Self-Service Vs. Customer Support: Which is the Best Customer Engagement Strategy?

customer engagement strategy

This is a guest post from Brayn Wills, knowledge management manager at ProProfs. He is responsible for creating unique and relevant content on knowledge base tools and keeping track of the latest developments in the realm of knowledge management. In his free time, he is either reading a new book or exploring offbeat destinations.

When customers deal with businesses, they expect a great experience. This means that some kind of customer support needs to be available to them, around the clock.

Of course, providing quality customer support with real human agents managing helpdesks 24/7 is an expensive proposition.

On the other hand, companies need to make it easy for customers to access information to solve common queries – this is a vital factor in the journey towards consistent, high-quality customer satisfaction.

Many organizations are now implementing customer self-service via traditional and online platforms to ensure that neither the business nor the customer suffers.

This helps them to deliver a double whammy of maintaining their overheads while improving their efficiency in customer service, both of which result in improved customer experience.

With the adoption of digital services, self-service is gradually minimizing the burden on live agents too. It is also allowing businesses to successfully meet customer expectations with regards to servicing queries in a more timely and regulated fashion.

However, going overboard with the automation of customer support self-service can be a risky move for businesses. While it may help in curbing expenses, it may take an adverse toll on customer satisfaction and the overall reputation of the business. Therefore, the key is to hit the right balance between man and machine.

How are businesses adapting their customer engagement strategies?

adapting customer engagement strategies

In recent times there has been a lot of talk about digitally self-servicing customer inquiries. What is actually happening is an integration of two worlds – the physical with the digital. Today, depending on their requirements, customers can seamlessly navigate between these two dimensions.

What does this mean for businesses? An integrated customer engagement strategy that amalgamates with the digital with the physical needs to be implemented to get the best results.

This integration is not without its challenges:

  • Understanding customer psychology: Businesses need to have an understanding of customer psychology. This includes how they think and anticipate actions which should be based on the touchpoints that they have had on their customer journey. For example, a customer who has been researching a product online, for some time may follow it up by visiting a physical store. This customer will be a more confirmed buyer focussed on a particular product. The queries from such a customer will be more detailed and directed as opposed to a customer who has landed up without researching anything on the product before.
  • Anticipate customer actions to meet expectations: By understanding what your customers want, it will be easier to meet their expectations. This can be done by listening to your customers through genuine conversations. However, whenever you speak to your customers, make sure the conversation is helpful and human.
  • Map multiple purchase paths: The journey of a modern customer is more complex. Hence, this compels businesses to chart out multiple paths to a customer purchasing a product. Even though customer engagement will be variable depending on the specific needs, the journey should be quick and simple. However, it should not be at the cost of diminishing the richness of the experience.

Man versus machine?

man vs machine

Businesses can offer outstanding customer service that combines man and machine, rather than playing one against the other. A blend of these two models enhances both customer and agent experience.

This can be achieved in four phases:

Phase 1: Transforming customer behavior

The biggest hurdle in transitioning from a direct contact model to a hybrid one involves transforming customer behavior to a certain extent. It may be a difficult task to train customers to try and self-serve their queries initially before contacting customer support.

Following these best practices can help:

  • If you have a dedicated section on your website that caters to customer self-servicing their queries, ensure that they are informed about its location by sharing the URL via email, social media or any other communication channels.
  • All your product pages should be linked to your help site to enable customers to navigate in a hassle-free manner.
  • Urge your live agents to communicate to customers about the benefits of self-servicing their inquiries with the help of a knowledge base to resolve their issues. The same can be added as a part of the signatures to all emails that go out to customers.
  • If there are relevant article links for successfully resolved customer queries, encourage your live agents to share it with customers for future reference. The process can be simplified by using automated tools that can bring up relevant content for the agents, basis the customer tickets generated. Advanced tools can also suggest articles for query resolution when customers fill out the inquiry form.
  • When providing customer support via app platforms, always insert links to FAQ articles.

