Six Customer Self-Service Best Practice Tips

Times were when online customer self-service simply meant a touch-tone Interactive Voice Response (IVR) phone service and a bunch of Q&A’s on a web site. Today it’s about so much more: from web-based software agents to phone-based speech interfaces and mass personalisation services.  Here are six tips on how to deliver better customer experiences when using customer self-service:

1. Don’t penalise customers for using a particular channel

Omni-channel service isn’t just about delivering service whenever, wherever and on whatever device the customer chooses – it’s all about delivering consistent service experiences.  So don’t penalise a customer for choosing to call or text your automated services instead of going to your web site for an answer.  That’s not to say that it should take exactly the same amount of time to get to the answer they require; it’s saying that the overall service experience should be comparable, regardless of the channel used.

2. Always provide the option to escalate to a live agent

While the aim of providing self-service is to allow customers to access the information they require themselves, there will always be cases when they need to speak to a live person to get information and answers.  It’s not a case of an automated service failing, it’s about accepting that it won’t be appropriate for every single interaction.  To cater for situations when customers can’t easily get to the right answer, provide a simple and fast option to divert to a live operator.  With an IVR service, that may be a ‘zero out’ option to speak to a live operator and with web site self-service it may be a click-to-call or a web chat option.  Also make sure that the agent receives any information supplied by the customer in the automated session so they don’t have to repeat it to the agent.

3. Always provide a professional user interface

It’s incredible that some organisations spend fortunes on the infrastructure, systems and integration required to deliver multi-channel customer self-service – and then spend pennies on the actual user interface itself.  Remember, it’s all about the user experience.  So ensure your automated services are professional, well thought-through and have personality.  For example, use an avatar (such as ‘Ask Cindy’) to give your web search facility personality; a recognised media or sports personality to record the voice prompts on your IVR system for a more interesting user experience; and select an ‘appropriate’ accent that will be easily understood by the majority of callers.  Conversely, avoid overtly promotional recorded messages that might offend a disgruntled customer when queuing for a live agent – and avoid switching voices (and accents) within a single call so as not to confuse customers.

4. Design IVR menus around customer needs NOT how your departments are organised

A personal bugbear is confronting IVR systems that provide extensive menu structures but fail to provide the option that I’m looking for.  A 2014 poll of 200 readers by suggests I am not alone with my frustration – with 65% of poll respondents saying that the IVR system they last used DID NOT give them an option that accurately described their issue.  There could be many reasons for this.

IVR menus may sometimes be too limited a tool to describe the broad range of issues that customers are looking to resolve.  Alternatively, they may be set-up on day one and never changed, or they may be designed by people who listen to the ‘agent’ side of calls rather than the ‘customer’ side.  Personally, I think that many poor IVR’s are simply set-up with ‘organisational structures’ rather than ‘customer needs’ in mind.  Other useful tips when setting up IVR menus include: never exceed 3 menus, each of which have 5 menu options; keep introductions describing menu options to under 8 seconds; and always provide callers with an option to “repeat this menu.”  When designing an IVR menu, always start with the customer.  Ask yourself: “who are they, and what are they calling about?”

5. Don’t hang up on callers

Another simple IVR rule, but one that is often ignored, is never to hang up on callers.  If the caller is experiencing difficulties, ensure they can easily get to a live agent.  And even if you think the caller has finished with their interaction, you’re never 100% sure – so give them an option of accessing another service rather than kick them out of the system.  Putting the decision to disconnect in callers’ hands will create a much more positive customer experience.

6. Create a more personal experience

Finally, consider how you can deliver a more personalised experience.  If you are delivering self-service via a web site avatar, see whether there is any information that you have captured about them (for example, their account details, places they have previously visited on your site) to personalise their self-service experience.  If you are sending messages to multiple recipients using Interactive Voice Messaging (IVM), explore opportunities to personalise each message, for example, by saying “this message is for Mr John Smith” or by sending recorded information that is relevant to their post code, product purchase history etc.  And if you are delivering IVR self-service and have sufficient information about who is calling and what they are calling about, consider delivering a personalised automated menu structure, geared to their likely needs.

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