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With 57 percent of customers calling contact centers for support after attempting to find answers online first (according to the Customer Contact Council), it makes sense (and cents) for your organization to look for ways to optimize web self-service.

Now, you’re probably getting tired of my take on everything, so I’ve brought in a knowledgeable guest – someone even smarter than I think I am. Following is my exchange with Ashley Verrill, a call center analyst and self-service expert with Software Advice, who was happy to discuss some of the winning online self-support practices of top customer care organizations.

What is the most important web self-service feature, and how does not offering this feature impact the customer experience?

I would say having a really effective search bar is crucial. Often, customers will land directly on an article because they typed their question into Google and your self-service content was among the results returned. However, if the article they navigate to doesn’t directly answer their question, you’ll want to provide them a simple “out” for quickly finding the right content – otherwise you risk them switching to a more labor-intensive channel, such as phone or email. Also, the longer it takes for customers to find the answer, the more likely they are to become frustrated. There’s nothing worse than landing on a self-service support homepage only to find a long list of FAQs or discussion threads. It doesn’t leave the impression that finding the right solution will be easy or fast.


I’ve heard (and read) you mention that it’s essential to offer an “escape” – an easy way for the customer to chat with a live agent if he or she can’t find an answer. But what about proactively “chatting up” users once they arrive to your site? Which of these is a more critical feature to offer?

It really depends. Proactively chatting with every website visitor can be really labor intensive – particularly for websites that experience thousands of visits on any given day. I would recommend a proactive chat feature only if it could be used to directly drive more revenue, like if you’re able to offer more consultative advice to new opportunities that could lead to a sale, or if existing customers have the potential to become return customers. Some very large organizations have the ability to dynamically offer proactive chat based on characteristics about the site visitor. For example, I’ve seen proactive chat solutions that can be programmed only to appear if the site visitor is recognized as being in their marketing “sweet spot” – based on data from their IP address, social, potentially mobile and other sources.

Another alternative might be having your contact center agents proactively serve up chat only to visitors who navigate to your support pages. This wouldn’t help you generate more revenue in a direct way, but at least it’s a way to more exclusively target those people looking for support…and it might improve the customer experience by not having them sit on hold or wait for an emailed reply.


What are the best ways to showcase an online community moderator, and how should he or she go about identifying customer service opportunities? Does having a community moderator impact the customer’s perception, or does it simply ensure that questions get answered?

I think having a community moderator is imperative. One of the biggest obstacles companies face in driving engagement in an online community is the perception that customers won’t actually get an answer, or at least they won’t get one quickly. So, if they dive into a discussion thread that matches their question only to find no one has responded, they probably won’t ever try the channel again.

For this reason, moderators should be present to proactively provide an answer if it doesn’t come from the community. As far as how long a moderator should wait before intervening, I’ve heard average response time ranges between 1-3 hours. Many tools provide features that can automatically notify a moderating agent if a community question goes unanswered. I’ve also seen a lot of communities that will add some kind of visual indicator to call out moderators so it’s really obvious. This usually comes in the form of a branded icon or color-coded indicator.


With 67 percent of customers preferring to find answers online (according to Nuance), what are some quick tips for improving web self-service with minimal effort?

I’d say first you need to make sure that your community is stocked with answers to your most common customer questions. So, take a survey within your contact center and identify the top 20 most popular questions. Write solid content that answers those questions, then add them to your community. Then, ask agents to record instances where customers said they tried to find an answer online. This will identify gaps in your content or improvements that could be made to the presentation of your content.


For additional info on web self-service, you can check out my post from a couple of years ago:
“Web Self-Service that Won’t Self-Destruct”. Keep in mind I drink more than Ashley does.




 
In the eyes of many customers, self-service is not a compound word but rather a four-letter one. It’s not that there’s anything inherently bad about IVR or web self-service applications it’s that there’s something bad about most contact centers’ efforts to make such apps good.

