Forrester research shows that the majority of consumers prefer to use a company’s website to get answers to their questions rather than calling or sending an email. How does self-service play into your brand’s customer experience strategy?
1. Use a smart virtual agent
Most web self-service experiences consist of an FAQ page or a keyword-based search, which rely on customers to find their own answers and translate them into their own context. Think of these tools like a librarian – they don’t really give you a precise answer, but they tell you where to find the answer yourself. Understandably, customers are often left frustrated by this approach.
However, more sophisticated self-service tools provide customers with a virtual agent, an online assistant that engages in a two-way dialog to understand the intent and context of their questions. This ensures customers are given accurate and personalized responses. A virtual agent acts more like a concierge than a librarian. For example, take the question, "How do I get tickets for a show?" A concierge looks at your question in context, inferring that because you are standing in a hotel lobby in New York City, you are likely asking about tickets to a Broadway performance, not to the movie theatre.
Virtual agents use natural language processing to understand the nuances of a customer’s question. Take, for instance, a customer who asks "Where do I buy coffee?". A smart virtual agent, like a concierge, knows that this customer is looking for a cup of coffee to drink. However, if a different customer asks, "Where do you buy your coffee?" a concierge knows they probably want to know where the coffee shop sources their product. Even though these two requests differ by only a couple of words, a virtual agent understands they mean very different things.
In addition, virtual agents provide another layer of personalization by incorporating data from other systems, such as membership information, location, or purchase history. For example, if a customer with a premier membership who recently purchased an appliance asks about the store’s return policy, the virtual agent can supply the most exact answer possible: one that pertains to premier members for that specific product at the store nearest to him. This provides a much better customer experience than digging through a long list of return policies trying to identify which one fits his situation.
2. Deploy the virtual agent broadly across the website
Don’t make the mistake of hiding your virtual agent in the Contact Us section of your website. Assistance should be where the customer is making their decision. Make interactive support easy to find on any page where a customer may have a question, like product pages or the shopping cart. Companies should design these experiences based on the customer’s perspective, not their own.
Self-service can even be proactive. Depending on the customer’s online behavior, the virtual agent could pop up and ask if he or she needs assistance. For example, if a customer has two identical items of different sizes in her shopping cart, a smart virtual agent could ask if she needs a sizing chart.
3. Make self-service a core mobile app feature
Self-service should be an integral and well-thought-out component of your mobile app, not just a repeat of what’s on your mobile website. Carefully consider the experiences and activities you want customers to be able to perform from within your mobile app. Because many brands – even those with excellent web self-service – currently struggle to provide great self-service experiences through their mobile apps, this is a huge area of opportunity for brands to differentiate themselves.
The best mobile apps use customer location information (i.e. standing in the airport terminal) to contextualize their answers. Another feature that makes apps more user-friendly is product scanning, so the customer doesn’t have to type in the product name to get information.
Best-in-class apps use video to deliver excellent product service. For example, your customer is having trouble setting up that new smart TV or figuring out the attachments on their new stand mixer. Using live video to see their environment and situation helps agents provide precise, tailored assistance.
4. Set up the right knowledge base for your virtual agent
A virtual agent cannot respond effectively to customers’ questions if it doesn’t know the right answers! That’s where a knowledge base comes in, and having the right one makes all the difference.
The right knowledge base is right-sized, meaning it contains only the answers people actually need, not everything the business knows. The knowledgebase should also be query-driven, using natural language processing and conversational abilities to provide accurate, contextualized responses. Lastly, to ensure that the knowledgebase stays up-to-date, it should be easy for business users to author content without involving IT resources. In addition, it should pull from existing content on your website to avoid having to update the same information in multiple places.
5. Power your organization with the same knowledge base
You’ve put all this work into perfecting your knowledge base – have your live agents and store associates use it too! Not only does this approach provide consistency throughout the customer journey, but it also leads to faster resolution times.
Advanced knowledge management software (KMS) can even tailor the same topics to different audiences depending on their needs, like a customer, a service agent, or a store employee. This leads to a lower training investment, higher return on investment in the KMS, and reduced case handling time.
6. Mine customer queries for insights
What better way to gain insight into what your customers want than analyzing what they ask? A KMS with natural language processing can cluster customer queries into actionable trends, allowing you to update the knowledge base or to adjust course on product strategy. For example, the system could identify 30 customer questions that don’t have answers in the knowledge base. The use of natural language processing can determine the intent of questions, allowing you to group similar topics and reduce the workload.
In addition, machine learning can analyze trending topics and provide a better understanding of content gaps in the knowledge base. This function also delivers insights on how customers are talking or thinking about certain topics, which brands can use to inform new product releases and marketing strategies.
7. Enable seamless escalation
It’s a reality of serving customers: escalation happens. Not even the most sophisticated self-service technology can eliminate all escalations. With this in mind, ensure your escalation experience is frictionless. Allow customers to choose how they would like to escalate their issue, like through a chat, a voice call, or a video. Smart customer engagement systems also allow the brand to proactively escalate. For example, if a customer uses a certain word during an interaction, the system can immediately offer to escalate their issue.
The transition from one service channel to another should be painless for your customers. Equip your service agents to deliver personalized resolutions by providing all the context of previous interactions with the customer. This way, moving between channels flows as a single conversation, instead of starting anew each time.
Online self-service is so much more than an email deflection tool – when done well, it’s a value-add for customers, a solution always at the ready when they need it. Applying even a few of the seven tactics above will bring significant customer experience improvements.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on astutesolutions.com. Any statistics or statements included in this article were current at the time of original publication.