.
- Your budget.
- Ease of development.
- Scalability regarding hosting and handling a large volume of inquiries.
- Integration with your platform.
- Available training and support.
Lastly, the bot’s knowledge base needs to be comprehensive, allowing it to learn, be up-to-date, and be well organized to retrieve the necessary information efficiently.
3. Knowledge Bases (KBs)
Knowledge bases (KBs) are online repositories of knowledge containing answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs), troubleshooting issues, and product/service information in a centralized location. They are another way to provide customers with the information required for simple questions.
Again, drawing from the time I’ve spent creating countless pieces of training and KBs, here are a few high-level tips:
- Identify common customer inquiries.
- Organize the KB in a logical and intuitive way.
- Use simple language and frame content in the active voice.
- Use clear headings and subheadings.
- Be consistent with the writing style, such as fonts and color.
- Break information into digestible chunks.
- Include quality visuals such as screenshots and videos.
- Provide background explanations and real-world examples to help users understand the purpose of performing the tasks.
- Make it searchable.
- Start steps with an action verb such as click or select.
- Avoid making assumptions about the user’s knowledge and provide the necessary information.
- Test the instructions.
- Keep the KB up-to-date.
I highly recommend anyone tackling this task to utilize the expertise of a technical writer, such as the ones provided by Briljent. The distinction between employing a technical writer and going it alone is like day and night: you get a much better, more professional result.
An additional tip, some of the material on your website’s KB can be used for your chatbot, or your chatbot can direct users to the KB for further context.
4. Self-service portals
These are online platforms that allow customers to access their account information, and update details. On them they can perform various tasks such as placing orders or scheduling appointments without picking up the phone.
Some of these tips seem like no-brainers, but some fall through the cracks leading to consequences such as the portal missing the mark regarding user experience (UX) to costly security risks.
- Train users on using the portal through guided tours or more in-depth self-paced training and manuals based on the portal’s features.
- Use two-factor authentication, such as a password and a security token.
- Encrypt all data in transit and at rest, such as Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS).
- Allow administrators to restrict access based on a user’s role and responsibility, like for an insurance billing portal.
- Use the Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart (CAPTCHAs) or other measures to prevent automated attacks.
- Employ simple and intuitive user interface (UI) with some contrast to alert users that they are logged into the portal. Stay consistent with styles, font, alignment, and color, to name a few.
- Provide feedback to users when they complete a task or when an error has occurred and directions to fix it.
- Provide web chat, if possible.
- Regularly update, test, and maintain the portal. Provide users with information if and when the portal will be unavailable due to maintenance.
From the time I’ve spent creating and updating self-portal courses and system testing, here are a few considerations:
- Document the new feature, such as its position on the UI and functionality.
- When adding a new feature, create it in the test environment and then test it before promoting it to the next environment.
- Make sure to update all manuals and training once the feature is available.
Train your call center agents to assist customers with troubleshooting issues, such as account unlocks, password reset, or simple navigations.
To help our agents, we implemented the following, which has reduced the AHT due to the time agents take to research the information:
- My colleague, David Sluss, created a simulator of one of our portals. It’s a PowerPoint replica of the portal. This guides agents in performing various steps, such as claim submission, and verifying payment history, to name a few.
- Our call center offers tier-one support for another portal. Here we provide our agents with easy-to-follow instructions and demonstration videos to resolve various issues, from unlocking a user’s account to adding a member to their portal.
How did we do it? We interviewed agents, listened to calls, and spoke to leaders and the quality assurance (QA) analyst to understand the common questions. Then we got to work on how we could help agents, through training, resolve these issues.
All these steps are documented in the KB, but some callers prefer speaking to a live agent.
5. Mobile applications
Mobile applications or apps give your customers the convenience of self-service options from their smartphones or tablets. They can book a ride or check an account balance with just a few taps. Here are some tips for developing a self-service mobile app:
- Design for simplicity, make use of icons that the user understands, and maintain consistency throughout the application.
- Ensure that the app performs well on all devices and platforms.
- Keep customer’s data safe.
- Enable offline usage, if possible.
- Personalize content to the user.
- Customer support through the application.
- Stay up-to-date to improve performance and test regularly.
No matter which self-service option you choose, ensure that it serves a specific purpose or goal, such as a doctor verifying member eligibility.
To effectively determine the purpose of a self-service option, start by understanding your customers’ needs. Research and analyze customer behavior and feedback to gain valuable insights into customer requirements.
Based on this information, you can then define the goals and scope of your self-service option. Studying your competitors’ self-service options can help determine what works and what doesn’t.
After identifying its purpose, use a sample group of customers to test it and gather feedback on usability, effectiveness, and overall CX. This will help you improve and ensure it meets your customers’ needs.
It’s also essential to keep your audience in mind when selecting and designing a self-service option. For instance, younger generations like Millennials and Gen Z may prefer self-service options through mobile apps and chatbots.
To effectively determine the purpose of a self-service option, start by understanding your customers’ needs.
Recently, a colleague shared her experience of receiving a sudden surge of calls for password resets and unlocks, which persisted for a few days. She proactively asked one of the callers why they weren’t using the password self-reset portal, only to discover that the site was down. As soon as the portal was fixed, there was a notable reduction in call volume.
This incident shows the importance of staying attuned to your agents and monitoring self-service options, especially during an increase in call volume, particularly for issues resolved by your self-service options.
This scenario teaches us another lesson: when customers realize that one channel is not working to their satisfaction level, they will switch to another. However, they may sometimes never return to the channel because they don’t trust that the option will help.
I must add that it’s crucial to emphasize the importance of using high-quality data to ensure a quality self-service option. And if you opt for an omnichannel solution, ensure it houses all customer interactions and leverages them to gain insights into customer behavior. This is essential for delivering a seamless and personalized CX while understanding customer preferences, to name a few.
Finally, I cannot stress enough the necessity of testing all of your technologies, processes, and yes the agents who are using them (see box). Testing is important because it shows that you care about what your customer receives as the end result. It’s better to identify the defects before your customer does to improve on their experiences with your company.
Self-service options can certainly be convenient and efficient. Still, there are situations where the assistance of a human being is invaluable in resolving an issue. A certain level of comfort and reassurance comes from interacting with another person, especially when dealing with complex or emotionally charged problems that technology simply cannot replicate.
In these instances, having an actual human to offer guidance and support can make all the difference in finding a satisfactory solution. Therefore, it is critical to tightly, and seamlessly, integrate self-service as the first point of contact for customers with live agents. By doing so you will tap the full power of self-service to provide a truly valuable CX.