Educating customers is important. However, businesses should know where to draw the line between increasing awareness about using customer self-service and forcefully directing them to adopt it. They need to respect how the customer wishes to interact as that is part of the overall customer experience.

Phase 2: A seamless transition

With a hybrid system in place, your support agents should be able to intervene on resolving a query if a customer is unable to find a solution on their own. In most cases, agents will probably not be aware of the context of issue either, but they must be trained to help anyways.

These tips can ensure that this transition from self to direct is seamless:

  • Ensure that your customers know that there are live agents to help in case they are unable to find a solution to their queries on their own.
  • Your customers should be able to contact you instantly if they are unable to resolve their issues. Be it self-serving through knowledge base FAQs or articles or via chatbots powered by AI, your live agents should only be a click away. By incorporating a ‘Contact Us’ button next to every support article and chat bot window, does the job.
  • If your business is using bots as a mode of self-servicing first level customer queries, make sure your customers have been informed of it. Being upfront ensures that even if the bots do make mistakes, your customers understand the difference between man and machine. Therefore, they are quicker to forgive in such situations.
  • Have a system in place that prompts the customer support team of the customer’s journey through self-servicing their queries. Hence, if the customer is unable to find the right answers in a customer support knowledge base, the live agent should not refer him or her back to the articles that the customer has already checked.
  • It is important to get customer feedback on every knowledge base article and turn them into actionable tickets internally. By adopting this process, you can constantly upgrade existing content and come up with new content that caters to your customer needs better.

Phase 3: Retraining live agents

Implementing a hybrid model is not only making it convenient for your customers to find solutions to their issues, but is also making things better for your support teams too. A strategically built customer self-serve platform will help flush out any ‘how to’ questions and Level 1 queries. This helps live agents too as the amount of repetitive work decreases significantly. However, retraining agents who previously handled Level 1 queries will be required to transfer them to more appropriate roles.

Formal training sessions or workshops can be organized to achieve this. Experienced agents can be brought in as mentors for Level 1 agents and train them according to the demands of their new roles.

Phase 4: Leverage your community

Leveraging your community is another way of implementing the hybrid support model. Businesses that have millions of customers cannot assign agents for one-on-one customer interactions for their products.

However, they have efficiently worked their way through building a community that can offer one-on-one help whenever customers have issues.

Whenever a complex question is posed by a customer, they are able to receive responses from a real person who may be a fellow user or the moderator of the community. The added benefit to having such engagements via communities implies that the information is publicly available.

This means that other customers facing the same problem will be able to refer to the exchange to solve their issues.

Why do customers love self-service?

why do customers love self service

So, why is customer self-service gaining in popularity so quickly? A study found that customers who took the digital-only route, for example, by searching on a self-service knowledge base, reported higher satisfaction levels by 19 percent as opposed to those who received support through traditional channels.

Fast, frictionless and personalization of resolving queries and issues have built the foundation resulting in quick popularity of customer self-service. And with smartphone penetration at its highest levels, customers want to access information and services according to their convenience from any location.

Why live agents are just as important

A recent whitepaper states:

“Customers of all ages are moving away from using the phone to access web and mobile self-service, communities, virtual agents, automated chat dialogs, or chatbots—as a first point of contact with a company.” – The State of Customer Experience in Hospitality

Even though the report states that there is a 12 percent decline for queries resolved via telephone, customers still want to be able to speak to an agent if their queries cannot be solved completely online. This view is supported by an article published by Harvard Business Review, which states that 51 percent of the calls to customer support came from customers who had already tried to solve their query through self-service.

The Loudhouse Survey in 2013 established the following:

  • Telephone: 59 percent expect resolution within 30 minutes
  • Social media: 52 percent expect resolution within a day
  • Email: 75 percent expect resolution within a day

When customers do not receive satisfactory responses from the primary self-service channel, they tend to fall back on the telephone as the next level of solution. If the query is relatively complex, it will require a live agent’s intervention. Additionally, there is a fraction of the client base who still believe that calling and speaking to an agent will result in solving their issue faster in comparison to a self-service customer engagement.

