According to the SSPA Research, self-service is one of three imperatives for all customer service and support organizations in 2004. And it’s easy to understand why, as effective self-help brings many benefits:
- Avoided incidents
- Improved productivity
- Reduced call spikes from new initiatives or roll-outs
- Better insights for problem management
- Increased satisfaction.
However, many help desks assume self-service can be delivered just by installing the right search or FAQ engine. By focusing on point technologies, these organizations miss out on the big picture which includes not only functionality but processes and people. As a result, SSPA research shows that the majority of self-service interactions are not effective at resolving customer issues.
Enterprises that start self-help initiatives from the outside in, by looking at their customers’ needs, are more likely to deliver a solution that people will use. They’ll hear loud and clear from customers that content, its relevance, and its timeliness is more important than the Boolean operators and natural language features supported by a search engine. They’ll learn that customers want one-stop shopping, and they’ll keep picking up the phone if the website doesn’t provide it.
These seven steps will put your help desk on the right path for effective self-service:
- Start with the users. Rather than looking at your own content or resources, start by understanding the goals customers have when they come to the help desk, and build a site that supports them. Talk to users, informally or in focus groups. Review CRM incident logs. Users care about their needs, not about your org chart, so build your web site to serve them.
- Test early and often. No matter how many web design books you’ve read, you can’t make the final judgment about self-service usability because you know too much. From the earliest paper storyboards to static HTML to working websites, bring in target customers to ask them to accomplish tasks and see if they know what to do. Usability testing can be painful to watch, but sit on your hands, keep quiet, and see what customers do with your creation. Then fix the problems and test again.
- Implement an ongoing knowledge management process. It’s not the flash animation or graphic design that makes users return to a site; it’s the content—timely, relevant, accurate content. A self-service site must be fed with an ongoing stream of new content, which means that a process such as Knowledge-Centered Support must continually be generating, updating, and improving it.
- Build in “scent.” Like wild animals stalking prey, web site users look for clues to what links and controls will help them get closer to the information they’re hunting. Effective sites use what researchers call “scent”—words, organization, and feedback—to increase users’ confidence with every click. A task-centered web site builds scent; too many choices, one-dimensional navigation, and traditional keyword search hide it.
- Understand what’s different about support. Support is different from other things people do on the web because users don’t know what they’re looking for. Unlike shoppers who know they want a fast laptop computer (even if they’re not sure how to ask for it), support users just know that something’s wrong or they can’t do something, but they may not even know where the root problem lies. Support sites must, like a good analyst, guide users through the explaining what they need.
- Have reasonable expectations of users. Usability testing teaches that self-service users can tell you if specific content is relevant, but they can’t tell you up front what content sources to search. Website users can be counted on to enter meaningful words, but not complete natural language sentences. Users can tell you what they are doing now, but not what changed recently on their symptoms. Make sure that your site only asks questions that customers can accurately answer.
- Continuously evaluate and improve. No matter how good your site is today, it needs to get better. User expectations continually increase; problems get more complex; new technologies are introduced. Build feedback (both explicit and implicit) into self-service, identify what tasks are effectively served, and focus your energy on improving how you handle high-volume, poorly served issues.
David Kay, Principal of DB Kay & Associates, has worked with leading support organizations to design and develop effective web self-service sites. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.