How to Help Your Customers Help Themselves

Cody McLain


Let’s face it, in today’s digital world, which promises instant gratification with just a few taps or swipes, few customers want to talk to a live customer service agent...

Let’s face it, in today’s digital world, which promises instant gratification with just a few taps or swipes, few customers want to talk to a live customer service agent when they encounter a problem with a company’s product or service. In fact, most people are accustomed to looking for solutions via a search engine or company’s website. Yet, many times these searches don’t yield the results customers need.

How can companies maintain this critical touchpoint even as customers become increasingly self-reliant? Companies need to meet customers’ preferences and focus on optimizing self-service support capabilities instead of bulking up remote support teams and call centers.

What is Self-Service Support?

Self-service support refers to a customer’s ability to find answers to questions and solve problems independently using a company’s robust and intuitive Help, Support or FAQ page. The key words here are robust and intuitive; the page must have the information customers need and must be easy to use. Many customers who try this approach are still coming up empty-handed, however, and end up reaching out to a call center or email support. This extra step likely further compounds their frustration.

Why Self-Service Support?

Customer service in any form is an important interaction between companies and their customers. The success of the interaction can highly influence how the customer views the brand, product or service. Customer preferences are changing, and research shows that demand for self-service support is rising:

  • According to Forrester, 72% of customers would rather use self-service over phone or email support
  • A study from Nuance showed similar numbers with 67% of respondents preferring self-service
  • Additionally, Coleman Parks showed that 91% of customers would use a self-service support option if it were available
  • The Coleman Parks survey also indicated that 40% of customers tried to find an answer on their own before contacting a call center

Tips for Optimizing Self-Service Support

Even if a company already offers some self-service support functionality, it likely needs to be revamped given the numbers of customers who report a lack of success in finding the answers they need. Here are tips to consider when building, marketing and improving this tool.

  • How to Build it: As with any customer-focused strategic business decision, designing effective support starts with understanding the audience. Companies need to segment their customers based on demographics, products or services used, knowledge-base, etc. For each segment, they will need to design specific content to address the problems and issues they are most likely to encounter. This information can come from mining past customer queries and support desk tickets.

In addition to the content, the Help or Support section of the website should be designed in a way that is easy to use. It should offer basic and advanced search capabilities, as well as filtering and sorting options. According to a Pew internet survey, 92% of adults use search engines to find information on the web. The search functionality should be similar to what users get with a search engine.

Using icons on product images to further break down the categories of questions – for example, Payments, Security, Getting Started, Resolve Issues – can make it easier for customers to find the best answer for their question. The page should be optimized for desktop, laptop, tablet and mobile devices, so the information is available at all times, on any platform.

This section of the website should be consistent with the company brand, so customers trust the answers and information in this area. If possible, it should be personalized to the customer. Many websites have customer logins. A single sign-on allows companies to adjust search results based on the customer’s profile, product or service owned and past queries.

It’s also important that backup information is readily available. Even though the aim is for customers to solve the problems on their own, they should also be able to find a support email or phone number easily if they need additional help. Also, in the event that the self-service part of the company’s website goes down, there should be a backup option. This can be accomplished with a re-direct or secondary help website.

  • How to Market it: Customers need to know that this information exists. A Support or Help section should be clearly listed on the homepage. This button should be easy to find on any device.

If a customer does reach out to the call center, a recording should notify them of the self-service support options on the website before they are connected to an agent. The agent should also mention where this information is available in the self-service section, either by co-searching or by sending them a link to the information. These actions help train customers on how to find the solution on their own if they have any additional problems.

It may also be helpful to use SEO (search engine optimization) in the support articles. Many customers report searching for an answer on a search engine. SEO could help the relevant articles appear in search results.

  • How to Improve it: Companies should strive to keep this information up to date since this can increase customer satisfaction and lower overall support costs. After each self-service support session, companies should ask for feedback. Companies should track questions and take note of those that appear repeatedly. This is a good indication that additional information may be needed around the topic. Service agents should be notified of these updates, so they are providing the same answers that customers are accessing.

Companies can also conduct periodic focus groups and usability testing to evaluate how well the tool is meeting customer demands and if any changes need to be made.

Get Started with Self-Service Support

Companies who are looking to improve their customer interactions should evaluate their current customer support capabilities. While call centers, virtual assistants and chatbots are helpful components of a support strategy, many companies may need to add or improve their self-service support capabilities given customers’ rising demand for self-reliance. By building, marketing and improving self-service support capabilities, companies can help customers help themselves.