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Self-Service: Do Customers Really Want to Help Themselves?

Published on Apr. 13, 2022

Last updated on Apr. 28, 2022
12 min read

As more customers get comfortable with online shopping, automation, and chatbots being available from retailers they want to buy from, there is a growing trend towards businesses providing self-service support for customers. It makes perfect sense from the retailer’s point of view, because it means it can put the resources that would otherwise be used for customer support into other areas of the business—but is it what customers really want? In this post, we’ll be taking a look at customer self-service, why customers like it, and how you can make the most of it, whatever the size of your business.  

What Is Customer Self-Service?

Customer Self-Service with Chatbot

Customer self-service refers to the ways businesses empower their customers to complete their interactions with a company, without needing to deal with a customer service representative. There are self-service options to identify solutions to any questions customers have, and to help them to troubleshoot issues for themselves.

How customer self-service might look should primarily depend upon the needs of the customer. In many cases, it might be a simple Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page, a knowledge base, or an online discussion forum hosted by the company and frequented by employees and customers. It may even include some automation features such as chatbots (ideally with escalation features) and customer product training.

Why Do Customers Like Self-Service?

Triumphant Woman at a Computer

Even when companies provide five-star service, there are many customers who prefer being able to access self-service rather than having to call a customer support line, or to wait for a reply to an email. There are a huge number of reasons why customers don’t want to have to phone in, including:

  • They don’t have time for waiting on hold
  • They don’t like the on-hold music
  • They have social anxiety about talking to someone they don’t know
  • They have telephonophobia
  • They have a hearing impairment that makes understanding someone difficult
  • They don’t want to add to their phone bill
  • They simply find searching online for an answer easier

Since there is more competition, customers have more options than ever before, so customers are much less likely to buy from you if they have to email for an answer, or worse—they have to call you.

Can Self-Service Replace Customer Support Teams?

Customer Service Team

In theory, it could—eventually—but in practice, you won’t want to do this. Certainly your self-service support can help your team serve customers more effectively, but it will be a long time before absolutely all customers prefer self-service over being able to contact a customer support team. And realistically, there will always be customers who have questions that haven’t been added to a self-service page—and so they will contact the company.

In addition to that, being able to pick up the phone and speak to a real person, or to email someone if something goes wrong, holds quite a lot of reassurance and trust for many customers. You’re likely to already be getting plenty of those types of enquiries, so your self-service support needs to be another layer of help for your customers, rather than a replacement for your live help.

Think about Amazon’s customer self-service support offering—they wouldn’t have become one of the most successful companies in the world if it wasn’t for their excellent customer support. When you log in, there are several ways you can find information you need about anything on your account, but if you need to, you can do live chat, request a call back from a customer service representative, or find a number to call them. While as a customer you might only rarely need to speak to an agent at Amazon, knowing that you CAN speak to someone (should you ever need to) offers reassurance, right? The same goes for customers of smaller businesses—and for smaller businesses, getting the balance of self-service and live support right is even more important.  

How Can We Do Self-Service Well for Our Customers?

Woman with Cellphone Giving a Thumbs Up

Doing self-service well is the same as doing customer service well—you can’t do a half-baked job, otherwise customers become frustrated and go elsewhere, or they vent about the lack of support to other people. Either way, without providing fantastic service, your business won’t thrive, so when you’re going to create self-service support for customers, be certain to do it well, otherwise there isn’t much point.

What Do Your Customers Need from Your Support Content?

Businesspeople Shaking Hands

Identifying exactly what your customers want and need from self-service support needs to be at the front of your mind when you start providing it.

You might already have an internal database or wiki your team relies on for help replying to customers, but don’t make the mistake of thinking you can simply use this information. It absolutely can be helpful to inform how you create self-service content, but it shouldn’t be just transferred over, since there may be notes about how to treat customers, or what happened with a specific case.

Include Your Team in Creating Self-Service Support

Business Team Discussing Ideas

Your customer service team are the ones who know the types of questions your customers ask, and the issues they encounter—especially when it comes to the frequently asked questions. So it just makes sense to get them involved, because not only will they be able to tell you the questions they get asked regularly, but they will also be able to share the answers they give your customers.

Not all businesses have a bunch of great writers on their team, but what they do have are experts in the business. With this in mind, encourage all team members to get involved with creating content for your self-service offering where they can. They might be confident enough to put their voice to a short how-to video, or they might be able to make notes on a particular product that can then be passed on to the marketing team or a professional writer for polishing.

Check Your Inbox

Businessman Checking His Inbox

If you’re wondering where to start, start with your support inbox, as well as your social media DMs and comments. This is where you’ll be able to filter through the data for keywords, and find out what questions are asked most often.