Relatively few contact centers extend their quality assurance (QA) practices to self-service applications. Most centers tend to monitor and evaluate only those contacts that involve an interaction with a live agent – i.e., customer contacts in the form of live phone calls or email, chat or social media interactions. Meanwhile, no small percentage of customers try to complete transactions on their own via the IVR or online (or, more recently, via mobile apps) and end up tearing their hair out in the process. In fact, poorly designed and poorly looked-after self-service apps account for roughly 10% of all adult baldness, according to research I might one day conduct.

When contact center pros hear or read “QA”, they need to think not only “Quality Assurance” but also “Quality Automation.” The latter is very much part of the former.

To ensure that customers who go the self-service route have a positive experience and maintain their hair, the best contact centers frequently conduct comprehensive internal testing of IVR systems and online applications, regularly monitor customers' actual self-service interactions, and gather customer feedback on their experiences. Let's take a closer look at each of these critical practices.


Testing Self-Service Performance

Testing the IVR involves calling the contact center and interacting with the IVR system just as a customer would, only with much less groaning and swearing. Evaluate such things as menu logic, awkward silences, speech recognition performance and – to gauge the experience of callers that choose to opt out of the IVR – hold times and call-routing precision.    

Testing of web self-service apps is similar, but takes place online rather than via calls. Carefully check site and account security, the accuracy and relevance of FAQ responses, the performance of search engines, knowledge bases and automated agent bots. Resist the urge to try to see if you can get the automated bot to say dirty words. There’s no time for such shenanigans. Testing should also include evaluating how easy it is for customers to access personal accounts online and complete transactions.

Some of the richest and laziest contact centers have invested in products that automate the testing process. Today's powerful end-to-end IVR monitoring and diagnostic tools are able to dial in and navigate through an interactive voice transaction just as a real caller would, and can track and report on key quality and efficiency issues. Other centers achieve testing success by contracting with a third-party vendor that specializes in testing voice and web self-service systems and taking your money.


Monitoring Customers’ Self-Service Interactions

Advancements in quality monitoring technologies are making things easier for contact centers looking to spy on actual customers who attempt self-service transactions. All the major quality monitoring vendors provide customer interaction re­cording applications that capture how easy it is for callers to navigate the IVR and complete transactions without agent assistance, as well as how effectively such front-end systems route each call after the caller opts out to speak to an actual human being.

As for monitoring the online customer experience, top contact centers have taken advantage of multichannel customer interaction-recording solutions. Such solutions enable contact centers to find out first-hand such things as: how well customers navigate the website; what information they are looking for and how easy it is to find; what actions or issues lead most online customers to abandon their shopping carts; and what causes customers to call, email or request a chat session with an agent rather than continue to cry while attempting to serve themselves.

As with internal testing of self-service apps, some centers – rather than deploying advanced monitoring systems in-house – have contracted with a third-party specialist to conduct comprehensive monitoring of the customers' IVR and/or web self-service experiences.


Capturing the Customer Experience

In the end, the customer is the real judge of quality. As important as self-service testing and monitoring is, even more vital is asking customers directly just how bad their recent self-service experience was.

The best centers have a post-contact C-Sat survey process in place for self-service, just as they do for traditional phone, email and chat contacts. Typically, these center conduct said surveys via the same channel as the customer used to interact with the company. That is, customers who complete (or at least attempt to complete) a transaction via the center’s IVR system are invited to complete a concise automated survey via the IVR (immediately following their interaction). Those who served themselves via the company’s website are soon sent a web-based survey form via email. Customers, you see, like it when you pay attention to their channel preferences, and thus are more likely to complete surveys that show you’ve done just that. Calling a web self-service customer and asking them to compete a survey over the phone is akin to finding out somebody is vegetarian and then offering them a steak.      


It’s Your Call

Whether you decide to do self-service QA manually, invest in special technology, or contract with third-party specialists is entirely up to you and your organization. But if you don’t do any of these things and continue to ignore quality and the customer experience on the self-service side, don’t act surprised if your customers eventually start ignoring you – and start imploring others to do the same.