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This article was published on July 8, 2015

How to help your customers help themselves

How to help your customers help themselves
Mackensie Graham

When something breaks, the first thought is usually some inappropriate words and then an encroaching anxiety of making time to call or Web chat with customer service. That is, unless there is a viable solution you can manage on your own accord. Cue the art of self-service. This is the practice of propping up the customer with research, information and tools to fix issues for themselves.

Detecon Consulting surveyed customers and managers across five different industries—public transportation, banking, e-commerce, telecommunications and energy—to conclude that 78 percent of those surveyed embrace customer self-service; 60 percent of those surveyed said the ability to assist themselves can reflect positively or negatively on a brand.

Self-service allows for a more immediate sense of satisfaction with the brand and reduced costs in resources and time for both parties. Basically, everyone wins.


Laws of Attraction

The idea of self-service is attractive to customers for multiple reasons. Often people would like to avoid talking to other people to try and fix their problems. This stems from previous poor customer service experiences—the representative did not listen, was difficult to understand, did not fix the issue at hand or shuffled the issue around.

People also like to be empowered rather than told what to do. People, in general, enjoy being equipped with more knowledge about what they’re using rather than less. Plus, the more information about a product you give your consumer, the more they will view your brand as transparent, and therefore honest.

There is the old adage that if you give a man a fish, he will eat for a day, but if you teach a man to fish, he will eat for a lifetime. Implement this into your company as a mantra of sorts. Provide the customer with as much information and the tools to diagnose and the fix the issue before they even have to ask. This will allow you to appear knowledgeable and at the ready for any prospective issues.

Remember that self-service does not take the place of customer service; rather it is a part of it. Think about the self-checkout lines at the grocery store. There is always an attendant on hand to assist with questions, coupon scanning and purchase confirmation.

Grocery shopping

Embracing self-service as part of customer service demands constant attention to evolving content management. As your products and offerings change, so will the questions. Stay up-to-date on this by mining the frequent questions received from customers through all channels of customer service—social media, online submissions and phone calls.

A diverse arsenal of tools are needed for a five-star self-service toolbox. People have various learning styles, meaning to disseminate information, doing so through multiple channels of text, video, step-by-step images and audio is a best practice.

Self-Service Set-Up

For self-service on the Internet, this can be effective especially if the primary business or actions taken are online. For example, online banking is generally easy to use but questions on something like how to send money to a business partner needs an answer but does not require a personal walkthrough.

Videos, screenshots and step-by-step guides in a database of FAQs with accessible search functionality are advantageous to both consumer and business. The business can then continue to focus on the big picture, profit margins and moving forward toward goals as opposed to tactical platform usage.

Building up an online database for every question under the sun regarding products or services can take major manpower and time. If possible, allow the database of solutions to be open to contributors. Then, if one person does work with customer service and receives a walk-through to fix the issue they can pay it forward to other customers by adding their experience to the library of solutions.


To get this program rolling it may be wise to incentivize customers to submit solutions with an on-brand product. This c2c interaction allows customers to feel both helpful and knowledgeable, while others feel they are viewing an authentic reader’s opinion on the issue.

Note, that if releasing full control to open source information it is essential to have an expert customer service representative moderating the posts. There should also be a seamless one-click transition for consumers from FAQ’s to reach a customer service rep.

In regards to online self-service portals it is also important to keep personal data secure and encrypted if any data input—account number, social security, credit card number—is required to assist in the problem.

Say What

Equip your customer service agents with an answer base for online submissions in multiple languages. This is particularly important if you are an international business…and let’s face it, the Web is global, which means you are too.

Translate (with the assistance of a real translator, not just through an online translator tool) the FAQ portal into the most common languages your customer demographic responds to.

Best of Branding

Maintain consistent branding throughout the self-service section of your site. Just because it may be technical doesn’t mean it is out of purview of the brand. In fact, it is important to continuously, even subconsciously, remind the user that the company is offering “customer service” even when another voice is not on the phone talking, or an automatic email has not been generated. equipped music streaming site, Sound Cloud, with an on-brand self-service center. The header on the page refers to a song lyric (an applicable pun) and the search box is front and center. They also offer a few common questions for the user to click straight through.

Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 18.46.21

App Upgrade

If your brand has an app consider integrating additional self-service tools into the functionality. Product registration, support requests, store locator and reward receipts can all be baked into the platform. Enable photos to be taken and submitted with customer service requests.

Allow customers to submit service requests through the app and then offer tracking notifications as the request makes it way through the service department. It is better for the customer to know how long a response or fix may take so they may set realistic expectations.

If all else Fails

If the customer cannot fix the problem himself or herself make the customer service contact information easily accessible. Be careful with verbiage. Praise the customer for trying to fix the issue themselves with something like, “You got this far, let’s finish this together!”

Read Next: 50 thoughts on leading, listening and the power of positivity

Image credit: Shutterstock

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