What is self-service?
Self-service means that customers help themselves. This can involve finding information, getting instructions, ordering items, tracking shipments, configuring products or starting any other business process.
Self-service options save companies money and customers time – a win-win situation. Transparency is also increased, and users can use the services where and when they want.
The spread of self-service
Self-service has now established itself in various areas: simple analog examples are coin-operated machines or buying flowers from a roadside shop. But, there are also many digital examples too, such as tracking your order or learning how to do a new task.
Digital natives are not the only ones demanding more and more digital self-service in other areas. In fact, the push was made possible by modern self-service portals that provide users with the content they need via the clever presentation of knowledge databases, frequently asked questions (FAQs), chatbots or forums.
Examples of self-service in company environments
Below we look at two self-service examples that are common in the modern corporate world. It’s important to note that self-service resources are not only for helping customers of your business; self-service can be used with customers, vendors, employees or anyone who is seeking service and support from your team(s).
The customer side – self-service for IT problems
The IT service team is confronted with numerous, quite similar inquiries and problems. For instance, many customers call each day to have their software passwords reset. This process takes time, which is also reflected financially and in opportunity costs. Customers may get annoyed if the reset process wastes their valuable time.
As a solution, the company could implement a self-service support portal. Customers would directly visit this portal and start a request for obtaining a new password. Most likely, this would trigger a behind-the-scenes process for resetting passwords that the customer could carry out without even speaking to an agent.
As a result, the customer is more satisfied, has saved time and may even recommend the business to others. The company’s own support staff also see their workload reduced, as this repetitive task no longer requires their intervention no longer. The investment has therefore clearly paid off.
The employee side – self-service in HR
Self-service also works internally. For instance, let’s say that an employee is about to take a business trip. The employee can access the self-service portal to begin the booking process.
Sometimes, however, there are questions that come up during the booking process. Perhaps the employee needs to know how to submit related expenses or what the policy is for extending a work trip to enjoy some vacation days. In the self-service portal, the employee will see content about the most important questions answered clearly and concisely, found quickly through an information search.
Once the employee starts the process from the portal, all that is needed is for one person to approve the relevant process steps. All the details of the trip are captured, saved, and made available to those who need to know about it.
Components of digital self-service
The following areas are particularly relevant for digital self-service:
- A knowledge database with knowledge base articles (KBA) and detailed instructions
- Frequently asked questions (FAQ) with short answers
- AI chatbots that answer questions immediately
- a community forum where customers can exchange ideas
Let’s take a brief look at each of these areas in more detail.
A knowledge database is essentially an online library in which information is available in an organized centrally-located way. The information may come from different sources, such as co-workers, policy documents, research by other teams, etc.
In other words:
Knowledge that users would otherwise have to gather from various sources can be found centrally and clearly presented in the database.
Possible types of information may be stored in the software, such as instructions, manuals, problem solutions, best practices and troubleshooting methods. If a customer has a specific concern, they can – ideally – solve it quickly by finding and reading the knowledge base article (KBA).
Frequently asked questions (FAQ)
Presenting frequently asked questions has long been standard practice. It is more a question of how exactly this is done, which questions should be considered and what the content should look like. If these can be found centrally in a self-service portal and do not disappear somewhere on a website, this is already a good start.
It is also advisable for experienced customer support employees with in-depth knowledge to collect the most frequently asked questions and the most helpful answers to them. It is important that the answers are short and precise.
Tip: Here too, a useful overview makes FAQs more useful. The questions should be arranged in a sensible order and well structured – for example, according to superordinate categories. The answers are best expanded dynamically instead of being displayed rigidly.
AI-based chatbots are becoming increasingly popular and, with the spread of ChatGPT, are already part of everyday experiences for many. Text-based dialog systems allow users to receive answers from a computer program using natural language. In short: the user chats with a system and receives immediate answers to their questions, instructions for processes and more.
The advantage over an FAQ section is that the user does not have to search for answers, but simply asks their questions. In self-service, AI chatbots offer something like an interactive knowledge database.
In the best-case scenario, AI chatbots save time-consuming customer contacts by quickly providing helpful answers.
Its usefulness stands and falls with the database that is available to them. Bots also quickly reach their limits when it comes to complex problems. Here, AI bots cannot replace an actual dialog with a service employee.
The major advantage: AI chatbots provide a reliable service around the clock for – more or less – standard questions.
Forums have been established communication channels for exchanging information and getting help since the early days of the internet. While they are far from new, they can make life easier for customer service.
Instead of customers interacting with employees, AI applications or the knowledge base, they simply help each other. Competent users are generally quite happy to share their experiences. It is also possible that many people have already encountered similar problems.
A forum is an ideal place to share information – especially information that cannot be found in a database – to exchange ideas and ultimately find appropriate solutions.
Self-service portals enable customers
With a self-service portal, companies put their customers in a position to help themselves. The major advantage of a suitable software solution is that it can clearly cover all relevant inquiry topics and link them to support tools, such as customer tickets.
In a ticket system, for example, users can immediately access relevant knowledge that the software automatically links to the corresponding tickets. Or they can independently search the portal for specific content that answers their questions before contacting a service employee.
