Self-Service: Impact Beyond the Customer

When customers are unable to interact with a business’s digital storefront in an autonomous manner, it can often cause frustration for the customer and lead to unnecessary customer service overhead for the business.  If you shop online think about why you do so and what you expect from the sites where you shop; there’s a good chance that you value online shopping because it is more convenient and efficient than other channels.  However, you may encounter issues that you cannot address yourself, either because you cannot find the feature on the site or it simply does not exist.  When those situations arise you probably do 1 of 2 things: call/chat customer service, or leave and find your product somewhere else.  This post evaluates ways in which businesses can improve customer autonomy with a specific focus on Self-Service.

How can businesses improve customer autonomy?

Businesses can improve customer autonomy by ensuring that the site is usable and that “Self-Service” capabilities are enabled for customers.

Ensure the site is usable

First and foremost, a site must be usable, intuitive, and easy to navigate.  Customers must be able to find the products that they want, inform themselves, and have a clear path to purchase.  If they don’t, they’re likely to abandon their purchase or spend time on working with a Customer Service Representative (CSR) to figure out how to use the site.  John Vurdelja discusses product data’s impact on the customer experience in his article Why Bad Product Data Disrupts eCommerce Implementations.  However, optimizing usability is by no means trivial and much more could be written about this topic.

 Enable “Self-Service” for customers

The concept of customer “Self-Service” refers to a customer’s ability to address their own issues without having to interact with anyone from the business with whom they are shopping.  Adding the below features to the site will go a long way in enabling customers to address the vast majority of their issues.

  • Order Management: Often times customers call/chat-in because they want to view their order history, view the status of the order, track shipping, cancel their order, or request a return. Adding these features to your site will address many of the customers inquiries that your call center handles. It is also important to note that these features can be implemented for anonymous and authenticated customers alike since an order can be looked up using only an order number and shipping zip code in many cases.
  • Proactive Notifications: Related to Order Management, consider implementing mechanisms that notify the customer every time something of relevance changes on an order. For example, a customer should be notified when the order has been shipped, sent their tracking number when it is available, informed if their order was split and they will be receiving more than one package, informed if there is any delay in shipping, etc. Proactive notifications not only benefit the customer, but also enable businesses to utilize this communication channel as another marketing opportunity to their customer.
  • Profile Management: It is important to ensure that relevant features exist to enable the customer to manage their own personal information and preferences. Features like the ability to manage contact information, reset passwords, opt in/out of newsletters, manage shipping addresses, managed credit cards, etc. are fairly standard however they sometimes lack adoption, especially with B2B businesses. Later sections discuss how to increase adoption of these features.
  • B2B Organization Management: Similar to the Profile Management topic, it is important that B2B businesses offer their customers the ability to manage relevant aspects of their organization on the site. These features include the ability to manage: sold-to/ship-to addresses, users, spending limits, purchase approval workflow, user permissions, etc.

How can businesses ensure adoption of new self-service features?

Even if one were to implement every feature mentioned, it is still possible that the customer will not adopt the new features.  Two ways to ensure adoption are to champion it through Customer Service Representatives and to use in-context guidance tools to generate awareness.

Champion Adoption through Customer Service

Serving as a champion for self-service will have a long-lasting effect for the customer, improve their overall experience, and reduce unnecessary sessions with CSRs.  A CSR can best accomplish this by determining if a self-service feature capable of addressing the customers issue exists when the customer calls/chats-in.  If one does, the CSR should take advantage of the opportunity to educate them on how to use the relevant self-service feature and then walk the customer through the process using the immediate issue.

A perfect example of this is a customer forgetting their password and calling into customer service.  Instead of resetting their password for them, the CSR should show the customer where the “forgot password” functionality and stay with them while the customer resets their password.  There’s a good chance that the customer just didn’t realize that it was possible and will be thankful that they were informed.

Generate Awareness Using In-Context Guidance Tools

The quickest way ensure adoption of a new feature is to make a customer aware that it exists and to show them how to use it.  For major changes, like a re-platform of a site or the launch of an entire suite of self-service features many organizations utilize in-context guidance tools, such as WalkMe, to guide the customer through each new feature before they begin their shopping session.  This is especially valuable for B2B businesses whose sites have the added complexity of B2B Organization Management and a customer base that might not have a strong technical acumen.

When launching in-context guidance it is important that it is used sparingly and is minimally obtrusive so that the customer doesn’t abandon their session. To accomplish this consider the following:

  1. Make sure each customer receives the prompt only once.
  2. Allow the customer to circumvent guidance.
  3. Only activate for a short time after the launch of a new feature.
  4. Ensure that the guidance is short, sweet, and to the point.

So What?

Improving customer autonomy by enabling self-service enhances customer experiences and will ultimately lead to more engagement.  While adoption may take time, if implemented correctly, it will inevitably have the added benefit of making your organization (CSRs and Sales Reps alike) more operationally efficient.

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