Businesses that have already streamlined their shared inboxes, direct messages, and queries from marketplaces into one app can find FAQs to inform customer self-service much more quickly, as well as building automated replies, business rules and custom filters to deal with enquiries more efficiently. For example, if you have ChannelReply and Zoho Desk, you can create Amazon autoresponders that answer different FAQs based on the customer’s order status, the item they ordered and more.

When you’ve identified the most commonly asked questions in your inbox, you can refine the information on your website, update product listings, and create the content your customers will be looking for on your self-service information. 

Create Content That Answers the Most Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

It makes sense that once you know which questions get asked the most often, you’ll get to work creating the answers for your customers. Depending on how you’re building your self-service offering, it is pretty likely that you’ll want to prioritize creating them—writing, taking screenshots and/or photos, as well as recording any videos—in the order of how often they get asked. This means that as soon as you have the answers, you can make them available as quickly as possible. 

When you have worked through the most common questions and issues, it is well worth taking a moment to review any of the enquiries you’ve had that were particularly tricky to deal with. Although they might only come up once in a while, keeping a record of the answers means you can add that info to your knowledge base, both for your customers and your staff to make use of in the future.

What Sort of Language Should You Use for Your Self-Service Content?

Woman on Phone Reviewing Notes

Knowing the type of customer that will interact with your business is essential before you start creating your self-service content, but you can’t go wrong if you keep your language super simple and easy to understand. Even if your target customers are likely to be familiar with jargon to do with a product or service, it is better to make your content accessible.

Where Should Self-Service Help Be?

Various Support Symbols and Woman with Tablet Shaking Hands with a Businessman

Your self-service help needs to be easily accessible for your customers, which in most cases, means you’ll need to have it in an obvious place on your website. That might be in the links at the top of your homepage, in the footer, or in a logical spot somewhere in a menu. Wherever you decide to put your self-service info, it has to be easy for your customers to find—and you need to make it easy to navigate to from elsewhere on your website too. Internal links on your website are always a good idea for SEO, but linking from a category page, a landing page, or a product listing means customers can find the answers to their questions on your self-service pages as soon as they have thought of them. This will mean customers are much more likely to convert when they have identified the answer to their question.

Do You Need to Optimize Self-Service Content?

Creating great content is part of providing quality customer service. Even if you are only creating simple FAQs for your customer self-service offering, you should optimize your content in various ways.

For SEO

Search Engine Optimization Symbols over Workspace

Searching from within your self-service portal isn’t the only way customers will find the information they need. Many will search the web, and your self-service materials should be well-optimized so customers can find them—and not something your competitors wrote instead.

SEO shouldn’t be the driving force for you creating a self-service portal, but it is certainly an additional, valuable reason to do so. Although SEO guidelines are ever-changing, one rule has been constant for a long time: write for the reader. This should always be the most important rule for your self-service support.

For Mobile Users

Customer Scrolling through Self-Service Content on His Phone

This should be an obvious one to everyone in the 2020s, but you’d be surprised how many businesses either forget about it or don’t test their self-service pages for how they will perform on different devices. Although mobile-responsive pages will generally work on all types of browsers and operating systems now, it isn’t always the case. Considering that by 2024, it is expected that around 187.5 million US customers will have made a purchase from a web browser or an app on a mobile device, businesses simply cannot afford to neglect how their website looks on a mobile device.

If you already have a range of devices available—iOS, Android, Windows and so on—then of course, you can use them to check your self-service and FAQ pages, and you’ll be able to do user testing with someone who has never seen those pages before. But you don’t have to have a cupboard full of tech available. There are online tools that can show you how fast your website loads on mobile, as well as the way it displays on different devices. (For example, you can use Google Chrome’s Device Mode to run mobile tests from your computer.) Many website builders have these built in too, so you can do your checks as you are building the pages.

For Customers with Disabilities

Disabled Customer in Wheelchair Using Accessible Computer

Optimizing your content for customers with disabilities should be ingrained into the process of creating pages on your website and listings on marketplaces, but again, many businesses neglect this—even when it is a legal requirement in most territories worldwide. Although there are assistive technologies inbuilt on smartphones and desktop PCs, and thousands of programs and apps that can help users with disabilities to access information on websites, why not make it as easy as possible? Customers with disabilities are just as likely to abandon their cart if they find it hard to complete their transaction or can’t access the information they need. With approximately 61 million adults (around 1 in 4) living with a disability in the US, it is a huge mistake for businesses to forget to optimize their content for customers with disabilities.