Elderly customers may not be comfortable navigating their way through digital technologies. They will resort to solving their queries by speaking to a customer support agent. Therefore, we are still far away from a time when the existence of live agents will be completely eliminated in a business landscape.

Going the extra mile: How to optimize your customer engagement strategy

To win customer loyalty, businesses must ensure that their needs are fulfilled, however daunting that may sound. This preserves business revenues too. In order to reach this goal, businesses should concentrate on three key areas:

  • Balancing humans and technology: All consumers would want the right mix of automated conversations with human personalization. Businesses should realise that customer’s needs will vary depending on which part of the journey they are in. Hence, the transition from automated to human touch should be managed in a manner where customers are not repeating themselves. The right experience at the right moment counts a lot.
  • Increase understanding: In order to make chatbots an effective tool they need to be equipped with the capability to comprehend what the customers are asking. Artificial intelligence along with natural language processing can enable chatbots with the right technology and data knowledge that will help them to respond accurately and consistently.
  • Happy agents means happy customers: Automation of basic query resolution helps in enhancing the significance of live agents in an organizational system. With higher levels of skill, knowledge and deeper understanding, customer support teams will deal with more complex queries, focus on building customer empathy and improve overall experience.

Effective strategy follows a good process, and the best processes work for you, not against you. By using workflow management software like Process Street, you can save time and money by automating a ton of the repetitive tasks you’d otherwise have to do manually, each and every time you had to provide support to a customer.

Even if you’re using a self-service knowledge base, you still need a good process to be able to streamline the way you expand, update, and maintain that knowledge base. Process Street helps you to build processes to maximise your business potential, no matter what you’re trying to do. If you can break it down into simple steps, with clear instructions, it’s a process. And with any process, there’s always room for improvement.

Check out this webinar video for an introduction to all things Process Street:

If you don’t have time for the whole webinar, the TL;DR is that Process Street makes recurring tasks fun, fast, and faultless. It’s a BPM software, which means it’s designed to help you manage your processes, and help you get more work done, faster, and more efficiently.

Process Street has a ton of features designed to put the power of processes in your hands. Are your processes complex, with lots of variability, and forking paths? Conditional logic has you covered.

Need to manage the workload across a large team, with different tasks in the process allocated to different people, at different times during the process? Role assignments and dynamic due dates will solve all your problems.

The basic idea is that you can build any kind of process imaginable with Process Street. Best of all, the interface is simple and easy to use, so you won’t need to waste time overcoming steep learning curves.

Humanizing the experience: It’s the way forward

In addition, neither businesses nor consumers want an I, ROBOT kind of situation on their hands, where robots end up causing more problems than they solve. So, what can you do to make sure automation is working for you, not against you?

The business and the customer are now connected through technology that has powered a new digital relationship; one that has potential, is mutually beneficial and, most importantly, enjoyable.

For a business, the key moment is to ascertain when their customers need this human intervention.

Even though resources are precious, businesses still need to be aligned with human touch points at critical junctures in the customer journey. Through smart allocation of personalized, value-added links, having resources on board will pay its dividends.

It will be important to go beyond the hype around these technologies. The future of customer experience ultimately will be effective through successful marriage of technology with the human touch.

What do you think about the future of customer engagement? Will technology eventually eliminate the need for human support solutions, or will consumers always feel better talking one-to-one with a real person? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!

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Oliver Peterson

Oliver Peterson is a content writer for Process Street with an interest in systems and processes, attempting to use them as tools for taking apart problems and gaining insight into building robust, lasting solutions.


One Comment

You’ve given such a critical analysis of customer engagement strategy. I have one recommendation. In order to anticipate customers’needs and improve their experiences, we need to take their feedback seriously. People tend to neglect it. Thanks for your sharing!


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