Another option is for customers to view the status of their tickets. This creates transparency and ensures clear and realistic expectations. Getting information quickly and easily satisfies customers. It also relieves the burden on customer support.
Functions of a self-service portal
Overall, a self-service portal covers a wide range of functions; it cannot be limited to just a few use cases. In fact, it has the potential to allow companies to massively expand support while at the same time reducing service costs.
Below are some of the functions that self-service portals can perform.
- Services: A typical case is for customers to track the status of their orders and the delivery of their shipments. This also includes, for example, paying invoices via the portal.
- Communication: The portal can be used to send messages, make support requests and generally ask questions.
- Search function: Navigation is crucial for a self-service portal. Users should be able to find the information they need quickly. This includes an intelligent organization of the database, intuitive search fields, a clear menu and other navigation aids. And, it should have built-in search functionality to support users when they struggle with the navigation.
- Completion of tasks: A major advantage of such a portal is that customers can carry out certain tasks independently. For example, they can fill out forms, upload documents, update information or carry out transactions.
- Help and support: If users get stuck and need help, support functions, FAQs or contact options may be available.
Tip: Ease of use is everything. If customers cannot use a self-service portal easily and intuitively, its usefulness is significantly reduced. Experience has shown that people (over time) avoid systems that are too complicated for them. Easy operation and a positive experience are therefore extremely important for users.
Advantages of self-service
Customers, employees, the company as a whole: a well-positioned self-service solution helps everyone. Here are the most important benefits.
In today’s world, customers no longer want to be dependent on fixed times. They have numerous appointments, a lot to do and are sometimes under considerable time pressure. In other words, service should be available on demand at all times.
This is precisely the advantage of self-service – it is available even in the middle of the night, during vacation periods or over weekends. Customers can access information and services that are not overly complex at any time.
Better cost control
In support and service, customer inquiries tie up a lot of resources – the costs for adequate processing often cannot be calculated. Especially when the volume is high, employees spend much time and are not available for other important tasks.
In short: investing in the development of a self-service portal pays off, especially in the long term. Customers only have to consult employees for complex queries and rare problems, which means that the required personnel costs are reduced enormously.
Improved customer experience
The modern customer is demanding and wants personalized service: the information available should be comprehensive and accessible in various ways. Some want direct contact with an employee, others like to access a knowledge database, and still others prefer to use AI.
A self-service portal diversifies customer advice and creates new opportunities: Overall, more service is offered, which is a huge advantage for customer satisfaction.
In the world of work, we often talk about efficiency as a goal. In the case of self-service, this is justified in several respects.
- Customers have direct access to the resources they need and can find appropriate solutions to their concerns more quickly.
- Employees save a lot of time due to less direct customer service and can invest more in value-adding and creative work.
- If a self-service portal is used internally, employees also save a lot of time and can make quick progress with many problems.
Mistakes are human, but they are often avoidable. The calculation is fairly simple: as relevant knowledge, information and instructions can be accessed at any time in a self-service portal, customers and employees make fewer mistakes.
Tips for usage of self-service
Here are a few more practical tips to help companies get the most out of self-service software.
Give customers the choice
Customers don’t like being told what to do. Especially those who appreciate direct contact with customer service are slow to get used to a self-service portal.
This means that no one should be forced to use self-service. At best, customers always have a choice and can act according to their own preferences. In this sense, a portal should enrich the service and by no means restrict it.
Keep the content up to date
Once self-service offerings are created and implemented, the work doesn’t end. Too many organizations fail to keep the content up to date. But customers take the content they come across as a benchmark. If they can’t rely on it, implementing a self-service option becomes absurd.
A portal like this therefore stays relevant by staying up-to-date. Steps such as workflow automation can help enormously to ensure that it is always up to date.
Make sure you have an intuitive user interface
We know it from our everyday experience: anything that is too cumbersome has no real chance of being used regularly. Your self-service portal should therefore be intuitive and not leave users with unanswered questions. A positive user experience is paramount, as are well-sorted articles and instructions.
Optimize for mobile devices
Browsing from mobile devices is not only part of the everyday experience, it also gives customers more options and freedom when using web services. If a self-service portal is not optimized for this, it not only costs potential, but it can also lead to frustration instead of a positive service experience.
Ask for feedback – and implement it
No one can judge the quality of a portal better than those who use it regularly. Qualified feedback is the only way to ensure that the self-service actually fulfills the requirements placed on it. Short feedback forms are usually sufficient for this.
Tip: Many customers also feel valued when companies contact them directly and actively ask about potential improvements.
Conclusion: Self-service – for a better customer experience
The modern customer is digitally savvy and well informed. Traditional customer service is still important, but does not go far enough on its own. The expectation is for fast and comprehensive ways to access helpful information and solve problems. In short, self-service does not make other service areas completely redundant, but it does expand and improve the range of services on offer.
In principle, digital self-service combines various formats and functions, from pure communication with an agent to independently provisioning services to self-configuring products.
The advantages are manifold and speak a clear language. Many organizations would do well to establish a self-service for their customers and employees. The investment in setting up such a portal usually pays for itself very quickly.
Find out how OTRS can support you in your self-service efforts.