It is relatively easy to implement changes that make it easier for customers with disabilities—and most of the optimization steps should be done normally as you’re building your pages anyway. Read more about making your website accessible here, and for video content here. Just as with optimizing for mobile, there are tools you can use to check your website for accessibility issues, so you can quickly identify and resolve any issues. If your website serves customers internationally, look for tools that take international legislation into account, rather than just your own country’s regulations.  

How Should Images Be Used?

YouTube-style Play Button

There’s an old phrase that a picture speaks a thousand words, but this doesn’t mean you should just use images. A combination of both screenshots and text is usually the best way to go about creating clarity for your customers, but that also depends upon what you’re trying to explain.

When you’re creating screenshots or taking photos for your self-service content, generally PNG files are the best image format to use, since they won’t lose any quality. Be certain to add notes around the images to clearly explain why the image is there, and what should be understood.

If you can make things even clearer by recording short videos that you speak over, then consider doing this. There are millions of videos on YouTube that demonstrate how to do even the most mundane things, so it is clear that this is an approach that works. Our own YouTube videos demonstrate setup steps even when they’re as simple as clicking a few buttons, and they have dramatically improved conversion for us. Free screen recording software or a decent smartphone is usually all you need to create good enough quality video for knowledge base articles.

Keep Reviewing Your FAQs

Question Mark on a Pebble on a Beach

Self-service content and FAQs are ongoing processes, so don’t think of them as one-and-done jobs! As your business grows, and your product offering evolves, so the content you’re providing needs to change too. Set the task on your calendar for completion periodically, based on how quickly your business changes. Some businesses might only need to review once a year, others may find it is a monthly task, while others may update every time they make a change—such as for businesses that provide software.

If you can, allow customers to rate your self-service content, and give them a way to provide feedback about it so you can update it as soon as customers find it unsuited to their needs.

When you receive questions from your customers that you believe you have answered clearly in your knowledge base or FAQs, you have to be prepared to review them. Sure, they might not have checked there, but if you’re seeing the same questions in your inbox over and over, then you can use that to refine your self-service information. Maybe you need to move that particular FAQ higher in the list of questions, or to review and update other content on your website to help eliminate those questions.  

Highlight the Most Frequently Accessed Content

Team Discussion with Manager Pointing to Sticky Notes on the Wall

Help your customers to find the information they’re searching for by organizing your FAQ page or knowledge base in a way that makes sense. The right layout will depend on what your business does and how your customers are likely to search for the answers to their question, but making the most popular questions visible means they will find the solution more quickly, and get to making their purchase sooner too.

Utilize Customer Search Behavior

Search Bar against Abandoned Building Wall Background

Done well, your website is probably the hardest-working asset in your business. As your customers start to engage with your self-service help, you can use information from customer searches to identify further issues and FAQs that you need to add—and keep expanding the information you provide for your customers.  

It isn’t just about increasing the breadth of your knowledge base, though—you can use customer search data to continue to refine your information. It may be that customers aren’t using the same keywords as you thought they would when they search your self-service portal, so they’re not getting the information they need returned. Where this is the case, you can update your information, add keyword tags, and link search terms to certain queries to help ensure your customers really are getting the support they need.

What Value Does Customer Self-Service Provide?

Website Traffic Chart

If you can get it right, customer self-service provides a huge amount of value for both the business and the customers. It can increase profits as a result of:

  • Helping customers to find the information they want quickly, leading to a faster purchase decision
  • Allowing customers to access answers 24/7, 365 days a year
  • Helping your team provide the right answers to customers (they can refer to the customer self-service materials)
  • Reassuring customers that they are making the right decision
  • Increasing trust in your business
  • Demonstrating the expertise you have in your products

These aren’t the only ways customer self-service can provide value—and each business should be able to identify why their target customers would be likely to find self-service support helpful.

Our Final Thoughts

It might be an ongoing task to add to your calendar, but a strong self-service support offering for your customers will encourage them to engage with your business—so it is well worth making the investment in creating the right self-service support for them. Customer self-service shouldn’t be done as a cost-saving exercise with a view to reducing team numbers, rather as an additional support for both staff and customers that can allow customers to find what they need more efficiently, leading to increased trust and sales.  

Author
Dawn Matthews
Writer

Dawn has worked in ecommerce and online business since 2017. In addition to writing for ChannelReply, she is Head of Content at the dropshipping platform Avasam.

Prior to moving into ecommerce, Dawn spent over a decade in IT at major universities in the UK. She holds a master's degree in Forensic Psychology and Criminology and a bachelor's in Social Sciences. You can find her on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/dawn-matthews/